Genetic testing all women for breast cancer might not be worth the cost

Women who are carriers of mutated BRCA genes are known to have a significantly higher risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers than those who don’t have the mutations. But a new study questions the value of screening for the genetic mutations in the general population—including those who do not have cancer or have no family history of the disease— because of the high cost. —> Read More

New Hope for the Salton Sea

Cormorants and herons at the Salton Sea. Photo courtesy of Daniel Edwards.

By Michael Cohen, Senior Associate, Pacific Institute

The Salton Sea, a vast saltwater lake in remote southeastern California providing crucial habitat for birds and wildlife, is quickly approaching a tipping point. Yet several recent actions give hope the lake could turn a corner in the near future.

Just yesterday, California announced the appointment of a very knowledgeable and action-oriented leader to the newly-created position of assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at the California Natural Resources Agency. Last year, California voters approved a massive water bond with a sizeable chunk of money that could be directed toward Salton Sea activities. And, consensus is beginning to emerge over short- and medium-term projects at the declining Salton Sea.

Sitting some 234 feet below sea level, the Salton Sea formed in 1905 when the Colorado River flooded, tearing through an unprotected diversion canal and refilling a former lakebed in the desert. Today, irrigation water flows through the fields of the Imperial, Coachella, and Mexicali valleys and drains into the lake, sustaining it.

This water offsets evaporation losses; without it, the lake would steadily shrink and eventually disappear. This process concentrates the salts and other contaminants carried by the river and from the fields themselves.

Although the Salton Sea is 50 percent saltier than the ocean, it supports more than 420 different species of resident and migratory birds, ranging from white and brown pelicans to eared grebes, curlews, ibis, avocets and snowy plovers. It also supports millions of fish and a host of invertebrates, important food sources for the birds.

Cormorants and herons at the Salton Sea. Photo courtesy of Daniel Edwards.

The amount of water flowing to the Salton Sea will soon decrease dramatically, with rapid and catastrophic consequences. Fish will die out. Birds will lose their food source. The lake will shrink and the exposed lakebed —> Read More

Rick Santorum Tries to Use My Research to Cast Doubt on My Other Research

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I’ve published two scientific papers measuring the scientific consensus on climate change. An

Santorum’s claim that our study found only 43% expert consensus originates from a blogger going by the pseudonym Fabius Maximus, who uses two denialist techniques: Fake Experts and Impossible Expectations.

Fake Experts are people who appear to be scientific experts but don’t possess the actual relevant expertise. Santorum claims our survey was of 1800 climate scientists. This is not the case. We surveyed 1868 scientists but they weren’t all climate scientists. We cast our net wide – in part because we wanted to obtain a diversity of viewpoints. To obtain the expert consensus, we looked to participants who had published over 10 peer-reviewed climate-related papers. Among these experts, we found 90% consensus (lead author Bart Verheggen explains in much greater detail).

Impossible Expectations involves raising the level of proof required to impossible levels. The tobacco industry perfected this strategy in the 1970s, demanding ever higher levels of proof that smoking causes cancer in order to delay regulation of their industry. In the case of Santorum’s 43% consensus, this only included scientists at least 95% confident that humans were causing most of global warming. That means as far as Santorum was concerned, a scientist who was 90% confident that humans were causing most of global warming wasn’t considered part of the consensus. If you raise the level of proof high enough, you can make the consensus simply disappear.

Unfortunately, Santorum misled the public by distorting scientific research, using misinformation from an anonymous blogger. It’s especially ironic that he distorted one of my research papers to cast doubt on another of my research papers (quoting from a critic of our 97% consensus paper). I suspect that if Santorum were to learn that the 97% —> Read More

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