Re: [asa] World sets ocean temperature record

From: Rich Blinne <>
Date: Sat Aug 22 2009 - 10:49:50 EDT

On Aug 22, 2009, at 5:51 AM, Randy Isaac wrote:

> HOLD YOUR FIRE, everyone. Slow down.
> If you want to discuss specific data and ideas, please do so.
> Broadside, sweeping accusations without supporting evidence, on
> either side, is not consistent with our goals. ok, maybe we've let
> some of that come through but take those discussions elsewhere.
> There are plenty of blogs who would be delighted to host such a
> discussion.
> Randy
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: John Walley
> To: Rich Blinne ; Schwarzwald
> Cc:
> Sent: Saturday, August 22, 2009 7:07 AM
> Subject: Re: [asa] World sets ocean temperature record
> This site is shameless. The only thing accurate about the title of
> the site is the "Politi" part (and maybe the .com).
> This is in the vein of Snopes and other self-appointed watchdog
> sites. Sometimes they are valuable but sometimes their debunking is
> just as subjective as the assertion. And in those cases who is
> watching them?
> John

The reason why I raised the site mentioned above is I found it be an
excellent example of not only good journalism, but even rarer good
science journalism and scientific integrity. Recently they revised the
following quote downward from true to half true: "As many as 22,000
Americans die each year because they donít have health insurance." The
original reason they gave it a true was the following studies by the
Institute of Medicine, one of the National Academies.

But then came the study found by by Richard Kronick for
the journal Health Services Research:
  His astonishing conclusion:

> Conclusions. The Institute of Medicine's estimate that lack of
> insurance leads to 18,000 excess deaths each year is almost
> certainly incorrect. It is not possible to draw firm causal
> inferences from the results of observational analyses, but there is
> little evidence to suggest that extending insurance coverage to all
> adults would have a large effect on the number of deaths in the
> United States.

 From's bio of Kronick:

> In fact, far from having ties to the conservative movement, Kronick
> served as a senior health care policy advisor in the Clinton
> Administration, where, according to his biography, he contributed to
> the development of the Clinton health care reform proposal.
> Kronick's articles have appeared in the New England Journal of
> Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association, and
> his work has at times been funded by the Commonwealth Fund, whose
> mission is "to promote a high performing health care system" that
> aids "society's most vulnerable," including "the uninsured."

What Kronick did was correct for smoking, obesity and other risk
factors and once you compare these groups the correlation between
being uninsured and deaths disappeared. Politifact checked out
Kronick's colleagues to see if he was credible:

> But a number of experts we spoke to are glad that Kronick did
> publish it. Henry Aaron, a health policy specialist at the centrist-
> to-liberal Brookings Institution, said that he was impressed by
> Kronick's research from the time Kronick presented an early draft of
> it at a Brookings lunch seminar. "I found his reasoning compelling,"
> said Aaron, himself a member of the Institute of Medicine. "In fact,
> after listening to his presentation, I had a hard time believing
> that the IOM had done what they had done."

It also illustrated Kronick's scientific integrity:

> Kronick even told PolitiFact that his finding was "not the answer I
> wanted" and, as a result, he agonized over whether to publish it or
> not. He said he's "grateful" that it has so far been unnoticed in
> the increasingly hostile debate over health care. "I don't have a
> whole lot of friends, and will probably lose a few over this," he
> told us. "And I might make some friends I didn't want."

It's this kind of thoroughness that marks the rest of Politifact's
reporting (and why it got it Pulitzer Prize this year). This shows
that the norm of believing just what your ideology tells you is not
necessarily the case. I will add an historical example that such
scientific integrity is not limited to the left. When C. Everett Koop
was Surgeon General he was pressured by the Reagan White House to push
bogus studies that alleged that getting an abortion caused all sorts
of heath problems including breast cancer. Koop held his ground and
said while he vigorously opposed abortion the evidence for this was
simply not there. It's examples like Politifact, Drs. Kronick and Koop
that give me some sense of optimism the current norm of the screaming
cable news channels and their respective echo chambers is not always
the case.

Rich Blinne
Member ASA


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Received on Sat Aug 22 10:50:45 2009

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