Shared posts

06 Jan 02:40

YouTube's Content-ID system is, by any practical definition of the words, foolproof and incapable of error.

by jwz
24 Dec 01:22

Zuckerblock Redux

by jwz
FYI, you are permitted to block Zuckerberg now. It feels good.


11 Aug 01:03

The Al Capone theory of sexual harassment

by vaurora

This post was co-authored by Valerie Aurora and Leigh Honeywell and cross-posted on both of our blogs.

Mural of Al Capone, laughing and smoking a cigar
CC BY-SA 2.0 r2hox

We’re thrilled with the recent trend towards sexual harassment in the tech industry having actual consequences – for the perpetrator, not the target, for a change. We decided it was time to write a post explaining what we’ve been calling “the Al Capone Theory of Sexual Harassment.” (We can’t remember which of us came up with the name, Leigh or Valerie, so we’re taking joint credit for it.) We developed the Al Capone Theory over several years of researching and recording racism and sexism in computer security, open source software, venture capital, and other parts of the tech industry. To explain, we’ll need a brief historical detour – stick with us.

As you may already know, Al Capone was a famous Prohibition-era bootlegger who, among other things, ordered murders to expand his massively successful alcohol smuggling business. The U.S. government was having difficulty prosecuting him for either the murdering or the smuggling, so they instead convicted Capone for failing to pay taxes on the income from his illegal business. This technique is standard today – hence the importance of money-laundering for modern successful criminal enterprises – but at the time it was a novel approach.

The U.S. government recognized a pattern in the Al Capone case: smuggling goods was a crime often paired with failing to pay taxes on the proceeds of the smuggling. We noticed a similar pattern in reports of sexual harassment and assault: often people who engage in sexually predatory behavior also faked expense reports, plagiarized writing, or stole credit for other people’s work. Just three examples: Mark Hurd, the former CEO of HP, was accused of sexual harassment by a contractor, but resigned for falsifying expense reports to cover up the contractor’s unnecessary presence on his business trips. Jacob Appelbaum, the former Tor evangelist, left the Tor Foundation after he was accused of both sexual misconduct and plagiarism. And Randy Komisar, a general partner at venture capital firm KPCB, gave a book of erotic poetry to another partner at the firm, and accepted a board seat (and the credit for a successful IPO) at RPX that would ordinarily have gone to her.

Initially, the connection eluded us: why would the same person who made unwanted sexual advances also fake expense reports, plagiarize, or take credit for other people’s work? We remembered that people who will admit to attempting or committing sexual assault also disproportionately commit other types of violence and that “criminal versatility” is a hallmark of sexual predators. And we noted that taking credit for others’ work is a highly gendered behavior.

Then we realized what the connection was: all of these behaviors are the actions of someone who feels entitled to other people’s property – regardless of whether it’s someone else’s ideas, work, money, or body. Another common factor was the desire to dominate and control other people. In venture capital, you see the same people accused of sexual harassment and assault also doing things like blacklisting founders for objecting to abuse and calling people nasty epithets on stage at conferences. This connection between dominance and sexual harassment also shows up as overt, personal racism (that’s one reason why we track both racism and sexism in venture capital).

So what is the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment? It’s simple: people who engage in sexual harassment or assault are also likely to steal, plagiarize, embezzle, engage in overt racism, or otherwise harm their business. (Of course, sexual harassment and assault harms a business – and even entire fields of endeavor – but in ways that are often discounted or ignored.) Ask around about the person who gets handsy with the receptionist, or makes sex jokes when they get drunk, and you’ll often find out that they also violated the company expense policy, or exaggerated on their résumé, or took credit for a colleague’s project. More than likely, they’ve engaged in sexual misconduct multiple times, and a little research (such as calling previous employers) will show this, as we saw in the case of former Uber and Google employee Amit Singhal.

Organizations that understand the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment have an advantage: they know that reports or rumors of sexual misconduct are a sign they need to investigate for other incidents of misconduct, sexual or otherwise. Sometimes sexual misconduct is hard to verify because a careful perpetrator will make sure there aren’t any additional witnesses or records beyond the target and the target’s memory (although with the increase in use of text messaging in the United States over the past decade, we are seeing more and more cases where victims have substantial written evidence). But one of the implications of the Al Capone theory is that even if an organization can’t prove allegations of sexual misconduct, the allegations themselves are sign to also urgently investigate a wide range of aspects of an employee’s conduct.

Some questions you might ask: Can you verify their previous employment and degrees listed on their résumé? Do their expense reports fall within normal guidelines and include original receipts? Does their previous employer refuse to comment on why they left? When they give references, are there odd patterns of omission? For example, a manager who doesn’t give a single reference from a person who reported to them can be a hint that they have mistreated people they had power over.

Another implication of the Al Capone theory is that organizations should put more energy into screening potential employees or business partners for allegations of sexual misconduct before entering into a business relationship with them, as recently advocated by LinkedIn cofounder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman. This is where tapping into the existing whisper network of targets of sexual harassment is incredibly valuable. The more marginalized a person is, the more likely they are to be the target of this kind of behavior and to be connected with other people who have experienced this behavior. People of color, queer people, people with working class jobs, disabled people, people with less money, and women are all more likely to know who sends creepy text messages after a business meeting. Being a member of more than one of these groups makes people even more vulnerable to this kind of harassment – we don’t think it was a coincidence that many of the victims of sexual harassment who spoke out last month were women of color.

What about people whose well-intentioned actions are unfairly misinterpreted, or people who make a single mistake and immediately regret it? The Al Capone theory of sexual harassment protects these people, because when the organization investigates their overall behavior, they won’t find a pattern of sexual harassment, plagiarism, or theft. A broad-ranging investigation in this kind of case will find only minor mistakes in expense reports or an ambiguous job title in a resume, not a pervasive pattern of deliberate deception, theft, or abuse. To be perfectly clear, it is possible for someone to sexually harass someone without engaging in other types of misconduct. In the absence of clear evidence, we always recommend erring on the side of believing accusers who have less power or privilege than the people they are accusing, to counteract the common unconscious bias against believing those with less structural power and to take into account the enormous risk of retaliation against the accuser.

Some people ask whether the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment will subject men to unfair scrutiny. It’s true, the majority of sexual harassment is committed by men. However, people of all genders commit sexual harassment. We personally know of two women who have sexually touched other people without consent at tech-related events, and we personally took action to stop these women from abusing other people. At the same time, abuse more often occurs when the abuser has more power than the target – and that imbalance of power is often the result of systemic oppression such as racism, sexism, cissexism, or heterosexism. That’s at least one reason why a typical sexual harasser is more likely to be one or all of straight, white, cis, or male.

What does the Al Capone theory of sexual harassment mean if you are a venture capitalist or a limited partner in a venture fund? Your first priority should be to carefully vet potential business partners for a history of unethical behavior, whether it is sexual misconduct, lying about qualifications, plagiarism, or financial misdeeds. If you find any hint of sexual misconduct, take the allegations seriously and step up your investigation into related kinds of misconduct (plagiarism, lying on expense reports, embezzlement) as well as other incidents of sexual misconduct.

Because sexual harassers sometimes go to great lengths to hide their behavior, you almost certainly need to expand your professional network to include more people who are likely to be targets of sexual harassment by your colleagues – and gain their trust. If you aren’t already tapped into this crucial network, here are some things you can do to get more access:

These are all aspects of ally skills – concrete actions that people with more power and privilege can take to support people who have less.

Finally, we’ve seen a bunch of VCs pledging to donate the profits of their investments in funds run by accused sexual harassers to charities supporting women in tech. We will echo many other women entrepreneurs and say: don’t donate that money, invest it in women-led ventures – especially those led by women of color.

04 Aug 15:12

The cruel sham that is “right-to-try” is one big step closer to being federal law [Respectful Insolence]

by Orac

The moment I have feared ever since Republicans took control of all three branches of Congress last fall has come one step closer to reality. Actually, it’s merely one of many. occurrences that I have feared, given that Donald Trump has been our President for over six months. Although you won’t find much in the news about it, yesterday the Senate easily passed a federal version of so-called “right-to-try.” Senator Ron Johnson, who threatened to hold up Senate business unless a right-to-try rider was approved for the bill funding the FDA for the next seven years, was ecstatic:

As was Christina Sandefur of the Goldwater Institute, the libertarian think tank who concocted the idea of using right-to-try as a means of enlisting terminally ill patients as sympathetic pawns in its never-ending war on government regulation in general and the ability of the FDA to protect patients from unsafe and ineffective drugs:

Basically, all that has to happen in September, when Congress reconvenes, is for the House to pass this law. One the one hand, I’m relieved that it’s just the standalone law that passed and that right-to-try wasn’t attached to the bill that allows the FDA to collect user fees from companies seeking FDA approval for their drugs and devices, but that doesn’t make the bill any less dangerous to patients. I will also grant that, as you will see, the bill as passed is not as bad as the original version of the bill (S. 204: Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act of 2017), but it still has the potential to do a lot of mischief, endanger a lot of patients, and empower a lot of scammers. To understand why, though, you need to understand what right-to-try is.

Right-to-try: A cruel sham that politicians can’t oppose

I’ve written many times before over the last three years about how “right-to-try” laws have swept the states. When last I wrote about right-to-try, 37 states had passed such laws over the course of a mere three years, and I observed at the time that it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if most or all of the remaining states were to pass such laws within the next year or two. Basically, the idea behind these laws is that the FDA is killing patients (I’m only exaggerating slightly) through its slow drug approval, overcaution, and bureaucratic inertia, or at least letting them die because life-saving drugs are being held up. So the idea, hatched by the Goldwater Institute was that terminally ill patients should have the “right-to-try” experimental drugs not yet approved by the FDA because they have nothing more to lose. Of course, it’s not true that they have nothing more to lose, but I’ll discuss that more later. Basically, right-to-try laws purport to allow the terminally ill “one last shot” by letting them access experimental therapeutics outside of FDA-sanctioned clinical trials. However, these laws operate under a number of false assumptions, not the least of which is the caricature of the FDA as being slow, inefficient, and unwilling to bend, as you will see. They also strip away a number of protections for patients, as you will also see.

Who could argue with that, right? That is, of course, the issue. These laws sound very pro-patient, but they are in reality a Trojan horse designed to weaken the regulatory power of the FDA. They are a cruel sham, an illusion. As I’ve said from the beginning, Dallas Buyers Club might have been a good movie (I actually was disappointed in it when I actually saw it), but it’s a horrible basis for public policy on drug regulation. Indeed, right-to-try is a triumph of marketing that allowed anyone who perceived how it degrades patient protections, sells false hope, and harms the clinical trial process to no one’s benefit as heartless monsters who have no empathy for dying patients and value science over people. Indeed, this is exactly the sort of rhetoric one sees aimed at opponents on Twitter:


Basically, if you speak out for patients and against right-to-try, you will be painted as cold and indifferent to the suffering of terminally ill patients. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. Either that, or you’ll be painted as being in the pocket of big pharma. All of this propaganda had a very chilling effect on criticism. I realize it’s an unscientific sample, but I know of no one involved in, for instance, cancer clinical trials at academic medical centers who supports right-to-try. Yet, whenever right-to-try bills were introduced in various states, the silence from medical professional organizations, universities, cancer centers, and the like was deafening. When right-to-try came to Michigan, almost no one testified against it, and the Goldwater Institute was free fly in a parade of families of patients with terminal illnesses who were convinced that right-to-try would give their loved ones a shot at life. The same sort of thing happened in the Senate over S.204:

But more liberal lawmakers faced significant lobbying, featuring heartbreaking stories of young children or newlyweds facing shortened lives. Meanwhile, the most powerful opposition, the drug industry and doctors’ groups, kept their disagreement very low-profile. Their soft voices gave lawmakers little political protection for a “no” vote.

“There’s no doubt about it — there are a lot of patients out there that think this is the answer to their prayers. … They certainly believed that, and they pushed their members of Congress to support a bill that in many cases the members of Congress thought was not a good idea,” said Zuckerman.

PhRMA’s low-profile on right-to-try hurt detractors from the outset. The industry group never took a formal position on the state right-to-try laws or earlier federal proposals. But it consistently reiterated its concerns about any approach to experimental medicines that sought to bypass the FDA and the clinical trial process. Of the major drug makers, only Merck formally came out against the earlier Johnson bill.

“It’s huge,” NYU’s Bateman-House said of PhRMA’s reluctance to take a stronger public stance. “When I speak with legislators, they say, ‘Well if it’s that bad, why isn’t pharma speaking against it?’”

The same could be said of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which spent the last three years taking no position on right-to-try until three months ago, by which time it was too little, too late. It’s not for nothing that I once remarked sardonically that opposing right-to-try is perceived the same way as opposing mom, apple pie, and the American flag—or worse, wanting to kill mom, defile apple pie, and shred the American flag. Again, I exaggerate, but not by much.

By drafting terminally ill patients into its war with the FDA, the Goldwater Institute could basically falsely equate criticism of right-to-try with attacks on dying patients. It was a cynical and very likely intentional strategy, and it worked brilliantly to silence groups that could have been the most effective opposition to right-to-try until it was too late. But what’s wrong with right-to-try anyway? To answer that, I’ll briefly reiterate the problems with state right-to-try laws and then to discuss the problem with the federal right-to-try bill as passed.

The problem with state right-to-try laws

All the state right-to-try laws hew pretty tightly to an approved model legislation template originally developed by the Goldwater Institute. Given that, all state right-to-try laws share several major features. The first was the requirement that the disease the patient has be terminal, usually defined as having a life expectancy of less than six months, although the model legislation is more vague, requiring an “advanced disease,” defined as “progressive disease or medical or surgical condition that entails significant functional impairment, that is not considered by a treating physician to be reversible even with administration of current federal drug administration approved and available treatments, and that, without life-sustaining procedures, will soon result in death.” Various states define this condition in somewhat different ways, but you get the idea. In fact, the federal legislation uses a definition more like the latter than the former.

One of the most problematic passages, if not the most problematic passage, in all right-to-try laws, including the federal one passed by the Senate, is the definition of “investigational drug, biologic product, or device”:

“Investigational drug, biological product, or device” means a drug, biological product, or device that has successfully completed phase 1 of a clinical trial but has not yet been approved for general use by the United States food and drug administration and remains under investigation in a United States food and drug administration-approved clinical trial.

Every right-to-try bill or law I’ve read uses minor variations of the above definition. Anyone who knows anything about drug development shudders when reading passages like that. The reason is that having completed a phase 1 trial is a dangerously low bar to clear to allow more widespread use of a drug. Basically phase 1 trials are small trials, usually consisting of less than 30 subjects, that look for major toxicities and adverse events. That is not enough to determine safety, nor is it intended to. Phase I trials are designed primarily to identify major side effects and to use a process known as dose escalation to determine what is commonly referred to as the “maximum tolerated dose.” It is utterly impossible for such a small clinical trial to determine the safety of a drug. Phase II and Phase III trials are needed to confirm safety. Think of phase I trials as a screening test looking for the most obvious toxicities, with phase II and III studies confirming them. Indeed, even phase III trials can’t always adequately demonstrate that a drug is safe; it’s not uncommon for less common adverse effects not to show up until post-marketing surveillance, when much larger numbers of patients receive the drug. Moreover, only 5% of all cancer drugs that enter clinical testing are ultimately approved for patient use. Among drugs tested in phase II trials, only 30% go on to phase 3. I like to point to the cautionary example of amonifide for treating breast cancer. The drug made it through phase I trials, but serious life-threatening hematologic toxicity emerged during phase II trials.

Another problem with right-to-try laws is that they are extremely inequitable. Basically, right-to-try laws limit who can access them by wealth. The reason is that all of them have a provision that says that health insurance companies do not have to pay for right-to-try treatments and most such laws allow drug companies to charge whatever they see fit for the experimental drug. Insurance companies can pay if they so desire, but what’s the likelihood of an insurance company paying for an experimental treatment?It goes beyond that, though. If a patient uses a right-to-try drug and suffers complications, these laws basically state that the insurance company doesn’t have to pay for care resulting from that complication, and all such laws state that patients undergoing right-to-try therapies lose their coverage for hospice while undergoing right-to-try treatment. Thus, a terminally ill patient could easily go bankrupt before he died paying for drugs accessed through right-to-try laws, and many couldn’t access experimental therapeutics through such laws in any event because they simply don’t have the money or the fundraising wherewithal to do so.

Right-to-try laws also limit what patients can do in the event of malpractice or negligence. All of them immunize physicians advising or administering right-to-try medications against malpractice suits or actions against their medical license by the state medical board for doing so. All of them contain provisions broadly immunizing companies providing experimental therapeutics under right-to-try from liability. All of them contain provisions stating that state employees can’t interfere with a patient seeking right-to-try, which could be interpreted to mean that a doctor at an academic medical center at a state university couldn’t counsel a patient not to seek right-to-try without running afoul of the law. As Jann notes, even if state authorities believe, for example, that an elderly person is being exploited for financial gain by a physician, presumably this provision would prohibit their acting.

Right-to-try laws are patient-hostile in other ways, too, as Jann Bellamy and I have described many times. The most egregious example of which is how they strip patient protections away from patients who access them. One way to see this is by comparing what happens when a patient accesses an experimental therapeutic under the FDA expanded access program to what happens when another patient accesses one under a right-to-try law. Under FDA expanded access, patients retain full protections under federal and state laws. They can sue for malpractice if there is any, and their care is still monitored by an institutional review board (IRB), with any adverse events recorded and considered by the FDA. Moreover, the FDA approves nearly all such requests (99%). In contrast, under right-to-try, there is no IRB oversight. It’s all between the company and the patient.

Finally, I not infrequently call state right-to-try laws placebo legislation because such laws basically does nothing while making everyone feel better. That’s because the federal government, not the states, controls drug approval. Basically, the state can say that patients have a “right-to-try,” but only the federal government can actually guarantee such a “right.” It’s actually fortunate that state-level right-to-try laws are placebo laws, because if they actually did what’s in their text they would be profoundly harmful to patients.

The problem with the version of “right-to-try” passed by the Senate

In marked contrast to state-level laws, any federal right-to-try bill that becomes law would not be placebo legislation. It would be harmful, and the Trickett Wendler Right to Try Act of 2017, although amended to be less harmful than the original version, is still a danger to patients. I described in detail what was in the original version of this bill in previous posts; so I won’t dwell too much on it. The key points of the original bill were:

  • No interference by the federal government with state right-to-try laws.
  • No liability for either drug companies providing right-to-try or doctors recommending right-to-try
  • No use of outcomes from patients accessing right-to-try in FDA consideration of drug approval.

So let’s look at S.204 as passed by the Senate. It’s still bad, but not as bad because there are amendments that mitigate some of the worst aspects of the original. Unfortunately, it still uses an overly broad definition of who can access right-to-try. Basically, anyone with a serious illness as defined by the FDA is eligible. The bill also retains the dangerously nonsensical provision that any drug that’s passed phase I trials and is still in active development can be accessed through right-to-try.

One thing the new “right-to-try” does is to change the provision in the original version that forbade the FDA from considering outcomes observed in patients accessing a drug by right-to-try in its deliberations over whether to approve the drug or not:

(1) IN GENERAL.—Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the Public Health Service Act, or any other provision of Federal law, the Secretary may not use a clinical outcome associated with the use of an eligible investigational drug pursuant to this section to delay or adversely affect the review or approval of such drug under section 505 of this Act or section 351 of the Public Health Service Act unless—

(A) the Secretary makes a determination, in accordance with paragraph (2), that use of such clinical outcome is critical to determining the safety of the eligible investigational drug; or

(B) the sponsor requests use of such outcomes.

The “Secretary” above is the Secretary of Health and Human Services, although the HHS Secretary can delegate the decision to the FDA Commissioner.

The new right-to-try also requires the FDA to post information regarding right-to-try on its website:

(1) IN GENERAL.—The manufacturer or sponsor of an eligible investigational drug shall submit to the Secretary an annual summary of any use of such drug under this section. The summary shall include the number of doses supplied, the number of patients treated, the uses for which the drug was made available, and any known serious adverse events. The Secretary shall specify by regulation the dead line of submission of such annual summary and may amend section 312.33 of title 21, Code of Federal Regulations (or any successor regulations) to require the submission of such annual summary in conjunction with the annual report for an applicable investigational new drug application for such drug.

(2) POSTING OF INFORMATION.—The Secretary shall post an annual summary report of the use of this section on the internet website of the Food and Drug Administration, including the number of drugs for which clinical outcomes associated with the use of an eligible investigational drug pursuant to this section was—

(A) used in accordance with subsection (c)(1)(A);
(B) used accordance with subsection (c)(1)(B); and
(C) not used in the review of an application under section 505 of this Act or section 351 of the Public Health Service Act.

As you can see, this is better, but still problematic. Basically, the FDA Commissioner can decide on an individual basis whether or not to use right-to-try outcomes in considering the approval of a drug. I can see considerable potential for favoritism and abuse in this provision, in which favored companies can do what they like and not have to worry about whether right-to-try outcomes will count against them and less favored companies will have to worry. it is, however, good that at least there will be some transparency, as some information will have to be made publicly available.

The modified bill also softens the protections against lawsuits against manufacturers and doctors recommending right-to-try with an exception to immunity if “the relevant conduct constitutes reckless or willful misconduct, gross negligence, or an intentional tort under any applicable State law.” Now, I’m not a lawyer, but here’s one huge problem with this that I see. State right-to-try laws in general completely immunize manufacturers providing experimental therapeutics under the law and doctors recommending such therapeutics from any legal liability; so in those states there would be nothing patients could sue for, even in the case of “reckless or willful misconduct, gross negligence, or an intentional tort.” If there are any lawyers out there, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears that only in states without right-to-try would this provision mean anything.

What now?

Now that S.204 has been passed by the Senate, it moves on to the House, where, unfortunately, it is highly likely to pass. Given the anti-regulatory mood of the current Congress, coupled with the successful branding of right-to-try opponents as either in the pocket of big pharma or indifferent to the suffering of the terminally ill, it will be very, very difficult to stop this bill. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t continue to try, but we should have no illusions. We are likely to see what happens if right-to-try becomes the law of the land at the federal level. While it’s true that this version is not quite as patient- and science-hostile as the original version, it is, unfortunately, plenty bad, man.

It’s also not as though we haven’t had a chance to see if right-to-try provides any of the benefits claimed for it. Unfortunately, thus far, right-to-try has been a miserable failure, despite three years for it to have proven its worth. I know. I’ve looked for “success stories,” and the Goldwater Institute has been unable to provide them.

Sandefur has, however, been able to provide the same old talking points about the FDA Expanded Access Program and about how slow the FDA allegedly is approving drugs. It actually turns out that the FDA is faster than its European counterparts approving drugs and that the expanded access program is nowhere near as onerous as ideologues like Sandefur like to paint it. Indeed, there is a nice FAQ maintained by the NYU Working Group on Compassionate Use and Pre-Approval Access that answers pretty much every talking point, and I’ve discussed these same talking points before. It’s basically a lot of misinformation promoted by ideologues.

Nor is this “success story” persuasive if you look into it more:

Now, as to Right to Try: when real-life examples of its early success are reported, Klugman’s response is to deny that they are true—and this is frankly bizarre. Dr. Delpassand has testified to Congress that within a year of his state’s enacting Right to Try, he successfully treated 78 terminally ill cancer patients using LU-177, a drug that had successfully completed its three phases of the FDA-approved clinical trials and has been available in European countries for years, but has still not received final FDA approval for sale. I should know, since I’m his lawyer: Dr. Delpassand had administered a successful FDA-approved clinical trial for LU-177 therapy for five years, but was then told by the FDA that he could not add more patients to the trial. Right to Try enabled him to continue administering LU-177 to patients suffering from neuroendocrine cancer after the FDA blocked the trial’s expansion. His patients were exceedingly grateful. One said that without Right to Try, he “would have had to go on disability to make trips to Switzerland.” Another said he “would have traveled to Switzerland for this same treatment and follow-up appointments every three months,” but thanks to Right to Try and Dr. Delplassand, he was able to stay in the United States and spend the time with his wife and kids. “This law,” he told me, “has been a life saver!”

I discussed the example of Dr. Delpassand and his company Excel Diagnostics in detail before, as well as how Dr. Delpassand is a cheerleader for the Goldwater Institute who’s done promotional videos for right-to-try before. Basically, the treatment being promoted by Dr. Delpassand for neuroendocrine tumors has promise. It even was found in a phase III trial published earlier this year to produce a significant increase in progression-free survival for midgut neuroendocrine tumors. However, as I described in depth, there was something fishy about the story. He claimed to be administering his radionuclide treatment under Texas’s right-to-try law, but he was charging patients and the Texas right-to-try law, as I was so pointedly reminded when I discussed the issue, doesn’t allow manufacturers to charge for their experimental therapeutic.

Basically, reading between the lines in Sandefur’s article, I now think I know what happened, and it’s not exactly what is being claimed. What it sounds like to me from Sandefur’s carefully worded account, plus what I’ve looked up before, is that, after having reached his accrual target for his clinical trial, Dr. Delpassand wanted to add additional patients to it even though the trial was closed. The FDA balked at this request—and understandably so. The reason was almost certainly that adding patients to a clinical trial after it’s closed is, in essence, changing the design of the trial post-hoc. It would also have increased the time necessary to analyze the trial. So Dr. Delpassant appears to have used the right-to-try law to get what he wanted. As I documented before from a patient webpage, he also appeared to be charging patients close to $40,000 for the treatment, although it is unclear whether he charged for his radionuclide or not or whether he followed the Stanislaw Burzynski method and charged large sums of money for everything else but the drug and thus made money that way.

I mention the Houston Cancer Quack Stanislaw Burzynski on purpose, because, before Dr. Delpassand, he was the only “investigator” I had heard of who had actually used right-to-try to bypass the FDA and continue to administer his antineoplastons. I fear his is the business model that right-to-try will enable, complete with exploitation of patients on a greater-than-Burzynski scale.


“This bill is inherently deceptive,” Alison Bateman-House, a medical ethicist at New York University who led the charge against Johnson’s bills, wrote in an email. “What [patients] have a right to (and did long before this bill) is to ask drug companies for permission to use their experimental drugs outside of clinical trials. If the drug company says no, both before and after this legislation, that’s the final word: neither the FDA nor the courts have to power to make companies provide access to their experimental drugs-in-development.”

That’s why it is not cold, cruel, or indifferent to oppose right-to-try. It is not anti-patient. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is as pro-patient as you can get to try to stop this cruel sham.

25 Apr 07:00

Implausibly low BP spill cost estimate: $17.2 Billion.

by jwz
When I read this headline I could not believe they would estimate it so low, and assumed the study was funded by the oil industry:

The scientists developed a survey to put a dollar value on the natural resources damaged by the BP Deepwater spill by determining household willingness to pay for measures that would prevent similar damages should a spill of the same magnitude happen in the future. Survey information included descriptions of damaged beaches, marshes, animals, fish, and coral.

On top of estimating the impact of the spill, the $17.2 billion represents the benefits to the public to protect against damages that could result from a future oil spill in the Gulf of a similar magnitude.

So their estimate of the cost of the spill is based on:

  1. How much survey respondents claim they might be willing to spend to save the cute animals, and keep their vacation spots pretty;

  2. Estimates of the cost of a program to prevent it from happening in the future.

That is now how you calculate costs!

We may still learn that this event was a civilization-ender.

And don't forget, nobody will ever do any prison time. The fact that the BP "Corporate Person" has not been executed for this is a crime against literal Humanity.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

22 Jan 04:04

Facebook: Still Literally the Worst.

by jwz
Facebook Hosts Trump Inauguration Party With Fake News-Pushing Website The Daily Caller:

Facebook may now profess to combat fake news, but that didn't keep the company from hosting a Trump inauguration soirée in DC along with the Daily Caller, a far-right news website whose frequent misinformation and lies keep fact-checking website Snopes rather busy.

I know! Who cares about being in cahoots with a publication that celebrated Obama commuting the sentence of Chelsea Manning this week with the headline "Genetic Male Bradley Manning Pulls Off The Klinger Gambit," right? Not me!

Not to be left out of the action, oil company BP was also a host. It was, according to the publication, "A veritable who's who of beltway bigwigs" at the Hay-Adams Hotel in DC, all talking Trump.

Mark Zuckerberg sues over 100 Hawaiians to force them to sell them their ancestral land:

In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg (who insists that privacy is dead) bought 100 acres of land around his vacation home in Hawaii to ensure that no one could get close enough to spy on him.

The Zuckerberg estate on Kauai North Shore engulfs several smaller pieces of land deeded in the 1800s -- kuleana lands that were granted to native Hawaiians. The owners of this land are entitled to easements through Zuckerberg's property, so they can reach their own.

Zuckerberg has filed "quiet title" lawsuits to force the owners of more than 100 of these parcels to sell to him. His lawyer says it's the easiest way to figure out who has title to these family lands so he can make them an offer. Hey, when I want to find out who someone is, I always sue 'em.

Zuckerberg has a staff of twelve just to delete abusive comments on his Facebook page:

Typically, a handful of Facebook employees manage communications just for him, helping write his posts and speeches, while an additional dozen or so delete harassing comments and spam on his page, say two people familiar with the matter. Facebook also has professional photographers snap Zuckerberg, say, taking a run in Beijing or reading to his daughter

In an internal Facebook post, Zuckerberg defends his company's ongoing association with Peter Thiel -- Facebook investor/board member and major donor to white-supremacist / pro-rape candidate Donald Trump.

This is your irregularly-scheduled reminder:

If you work for Facebook, quit. It is morally indefensible for you to use your skills to make that company more powerful. By working there, you are making the world an objectively worse place. I'm sure you can find a job working for a company that you don't have to apologize for all the time.

You can do it. I believe in you.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

02 Jan 01:11

EFF: The Patent Troll Abides

by ris
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a review of patent lawsuits in 2016. "We saw mixed results in the courts this year. The Supreme Court issued a good decision cutting back on out of control damages in design patent cases. Meanwhile, the Federal Circuit issued a very disappointing decision that allows patent owners to undermine ownership by asserting patent rights even after selling a patented good. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has agreed to review that ruling. We will file an amicus brief supporting the fundamental principle that once you buy something, you own it."
02 Jan 00:56

Pagan Allowed to Wear Horns in License Photo

by jwz
It's a Christmas Miracle:

Phelan Moonsong says he always wears his goat horns unless he's sleeping or bathing, and so it makes sense that he'd want to wear them in his driver's license photo. How else is an officer, TSA employee, or other license checker supposed to recognize him? Plus, the horns serve as his "spiritual antennae" and help him educate others about paganism, according to Moonsong.

He needed to educate the authorities in Maine a little bit before they'd approve the license photo, but they finally did. He got his new license last week. [...]

The clerk also had some questions, like whether the horns were implanted (they aren't), and whether they were a religious symbol (they are). The clerk took the photo, but then said he'd have to get it approved by the Maine Secretary of State's office, and would need to send some documentation of the fact that these are officially required religious symbols.

Previously, previously.

26 Nov 23:36

Life Goal GPS™

by Kristian

”Now set fire to your art supplies. Watch them burn.”

Ah, who am I kidding? I would totally buy this device anyway.

25 Nov 00:40

Autocracy: Rules for Survival

by jwz
Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler's anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes."
Autocracy: Rules for Survival

However well-intentioned, this talk assumes that Trump is prepared to find common ground with his many opponents, respect the institutions of government, and repudiate almost everything he has stood for during the campaign. In short, it is treating him as a "normal" politician. [...]

But Trump is anything but a regular politician and this has been anything but a regular election. [...] He is probably the first candidate in history to win the presidency despite having been shown repeatedly by the national media to be a chronic liar, sexual predator, serial tax-avoider, and race-baiter who has attracted the likes of the Ku Klux Klan. Most important, Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat -- and won.

I have lived in autocracies most of my life, and have spent much of my career writing about Vladimir Putin's Russia. I have learned a few rules for surviving in an autocracy and salvaging your sanity and self-respect. It might be worth considering them now:

  • Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable. Back in the 1930s, The New York Times assured its readers that Hitler's anti-Semitism was all posture. [...]

  • Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality. [...] Confronted with political volatility, the markets become suckers for calming rhetoric from authority figures. So do people. Panic can be neutralized by falsely reassuring words [...]

  • Rule #3: Institutions will not save you. It took Putin a year to take over the Russian media and four years to dismantle its electoral system; the judiciary collapsed unnoticed. The capture of institutions in Turkey has been carried out even faster, by a man once celebrated as the democrat to lead Turkey into the EU. Poland has in less than a year undone half of a quarter century's accomplishments in building a constitutional democracy. [...]

  • Rule #4: Be outraged. If you follow Rule #1 and believe what the autocrat-elect is saying, you will not be surprised. But in the face of the impulse to normalize, it is essential to maintain one's capacity for shock. This will lead people to call you unreasonable and hysterical, and to accuse you of overreacting. It is no fun to be the only hysterical person in the room. Prepare yourself. [...]

  • Rule #5: Don't make compromises. Like Ted Cruz, who made the journey from calling Trump "utterly amoral" and a "pathological liar" to endorsing him in late September to praising his win as an "amazing victory for the American worker," Republican politicians have fallen into line. Conservative pundits who broke ranks during the campaign will return to the fold. Democrats in Congress will begin to make the case for cooperation, for the sake of getting anything done -- or at least, they will say, minimizing the damage. [...]


25 Nov 00:35

The Manchurian Candidate and vote hacking

by jwz
Hey, remember that time the KGB got their goon elected President of the United States? It's like if in The Manchurian Candidate, Laurence Harvey was going around saying "Chairman Mao is a good friend of mine, he's got some great ideas. Yuge ideas."

Russian Officials Were in Contact With Trump Allies, Diplomat Says

MOSCOW -- The Russian government maintained contacts with members of Donald J. Trump's "immediate entourage" during the American presidential campaign, one of Russia's top diplomats said Thursday.

"There were contacts," Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "We continue to do this and have been doing this work during the election campaign," he said.

Mr. Ryabkov said officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry were familiar with many of the people he described as Mr. Trump's entourage. "I cannot say that all, but a number of them maintained contacts with Russian representatives," Mr. Ryabkov said.

Want to Know if the Election was Hacked? Look at the Ballots.

How might a foreign government hack America's voting machines to change the outcome of a presidential election? Here's one possible scenario. First, the attackers would probe election offices well in advance in order to find ways to break into their computers. Closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which states would have close electoral margins, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines in some of these states, rigging the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate. This malware would likely be designed to remain inactive during pre-election tests, do its dirty business during the election, then erase itself when the polls close. A skilled attacker's work might leave no visible signs  --  though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.

Could anyone be brazen enough to try such an attack? A few years ago, I might have said that sounds like science fiction, but 2016 has seen unprecedented cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the election. [...] In all these cases, Federal agencies publicly asserted that senior officials in the Russian government commissioned these attacks. [...]

The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence  --  paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.

Former Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein intends to file for a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

"After a divisive and painful presidential race, reported hacks into voter and party databases and individual email accounts were causing many [Americans] to wonder if our election results are reliable," Stein said in the statement. "These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified."

(Electronic voting machines have been a slow motion apocalypse for decades. It would be really ironic if Jill Stein ended up helping to keep Trump out of the White House, but hey, I'll take it. Petition.)

As additional votes have been counted in the presidential election, especially on the West Coast, Hillary Clinton's national popular-vote lead over Donald Trump now exceeds 2 million votes.

To put that popular-vote margin into perspective, Al Gore's popular-vote lead over George W. Bush in 2000 - when Bush won the Electoral College - was 547,000 votes. Also noteworthy: Clinton's 64-plus million votes is nearing in on the 65.9 million Barack Obama won in 2012.

Of course, presidents are elected by the Electoral College, not the popular vote, and what sunk Clinton's campaign was her performance in the key battleground states, particularly in the Midwest. And by Wasserman's count, Trump beat Clinton in 13 key swing states by a 48.5%-to-46.6% margin. In the non-swing states, though, Clinton is ahead of Trump 48.9%-to-45.6%.

Donald Trump, Voting Machine Truther, Should Demand Recounts to Prove He Won:

It is important to realize that there is a clear, non-partisan case for post-election audits of voting machines to be routine, rather than exceptional, and that there are alternatives to full recounts.

Interestingly, Trump has deleted a number of tweets he sent in 2012, including:

"He [Obama] lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!"'

"The phoney [sic] electoral college made a laughing stock out of our nation. The loser one!"

"More votes equals a loss...revolution!"

"This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy!"

"The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy."

Yet on Tuesday, Trump tweeted:

"The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!"

Republicans were wildly successful at suppressing voters in 2016. Three GOP-controlled states demonstrate the effectiveness of disenfranchising the opposition.

Last week, the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the federal Voting Rights Act propelled Donald Trump to the White House. [...] There has been relatively little discussion about the millions of people who were eligible to vote but could not do so because they faced an array of newly-enacted barriers to the ballot box.

Their systematic disenfranchisement was intentional and politically motivated. In the years leading up to 2016, Republican governors and state legislatures implemented new laws restricting when, where, and how people could vote -- laws that disproportionately harmed students, the poor, and people of color. In several instances, lawmakers pushing such policies said explicitly that their goal was suppression of voters who favor the Democratic Party. [...]

Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed Wisconsin's strict voter ID law in 2011, and it has been tied up in court battles for years. A federal court held that the law unconstitutionally burdens low-income people of color, but ultimately the Supreme Court allowed it to go into effect for the 2016 election. [...]

Federal courts struck down most of the [North Carolina] law after finding that it was passed with the intention to suppress African-American voters "with almost surgical precision." [...] Republican-controlled county elections boards tried to find a way around the verdict. No longer able to cut a full week of early voting, the state GOP instructed the boards to make "party line changes to early voting": cutting hours and locations. [...]

In the final weeks leading up to the election, voting rights groups discovered that Wisconsin officials at local DMV offices were giving false information to voters attempting to get the proper ID, putting those officials in violation of a federal court order. [...]

In total, roughly 1.5 million Florida residents (almost 2.5 percent of the state's population) are disenfranchised because of the law, which white lawmakers designed in the years after the Civil War in a deliberate attempt to dilute the voting power of freed slaves. This year, one in four of Florida's black residents could not cast a ballot.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

20 Jul 01:05

Mississippi Jails Are Losing Inmates, And Local Officials Are 'Devastated' By The Loss Of Revenue

by jwz
See? The War on Drugs is a job creator!

Reforms at the state and local levels have shrunk the prison population. "Federal laws took some part in that -- allowing prisoners to serve only a certain percentage of their term," he said. "Also, they've reduced prison sentences for certain drug-related offenses."

As the wave of mass incarceration begins to recede, the Mississippi controversy has local and state officials talking openly about how harmful locking up fewer people up will be for the economy, confirming the suspicions of those who have argued that mass incarceration is not merely a strategy directed at crime prevention. "Under the administrations of Reagan and Clinton, incarceration, a social tool used for punishment, also became a major job creator," Antonio Moore, a producer of the documentary "Crack in the System," wrote recently. [...]

The prisoners have value beyond the per diem, county officials add, when they can be put to work. State prisoners do garbage pickup, lawn maintenance and other manual labor that taxpayers would otherwise have to pay for. Convict labor has made it easier for local governments to absorb never-ending cuts in state funding, as tea party legislators and governors slash budgets in the name of conservative government. [...]

"You either gotta hire a bunch of employees or keep that inmate."

20 Jul 01:04

Bike lanes: the parking we give Uber for free.

by jwz
50 cars took turns blocking the bike lane on the west side of Valencia between 16th and 17th at the peak hour Tuesday night.

During yesterday evening's rush hour, safe streets advocates [...] started collecting hard data about how often the bike lanes on Valencia Street are blocked by motorists. Take a wild guess what they found: the bike lanes are a de facto loading-and-drop-off zone for cars. [...]

Things picked up -- and got more dangerous -- as the evening progressed. During the last hour, from 6-7 p.m. (Orland calls this the "death trap" hour) 205 bikes had to swerve into traffic on that same stretch of Valencia, thanks to 53 cars that blocked the bike lane -- remember, that's just one block of Valencia, and just one side of the street.

Although not officially counted, the volunteers reported most of the cars had Uber or Lyft symbols on them. It should be noted that Streetsblog observed several police cars passing by, and two cops passing by on foot, but (no surprise) no citations were issued. That said, some drivers of the illegally parked cars seemed wary of the attention -- one BMW driver drove off, but not before gesturing unkindly at Maureen Persico, a Bernal Heights resident and one of the counters. [...]

The West side of Valencia between 16th and 17th saw some of the most flagrant disregard for safe operation of motor vehicles between 6 and 7pm. During the 6pm hour, on the West side of Valencia between 16th and 17th, motorists double parked at least once every two minutes. Furthermore, according to the data we collected, over 61 percent of traffic in the 6 to 7pm hour is comprised of cyclists. 205 cyclists were forced to merge into the vehicle travel lane during this hour, compromising their safety and forcing them to squeeze into a narrow travel lane alongside faster moving vehicular traffic. On multiple occasions, we observed cyclists taking evasive action and being forced to quickly maneuver out of the bike lane to avoid collisions with motorists who pulled over or pulled out abruptly, without signaling. This compelling data paints a clear picture of the threat to public safety posed by cars double parking in bicycle lanes. I hope that city officials and SFPD will carefully study this data and take action to ramp up enforcement -- and prevent inevitable tragedy on this high injury corridor -- before it is too late.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

20 Jul 00:55

Designing the Perfect Anti-Object

by jwz
The Camden Bench:

Behold the Camden Bench. This pale, amorphous lump of sculpted concrete is designed to resist almost everything in a city that it might come into contact with. Named for the London authority that commissioned it, the Camden Bench has a special coating which makes it impervious to graffiti and vandalism. The squat, featureless surface gives drug dealers nowhere to hide their secret caches. The angled sides repel skateboarders and flyposters, litter and rain. The cambered top throws off rough sleepers. In fact, it is specially crafted to make sure that it is not used as anything except a bench. This makes it a strange artifact, defined far more by what it is not than what it is. The Camden Bench is a concerted effort to create a non-object.

As such, the Camden Bench is a strange kind of architectural null point. A piece of the city that by design will not interact with it in any way. It is a bench by the slimmest of margins -- hardly comfortable, affording none of the qualities that would make it more than simply a place to sit. This is the bench's sole concession to being part of the city, and it does it with the least conviction possible.

I'd like to see what the Camden Bench would look like if it didn't have to be a bench -- if that final design constraint was removed, what would it become? Just some nebulous lump of concrete? Would it shrink or grow? Would it even be visible, or would it exist as a space hidden behind a physical wrinkle in the map? The Camden non-Bench would be like a hard pearl in the mouth of an oyster, of the city but not part of the city, just an inert lump.

See also Unpleasant Design.

Previously, previously, previously, previously.

20 Jul 00:46

Cops Use Stingray To Almost Track Down Suspected Fast Food Thief

by jwz
"When a cell site simulator is deployed, it gathers cell phone info from everyone in the surrounding area, including those whose chicken wings have been lawfully purchased."

Annapolis' log shows police located their target in seven of the 17 cases in which the [Stingray] equipment was used since late 2011.

Annapolis Police couldn't find their target in the case of a Pizza Boli's employee who reported being robbed of 15 chicken wings and three subs while out on delivery in March. In that case, police got a court order, according to the police log.

The value of the wings and subs totaled $56.77.

Law enforcement spokespeople will often point to the handful of homicide or kidnapping investigations successfully closed with the assistance of cell site simulators, but they'll gloss over the hundreds of mundane deployments performed by officers who will use anything that makes their job easier -- even if it's a tool that's Constitutionally dubious.

Don't forget, when a cell site simulator is deployed, it gathers cell phone info from everyone in the surrounding area, including those whose chicken wings have been lawfully purchased. And all of this data goes... somewhere and is held onto for as long as the agency feels like it, because most agencies don't seem to have Stingray data retention policies in place until after they've been FOIA'ed/questioned by curious legislators.

Regular policework -- which seemed to function just fine without cell tracking devices -- now apparently can't be done without thousands of dollars of military equipment. And it's not just about the chicken wing thieves law enforcement can't locate. It's about the murder suspects who are caught but who walk away when the surveillance device wipes its feet on the Fourth Amendment as it serves up questionable, post-facto search warrants and pen register orders.

Previously, previously, previously.

09 Jul 00:36

The Republican Party is on the verge of nominating has made an antivaccine loon named Donald Trump its presumptive nominee [Respectful Insolence]

by Orac

[Note: Since this was written, Donald Trump won Indiana and Ted Cruz has suspended his campaign. This is why I changed the title of this post on Tuesday night. Meet your presumptive nominee, Republicans.]

I haven’t written anything about Donald Trump and vaccines in a while. When last I did write about him, I enumerated his long, sordid history of making ridiculously pseudoscientific antivaccine statements linking vaccines to autism dating back at least to 2007. That was when I first discovered him and referred to him as the latest celebrity antivaccinationist drinking the Kool Aid of vaccine pseudoscience. A few years later, I noted his risibly nonsensical claim that a “monster shot” causes autism. Truly, Donald Trump’s history of making idiotic antivaccine statements is long and sordid. Of course, Donald Trump’s history of making idiotic statements about a great many subjects is long and sordid, but antivaccine pseudoscience is what I know better than domestic or foreign policy.

Of course, I don’t recall having heard anything from Trump in a while on the vaccine-autism front, at least not since September last year. But his antivaccine lunacy is definitely part of his persona, so much so that when I started to type “Donald Trump vaccines autism” the first entry on the search was a Natural News link from 2012. In any case, I get the feeling that Trump’s antivaccine views were too crazy even for most of Trump’s supporters, hence his relative silence these last eight months. Sure, he can spout off about how he wants to build a wall on the Mexican border and have Mexico pay for it and numerous other proposals even more ludicrous than that, but he’s apparently toned down the antivaccine nonsense. Now, with the Indiana primary today, Trump is on the verge of all but wrapping up the Republican nomination if he wins there today. That’s why I decided to revisit the topic today, particularly given that the issue has reared its ugly head again.

Still, if Trump were actually to become President, he could do great damage to public health. Sure, school vaccine mandates are a state issue, but the guidelines upon which they are based are developed by the CDC. Over the last couple of decades, there have been various antivaccine legislators who have brought CDC officials before Congressional committees to demand “answers” about the link between vaccines and autism. Just imagine how much trouble a President Trump could cause, with his power to appoint a Secretary of HHS. I was reminded of this again by a video in a story that popped up in my feed yesterday featuring Elizabeth Emken.

The reason this is relevant is that Emken used to be the Executive Director of Autism Speaks, an “autism advocacy” group that used to be very much into antivaccine pseudoscience. Indeed, after much foot dragging, it wasn’t until 2015 that Autism Speaks finally grudgingly admitted that there is no good evidence linking vaccines to autism after a large study was published showing no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism and a meta-analysis involving over a million children similarly failed to find a link. It’s not for nothing that Autism Speaks has been quite appropriately accused of speaking up too late on vaccines.

That tension, and the weasel words that characterized it among many autism advocacy groups, fairly drips from Emken’s response to a question about Donald Trump’s beliefs about vaccines, complete with an example of a quote by Donald Trump about having heard of children getting sick and becoming autistic after vaccination. Here’s the video:

And here’s what Emken said:

Donald Trump spokeswoman Elizabeth Emken, a former executive with the leading advocacy group Autism Speaks, was put in a difficult position Monday when asked about the frontrunner’s earlier statements linking vaccines and autism.

Asked on CNN about Trump suggesting a scientific link exists between childhood vaccines and autism during a fall 2015 presidential debate, Emken sidestepped a direct rebuke of Trump’s claims.

“The position of Autism Speaks has been for quite awhile that we need to find out what’s happening,” she replied. “We know there’s a genetic component and there’s an environmental trigger and until we get to the bottom of what’s happening, no one knows what causes autism. Anyone that tells you what does or what doesn’t cause autism is simply not basing that on facts.”

I see now why Emkin was chosen to be Trump’s spokeswoman. The above is basically one massive appeal to ignorance, the implication that, because we don’t know what causes autism that some environmental factor—cough, cough, vaccines—must be causing autism. Don’t believe me? Check out what she says next:

“We don’t know, we need to keep looking,” Emken continued, saying she hadn’t discussed the issue with the GOP frontrunner. “But the bottom line is, look, vaccines are the most successful health program in the history of the world, so I don’t believe that’s at all what he was saying.”

This is, of course, a bald-faced lie; that is, unless Emken is not . Let’s take a look at the sort of things Donald Trump has said about vaccines over the years just on Twitter. Truly, the burning stupid flowing from that one Twitter account is not unlike a flow of ash from Mount Vesuvius engulfing Pompeii. Here is but a sampling:










You get the idea. That’s some hard core antivaccine quackery. Trump’s meaning is very, very clear, Emken’s attempts to deny it notwithstanding. But, hey, if that’s not enough for you, let’s review a bit more of what Trump has said on the topic over the years. I apologize to long time readers, who have probably seen many of these quotes before in various posts I’ve written over the years, but, now, with Trump on the verge of becoming the Republican nominee and Ted Cruz’s chances to stop him are fading, I feel the need to revisit these. Not that Cruz is any less scary than Trump, but he isn’t, as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, antivaccine.

The first time I learned of Donald Trump’s antivaccine proclivities was way back in 2007. What was he saying back then? This:

“When I was growing up, autism wasn’t really a factor,” Trump said. “And now all of a sudden, it’s an epidemic. Everybody has their theory. My theory, and I study it because I have young children, my theory is the shots. We’ve giving these massive injections at one time, and I really think it does something to the children.”

He made the comments following a press conference at his Mar-A-Lago estate announcing a fundraising and lobbying push by Autism Speaks to get the brain disorder covered under private insurance policies.


“When a little baby that weighs 20 pounds and 30 pounds gets pumped with 10 and 20 shots at one time, with one injection that’s a giant injection, I personally think that has something to do with it. Now there’s a group that agrees with that and there’s a group that doesn’t agree with that.”

Referring to his and his wife Melania’s 22-month-old son Baron, Trump continued: “What we’ve done with Baron, we’ve taken him on a very slow process. He gets one shot at a time then we wait a few months and give him another shot, the old-fashioned way. But today they pump the children with so much at a very young age. We do it on a very, very conservative level.”

So, yes, back in 2007, Trump was already parroting the antivaccine pseudoscience that at that time I had been deconstructing for seven years and blogging about for nearly three. It was a performance—and, let’s face it, everything Trump does in public is performance art, if you can call it that—that was brilliantly parodied at Autism News Beat as The art of the schlemiel. In any case, I’m hard pressed to come up with any time when a baby gets 10 or 20 shots at a time, and that’s even assuming that Trump was ignorantly conflating the number of diseases vaccinated against in combination vaccines with “shots.”

Four years later, Trump was still at it. On Fox and Friends, he repeated once again that he had a “theory” about vaccines, and that was:

Business mogul Donald Trump chose the fifth annual World Autism Awareness Day to reveal that he “strongly” believes that autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are linked to exposure to vaccines.

In a Monday interview on Fox News, the reality star explained that a series of casual observations had led him to the conclusion that “monster” vaccinations cause autism.

“I’ve gotten to be pretty familiar with the subject,” Trump said. “You know, I have a theory — and it’s a theory that some people believe in — and that’s the vaccinations. We never had anything like this. This is now an epidemic. It’s way, way up over the past 10 years. It’s way up over the past two years. And, you know, when you take a little baby that weighs like 12 pounds into a doctor’s office and they pump them with many, many simultaneous vaccinations — I’m all for vaccinations, but I think when you add all of these vaccinations together and then two months later the baby is so different then lots of different things have happened. I really — I’ve known cases.”

The video can still be viewed here. Tellingly, when he was challenged on this by Gretchen Carlson, who noted that “the studies have said that there is no link” and that there hadn’t been any mercury in vaccines for years, Trump would have none of it:

“It’s also very controversial to even say,” Trump acknowledged. “But I couldn’t care less. I’ve seen people where they have a perfectly healthy child, and they go for the vaccinations and a month later the child is no longer healthy.”

Don’t trust those pointy-headed expert scientists. They’ve only been spending their entire lives studying the issue! Trump knows better then they do! Why? He’s got anecdotes, man:

“It happened to somebody that worked for me recently,” he added. “I mean, they had this beautiful child, not a problem in the world, and all of the sudden they go in and they get this monster shot. You ever see the size of it? It’s like they’re pumping in — you know, it’s terrible, the amount. And they pump this in to this little body and then all of the sudden the child is different a month later. I strongly believe that’s it.”

All because of what Donald Trump calls a “monster shot.” I note that this appears to be the example that was presented to Emken. It couldn’t be more clear what Trump meant, either: He attributed his employee’s son’s autism to vaccines, which he called a “monster shot.” As I pointed out at the time, even if the child were truly “different” after vaccination a month later, that would not be “all of a sudden.” In any case, this is what those of us who pay attention to these things the “too many too soon” gambit. All spreading out vaccines accomplishes is to increase the period of time that a child is vulnerable to infectious diseases for no real benefit of reducing the chance of autism because there is no link between vaccines and autism.

If that’s not enough for you, in 2015, when interviewed by conservative talk radio show host Hugh Hewitt, the question of vaccines and autism came up. Here’s how the conversation went down:

HH: So you believe there’s a causal connection between vaccines and autism?

DT: Well, a lot of people do. I mean, there are many people that do. And I know at least two people, one of them who works in the building that I’m in right now, a beautiful woman, has a child. The child is 100% healthy, takes the child, who was I think around a year and a half or two years old to get the shot, gets this massive shot of fluid pumped into the baby’s body, and a few days later, catches a fever, and all of a sudden, is severely autistic. And many people, many people have had that experience, Hugh. And I will tell you, on Twitter and on Facebook, where you know, so many people, I feel, it’s sort of interesting, because I get so much response, people are praying for me that I at least say that. So I totally believe in the shot. I totally believe that you should be vaccinated. But let them spread it out over a little period of time. You can’t pump that, because have you ever seen the size of these inoculations? You can’t pump that much fluid into a little baby’s body. And I think it’s having an effect. And I know of at least two cases in my, but many people say the same thing happened to me where their child is totally healthy. They get pumped up with this huge pile of liquid, with many, many different vaccines, and their child turns out to be autistic after it. And all I’m saying is spread it out in smaller doses over a longer period of time.

HH: If a group of scientists came to you and said look, The Donald, that’s just, that’s not right, you’re giving out misinformation, would you change your mind if presented with facts on that?

DT: Well, I’ve seen babies that were totally healthy that weren’t healthy, and I’m not asking for anything. All I’m doing is saying spread it out over a period of time. I’m not saying don’t get inoculated, don’t get the shots, don’t get the vaccines. I’m saying spread it out over a period of time. It doesn’t hurt anybody other than probably the pharmaceutical companies, because they probably make more money putting it into one shot. Maybe it hurts the doctors. I don’t know. But I can say this. Everybody would get the vaccines. They just, they wouldn’t be pumping these massive amounts of liquid into a child.

Again, contrary to Emken’s twisting around the issue, Trump’s meaning couldn’t have been more plain. He believes vaccines cause autism. He doesn’t believe any of those elitist pointy-headed scientists who say otherwise, and nothing will make him change his mind. Nor does Trump sound as though he believes that vaccines are the “most successful health program in the history of the world,” as Emken put it.

I referred to the tension at the heart of Autism Speaks regarding vaccine-autism pseudoscience. The organization was founded by Bob and Suzanne Wright, who were always fence sitters on the question of whether he believed vaccines cause autism. His daughter Katie, however, was a true believer that vaccines cause autism, a belief that caused a great deal of friction with her parents and the organization. For years, the organization was riven with strife, as the Wrights tried to appease the vaccine/autism pseudoscience contingent, which provided much of the money and ultimately led to a schism in the group. As recently as last September, Bob Wright was using the same sort of weasel words that Emken used. It’s useful to note that the scientific advisor’s statement was:

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism. We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.

To which Bob Wright added:

Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.

Note the weasel words: Scientific research has not “directly connected autism to vaccines” and “efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety.” Not only that, but the science officer’s statement was expunged from the website. If you go to the Autism Speaks website, all you will find is Bob Wright’s statement.

As the primary season winds down, the Republican Party is on the verge of nominating an antiscience, antivaccine loon named Donald Trump. It looks as though he will have a spokeswoman who, through the use of weasel words like those of the co-founder of the organization she used to work for, will try use her skills to make Trump’s antivaccine nonsense sound more palatable. She will fail.

17 Jun 01:37

The Snooze Fairy

by Kristian

The Snooze Fairy can sometimes also appear when you don’t set the alarm at all. This is called a nightmare, I guess.

The Snooze Fairy is definitely related to The Depression Fairy.

(Also, in other news – some life stuff will have to take precedence next week, so there will probably not be a comic on Monday. I’m planning to be back on track for next Friday’s comic, though!)

07 Mar 02:14

Lego Fluid

by jwz
22 Feb 23:09

*Monster of the Week* has returned!

by jwz
I was sad that this excellent cartoon re-cap of The X-Files stalled out at Season 4, but guess what -- there's a new season!

22 Feb 23:04

"Monkeys are not random generators."

by jwz
I was unaware of this important research from 2003:

Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, the theory goes, and they will eventually produce prose the likes of Shakespeare.

A group of faculty and students in the university's media program left a computer in the monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo in southwest England, home to six Sulawesi crested macaques. Then, they waited.

At first, said Phillips, "the lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. "Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard," added Phillips, who runs the university's Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies.

Eventually, monkeys Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan produced five pages of text, composed primarily of the letter S. Later, the letters A, J, L and M crept in.

Read the complete text here: Notes Towards The Complete Works of Shakespeare by Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe & Rowan.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

12 Feb 15:33

Life is Short

"Relentlessly prune bullshit, don't wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That's what you do when life is short."
04 Jan 03:03

1982 Burgertime DRM was hard core.

by jwz




26FA-   BD 89 C0    LDA   $C089,X
26FD-   A9 56       LDA   #$56
26FF-   85 11       STA   $11
2701-   D0 01       BNE   $2704
2703-   D0 C6       BNE   $26CB
2705-   12          ???



26FA-   BD 89 C0    LDA   $C089,X
26FD-   A9 56       LDA   #$56
26FF-   85 11       STA   $11
2701-   D0 01       BNE   $2704
2703-   EA          NOP
2704-   C6 12       DEC   $12
2706-   F0 03       BEQ   $270B
2708-   D0 0A       BNE   $2714
270A-   D0 C6       BNE   $26D2
270C-   11 D0       ORA   ($D0),Y





It goes on like this for like, days:

...offers input selection, then hangs with the drive motor on...

That's actually a lot of progress. I can now calibrate my joystick before the game tells me to go f--- myself.


Chapter 7
In Which I'd Like To Add You To My Professional Network Of Linked Catalog Sectors

Let's go back to that "unreadable" sector on track $11, the one that looks exactly like a DOS 3.3 catalog sector, because it is a DOS 3.3 catalog sector. It's just not linked into the VTOC.

T11,S00 currently points to T11,S0F as the first catalog sector, but all of the "files" in that catalog sector are fake. What if I changed it to point to sector $07 instead?


I'm beginning to suspect that this disk is nothing more than an infinite series of decryption routines with a game bolted on as an afterthought.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

04 Jan 02:38

The Emularity

by jwz -- which, amazingly, is an actual URL that works -- lets you run ancient web browsers in your browser, but instead of pointing those old browsers at anachronistically modern versions of those pages, it pulls the correspondingly-old pages out of the Wayback Machine.

It runs the browsers by running a virtual Linux on the backend, that then runs emulators of the older operating systems inside it, that themselves run the browsers. It's turtles all the way down.

This is absolutely brilliant. Source here.

Previously, previously, previously, previously.

04 Jan 02:33

Manslaughter charges dropped in BP spill case

by jwz
Nobody from BP will go to prison

Rig supervisor Donald Vidrine instead pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act, a misdemeanor that likely will result in 10 months of probation and 100 hours of community service. Robert Kaluza, the other supervisor who also was being charged with 11 manslaughter counts, is going to fight a single misdemeanor charge that he also violated the Clean Water Act. [...]

David Rainey, a former BP executive, was acquitted this summer of manipulating calculations over how much oil was being released during the 3-month-long spill, and a federal judge dismissed charges that he hindered a congressional investigation.

Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, won a new trial in July after he was convicted of obstruction charges in connection to allegations that he deleted text messages detailing how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. He was sentenced to six months probation after pleaded guilty last month to a lesser charge.

And a former manager of Halliburton, which sold concrete to BP, got a year of probation after pleading guilty to a charge of destroying evidence.

All of these people were way too far down the food chain to matter anyway, but it's kind of amazing that they can't even bring themselves to jail a scapegoat or two. The fact that the BP "Corporate Person" has not been executed for this is a crime against literal Humanity.

Previously, previously, previously.

04 Jan 02:28

Screensavers on a plane

by jwz
04 Jan 02:24

Suspension Bridges of Disbelief

by jwz
I can accept messianic alien orphan superheroes and skyscraper-sized battle robots, but I will not stand for inaccurate portrayals of structural mechanics.

It's fine to bend the laws of physics if the plot warrants it, but most suspension bridge mistakes are so needless and stupid that their only function seems to be irritating engineers.

Most of the structural elements have no purpose, and bridges are instead supported by a mix of perplexing whimsy, directorial ignorance, and nothing. I've taken a look at some notable suspension bridge disaster scenes and listed them from least bad to most bad:

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

04 Jan 01:43

That Time I Tried to Buy an Actual Barrel of Crude Oil

by jwz
"Don't buy a barrel of oil," the broker said. "It'll kill you."

Oil may be king of the commodities, but its physical form is tough to come by for a retail investor. Mom and pop can buy gold and silver. They can gather aluminum cans, grow soybeans, and strip copper wiring, if they choose, but oil remains elusive -- and for very good reason. Oil, as I would soon discover, is practically useless in its unrefined form. It is also highly toxic, very difficult to store, and it smells bad. [...]

"Could a barrel of crude really kill me?" I asked a petrochemical engineer captive to my persistent, doubtlessly annoying questions. It absolutely can, he said. Hydrogen sulfide gas -- H2S, for short -- has a terrible propensity to evaporate from crude, knock out your olfactory capabilities, and slowly suffocate you to death. [...] "If you inhale ethyl alcohol vapors in a concentration of 1,000 ppm (0.1 percent by volume) for eight hours, you may get drunk. If you inhale hydrogen sulfide in a concentration of 1,000 ppm (0.1 percent by volume) for only a few seconds, you will be dead." [...]

"That [is] all good and well until you learn it's not Bakken but Kurdish oil, under strict embargo. Well done [for] supporting ISIS," the consultant replied by e-mail. Adding insult, the consultant informed me that the glass bottle was worth more than the oil inside it, anyway.

Previously, previously, previously.

04 Jan 01:39

SFPD Once Again Blames Cyclist For Own Death, City Refuses To Release Video Of Accident

by jwz
In other news, water remains wet:

In what is becoming a tragic pattern, SFPD has once again blamed a cyclist for his own death. Simultaneously, the city has refused to release video that may shine light on the circumstances that resulted in the October 11th crash and death of 47-year-old Mark Heryer.

Police have determined that Heryer was riding westbound on Market Street when, allegedly attempting to pass a bus, he lost control of his bicycle after his wheel got caught in a Muni track. Heryer then is said to have fallen under the passing 38-Geary bus to the right. He died at the scene.

KQED News reports that police have now officially blamed Heryer for his own death, saying that vehicle code states he should have been riding in the bike lane. There's just one problem: That area of Market Street does not have bike lanes.

Video from the Muni bus that ran over Heryer does exist, but the city will not release it -- even to a lawyer representing Heryer's family.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

21 Dec 16:52


Dear Log,

Now, after my final read-through of the Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage [ "Obergefell v. Hodges"; PDF: 103 pages, 430KB], I can give you my final inventory of its lulz, culled from the pure piss 'n' vinegar of the dissents:

■ Use of the word «mummery».
Mmmmmmmmummery. Mmmmmmrmrmrmmrmrr. Rmrmrrmyrmy? Mrmrmmm. [pause] Aaaaaand WE'RE OFF...

■ Use of the phrase «o'erweening pride», with a gracious gracious apostrophe.

■ Quote: «Ask the nearest hippie.»

■ Quote: «California does not count.»
That's actually out of context, but it's a tease for further down. Until then, you must keep reading, while pondering the question "What possible context in these dissents could produce that sentence?".

■ Quote:

«the Court invalidates the marriage laws of more than half the States and orders the transformation of a social institution that has formed the basis of human society for millennia, for the Kalahari Bushmen and the Han Chinese, the Carthaginians and the Aztecs. Just who do we think we are?»

...Well, apparently, people who haven't seen a comparative anthropology textbook that's recent enough to keep a bookstore from putting it in a solander box and shelving it in the antiquarian section.

So, uh... Bushmen, and Carthaginians? What, no Hindoos, Thuggees, Blackamoors, or Grecians?

(And, say, what *are* the newest findings from Lemuria? We must skim the epigraphs of our finest Pith-helmeted gentlemen scholars.)

And have a look:
Yes, they've considered every world culture! From A... to... C. But then we can stop there, that's quite enough.

I can picture someone fumbling with the index in the back of a leatherbound volume, "Hiſtory o∫ Man"... "Hmmmnnn,... China... what, 'Han'? Not spelt 'Hun' anymore? Well, bother! Modern times grumble grumble grumble. Now... Wait, this book completely lacks a chapter about the Antediluvians! I need verifactions for my truths about all cultures!"

■ Quote:

«If you are among the many Americans— of whatever sexual orientation— who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.»

And that is how to sound like a prick who is trying to sound like Cicero, but still just sounds like a prick.

You don't have to rev up a super-sensitive chromatograph to detect the acrid whiff of indignation, desperation, flopsweat, and untreated vascular dementia. Rob Ford Overdrive.

■ Quote: «I would hide my head in a bag.»
A picture of Scalia with the caption "I would hide my head in a bag" is an image macro whose existence would so clearly be in the public interest that its creation cannot be delayed a moment longer! So, you, my minions, go make it for me-- for *the world*.

■ Scalia tipped his hand and revealed his whole plan for living:

«It is one thing for separate concurring or dissenting opinions to contain extravagances, even silly extravagances, of thought and expression; it is something else for the official opinion of the Court to do so.»

In other words: Is it better to win and have to be concise and level-headed? No, it is better to lose, to earn the chance to thrash and to yowl.

■ A final quote... and this is a wowser...

«the Federal Judiciary is hardly a cross-section of America. Take, for example, this Court, which consists of only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School. Four of the nine are natives of New York City. Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States. Only one hails from the vast expanse in-between. Not a single Southwesterner or even, to tell the truth, a genuine Westerner (California does not count). Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination. The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges, answering the legal question whether the American people had ever ratified a constitutional provision that was understood to proscribe the traditional definition of marriage.»

In other words, the dissenting judges, four old Catholic American Republican men, are bitching that there's not enough ~diverse~ people around who would show up... and agree with them. It has been quite a bother, because the current diverse people (count off: two Jewesses!, a Jew!, an Irishman!, and that Spanish woman from the Boroughs!) dared to vote against them, and thus are *clearly* not working out as planned.

It is enough to make one's monocle drop into one's snifter.


After I wrote the above, I was asked: "One hopes they had enough fainting couches in the judicial chambers, doesn't one?"
I replied: "The fainting couches were once numerous and ample-- but they are no more! It is said by some that the IRISHMAN has replaced them with OTTOMANS! (#CultureWars)"

Some months later, I noted that the five-month anniversary of the ruling is on Thanksgiving day (Nov 26th), and the six-month anniversary is the day after Christmas.

23 Oct 16:16

Astronomy Night: Fall Constellations

Date(s): October 23, 2015

Address: Stamford Museum & Nature Center, 39 Scofieldtown Rd., Stamford, CT 06903.


Head to the Observatory to explore the night sky, planets, stars, and more.