Ethics Of Artificial Intelligence – An Exploration

Today’s topic has been on the backburner since April when I came across the top 9 ethical issues in artificial intelligence as explored by The World Economic Forum.

It seem’s that I can’t log into any platform without coming across Ethics or AI these days. That is unsurprising, given the microtargeted nature of our online world (past behavior dictates future content). What did surprise me, however, was having the Twitter account associated with this blog get followed by an Ethics in AI oriented NGO (very likely the source of the blog post that spawned this piece, actually).

In truth, it’s all very . . . questionable. It seems that everyone and their dog is chiming into the Ethics in AI conversation, but I am not even sure that the rest of us have mastered the topic yet. Particularly, heads of tech-based companies with known histories of unethical behavior behind the shiny facade of silicon valley grandeur.

None the less, let’s get on with the questions.

1. Unemployment. What happens after the end of jobs?

The hierarchy of labour is concerned primarily with automation. As we’ve invented ways to automate jobs, we could create room for people to assume more complex roles, moving from the physical work that dominated the pre-industrial globe to the cognitive labour that characterizes strategic and administrative work in our globalized society.

Look at trucking: it currently employs millions of individuals in the United States alone. What will happen to them if the self-driving trucks promised by Tesla’s Elon Musk become widely available in the next decade? But on the other hand, if we consider the lower risk of accidents, self-driving trucks seem like an ethical choice. The same scenario could happen to office workers, as well as to the majority of the workforce in developed countries.

This is where we come to the question of how we are going to spend our time. Most people still rely on selling their time to have enough income to sustain themselves and their families. We can only hope that this opportunity will enable people to find meaning in non-labour activities, such as caring for their families, engaging with their communities and learning new ways to contribute to human society.

If we succeed with the transition, one day we might look back and think that it was barbaric that human beings were required to sell the majority of their waking time just to be able to live.

That is certainly a rosy way to look at things. If we succeed in the transition, one day we may look at the full-time employment of a human over a lifetime as inhumane. There is just the matter of GETTING there first.  Will society survive?

In exploring the seeming hyperbole of my last sentence, I think we have to define what we mean as a successful transition. If the transition is regulated in the typical almost libertarian manner that many world governing entities (in particular, the United States) tend to follow, then not much will change. Like the last technological revolutions of our time, most gains will stay with the shareholders and the CEOs.
The biggest difference will be that the vast majority of all workers may well find themselves in dire straits. As opposed to just workers in regions once supported primarily by vibrant (yet niche, and inevitably redundant) industries.  Or workers displaced by money-saving decisions (such as outsourcing) made by companies.

One potential method of dealing with this potential time bomb (as some experts are calling it) would be some form of Universal Basic Income. Everyone (below a given income bracket?) would receive some regular given amount of money to do with as they please. Presumably, it would be enough to cover living expenses (or at least make a substantial dent in them, anyway).

Though this concept is fairly new to me, I rather like the idea. Aside from helping to avoid a civil collapse into unrest and possible martial law (or in some cases, fascism), you will have a healthier and more vibrant economy. Sitting on riches (or sheltering them in international tax havens) doesn’t do anything but increasingly undermine an economy. However, distribution to lower brackets does tend to be beneficial to all economies of scale. Food stamps are a good example of this.

To go with the last example (food stamps), economies do see benefits from even basic social safety nets. But when people have more than is required just for the basics (what the boomers called disposable income), they spend more.  They buy all manner of items that help to enrich all economies.

Of course, there is the question of how one is going to pay for this. In that respect, I am a lot like Bernie Sanders in saying “TAX THE RICH!”.

It is more than a slogan, however. It is (or it SHOULD BE!) a consequence to make up for the huge impact that their decisions have on the societies and nations in which they do business. In some senses, one could almost say “the societies and nations in which they plunder”.
Up to now, companies (for the most part) have been able to get away with washing their hands of the many consequences of their existence on local areas.
And not just unemployment either!
Consider things like obesity, or the ever growing problem of plastic waste (and garbage in general). To date, the food industry has faced Zero consequences for either epidemic, despite being the single largest contributors to both issues worldwide.

Universal basic income seems not just the logical solution to a coming asteroid, but also a much-deserved form of corporate reparations. Oh yes . . . I went there.

To conclude, people like Elon Musk and the late Stephan Hawking typically cite fears of AI gone rogue as their main concern for the technology going forward. What is far more concerning to me, are angry mass populations once they find themselves redundant. In a sense, we already have had a bit of a taste of what it looks like when angry (and somewhat ignorant) people find themselves without purpose in the world. Should we do nothing to prepare going forward . . .

There is also much to be said about the pitfalls of the current status quo. Millions of cogs in a giant machine, spending day after day just toiling. Working. Doing something, for some reason.

Well, at least you have a job! That is all we can hope for, right?

Boomers, in particular, love to use this line. Just shut up and do what you are told. Don’t think, just work.

It makes you wonder . . . how many people with various gifts that would be beneficial to society, spend their lives toiling in menial labor, whilst the whole machine inches ever closer it’s seemingly inevitable march off a cliff?

At this crossroad, where the species is soon to face running smack dab into more than one wall, isn’t it just logical to have all hands on deck? After all, it’s not just the economy, or life as we know it . . . it’s life itself.

Which will we choose?

Another milestone for the species? Or the evolutionary cul-de-sac?

2. Inequality. How do we distribute the wealth created by machines?

Our economic system is based on compensation for contribution to the economy, often assessed using an hourly wage. The majority of companies are still dependent on hourly work when it comes to products and services. But by using artificial intelligence, a company can drastically cut down on relying on the human workforce, and this means that revenues will go to fewer people. Consequently, individuals who have ownership in AI-driven companies will make all the money.

We are already seeing a widening wealth gap, where start-up founders take home a large portion of the economic surplus they create. In 2014, roughly the same revenues were generated by the three biggest companies in Detroit and the three biggest companies in Silicon Valley … only in Silicon Valley there were 10 times fewer employees.

If we’re truly imagining a post-work society, how do we structure a fair post-labour economy?

I think I have delved into most of the negatives in enough depth already. But it’s worth exploring the positives a little more.

Right now, the habit seems to be to call this the post work era. I’m not sure that will necessarily be the case. As explored before, without so-called gainful employment taking up so much of peoples time, their energy is available for whatever they want to focus it on. I suspect that this will include new business ventures. Ventures potentially shelved previously because the entrepreneur or customers (if not both) may not have had the time to devote to such an endeavor.

To put it in hopeful economist terms, who’s dreams could become a reality in this new paradigm?

This will of course largely depend on the availability of capital to fund such ventures. Though a big issue in a paradigm of mass unemployment, it is possible that recent innovations like micro-financing and crowdfunding could help clear this hurdle. Either way, the possibility is there for this be become (or more accurately, revert back to) an era of small business.

The future could be bright if one plays the cards right.

3. Humanity. How do machines affect our behaviour and interaction?

Artificially intelligent bots are becoming better and better at modelling human conversation and relationships. In 2015, a bot named Eugene Goostman won the Turing Challenge for the first time. In this challenge, human raters used text input to chat with an unknown entity, then guessed whether they had been chatting with a human or a machine. Eugene Goostman fooled more than half of the human raters into thinking they had been talking to a human being.

This milestone is only the start of an age where we will frequently interact with machines as if they are humans; whether in customer service or sales. While humans are limited in the attention and kindness that they can expend on another person, artificial bots can channel virtually unlimited resources into building relationships.

In a sense, I would personally welcome this. Assuming they are user-friendly, I prefer dealing with machines to humans generally (be it a self-checkout or on the phone with some company). Part of this is due to my introverted nature (leaning towards the extreme end of that spectrum, if I am honest. It’s a bit ironic that my menial labor is in customer service). And part of this reaction is because service-oriented jobs tend to be hell for most but a few brave souls. Having worked my entire career in various segments of the service industry, I’ve learned to hate people. To be fair, my high school experience helped pave the way to this conclusion, but HAVING SAID THAT . . . the general public didn’t do much to correct my misconceptions.
Amusingly, this is a somewhat subdued expression of these feelings. Maturity has tempered me somewhat, even in comparison to some of the earliest posts on this blog.

I understand, however, that personal anecdote is not always a good barometer to go by.

Even outside of my paradigm, I still see this transition as being mostly a good thing. One way I can think of is in helping the socially challenged such as myself practice some social skills in an unjudgemental environment.

It is also possible that it could go the other way. Less interaction could entail more isolation. Having said that, I suspect that these traits are more associated with the individual (not to mention their finances) than they are with macro technological innovations. It makes me curious if those many studies and observations that find many in the post-boomer generations to be socially isolated (in comparison) also take financial restraints into account.

In conclusion, I suspect that the overall impact will likely range somewhere from benign to positive.

Even though not many of us are aware of this, we are already witnesses to how machines can trigger the reward centres in the human brain. Just look at click-bait headlines and video games. These headlines are often optimized with A/B testing, a rudimentary form of algorithmic optimization for content to capture our attention. This and other methods are used to make numerous video and mobile games become addictive. Tech addiction is the new frontier of human dependency.

This is actually a very much overlooked fact of modern existence that needs more attention. Tech addiction. Not only is it a real thing, it is often times being encouraged due to the nature of the industry. Though the human attention span is finite, the options within the software world are infinite. And as such, some developers are not beyond employing less than questionable means to keep people hooked on their platform.

The unfortunate aspect of this is that some of the most desirable users of these apps are also the least equipped to combat their habit influencing nature . . . children. In today’s world, seeing a teen or anyone else addicted to their phone is seen as little more than a joke, but really, there is something to this allegation. Even the heaviest users know it isn’t rational to devote hours of attention to a seemingly benign app used to share photos.

For those that have never considered this before, consider why slot machines in Vegas don’t just stay silent when you win big (or win at all, really). They flash bright lights, they make a ruckus of noise, they sometimes dump shiny coinage all over the place. They get the dopamine pumping and make you feel good.

I likely don’t need to elaborate on the dark side of this psychological trickery in the context of gambling venues. I suspect that we all know (or know of) a person that has fallen into this trap.

But have you ever considered why many of those apps on your device are so pesky? They beep, ping, flash the screen, pop up constantly. If they are not showing personal interactions, then they are showing notifications about what activities friends have recently engaged in on the platform.

Anything to get your attention back on the app.

the other hand, maybe we can think of a different use for software, which has already become effective at directing human attention and triggering certain actions. When used right, this could evolve into an opportunity to nudge society towards more beneficial behavior. However, in the wrong hands it could prove detrimental.

To comment on the last point, it already is proving detrimental. Noting that, I am not even sure that one could say that the software is even in the wrong hands. After all, it was not inherently designed to be nefarious. It was designed to serve a purpose that benefited the agendas of the designers of said software. Even they more than likely overlooked many of the flaws that have since become apparent.

If it’s an indictment of anything, it’s what you get when you allow the market too much control over these things. It’s the emerging tech industries symptoms of a problem that has persisted American companies for decades . . . lack of regulatory control.
To anyone that disputes that seemingly arbitrary point, I encourage them to show me just ONE instance where an industry has put the well-being of the commons over short-term gains.

I am at a bit of a crossroads. On one hand, all of these tactics of psychological manipulation are more than likely here to stay. As noted by my gambling comparison, they long predated social media. So the author may be correct in seeing a possible positive use for such technologies.

None the less, manipulation is manipulation. No matter who is pulling the strings, there exists an air of dishonesty.

4. Artificial stupidity. How can we guard against mistakes?

Intelligence comes from learning, whether you’re human or machine. Systems usually have a training phase in which they “learn” to detect the right patterns and act according to their input. Once a system is fully trained, it can then go into test phase, where it is hit with more examples and we see how it performs.

Obviously, the training phase cannot cover all possible examples that a system may deal with in the real world. These systems can be fooled in ways that humans wouldn’t be. For example, random dot patterns can lead a machine to “see” things that aren’t there. If we rely on AI to bring us into a new world of labour, security and efficiency, we need to ensure that the machine performs as planned, and that people can’t overpower it to use it for their own ends.

5. Racist robots. How do we eliminate AI bias?

Though artificial intelligence is capable of a speed and capacity of processing that’s far beyond that of humans, it cannot always be trusted to be fair and neutral. Google and its parent company Alphabet are one of the leaders when it comes to artificial intelligence, as seen in Google’s Photos service, where AI is used to identify people, objects and scenes. But it can go wrong, such as when a camera missed the mark on racial sensitivity, or when a software used to predict future criminals showed bias against black people.

We shouldn’t forget that AI systems are created by humans, who can be biased and judgemental. Once again, if used right, or if used by those who strive for social progress, artificial intelligence can become a catalyst for positive change.

I decided to group these 2 as one because I have come to see both symptoms as roots from the same branch . . . bad data inputs.

Having done a bit of looking into this stuff, despite the bad AI result’s getting a lot of coverage, one often doesn’t see much attempt to diagnose. For example, that AI handing out harsher (seemingly, racist) sentences to differing nationalities was also drawing from a far larger data set than any jury or judge would (such as the person’s home neighborhood, and other seemingly irrelevant information). It’s less a matter of nefarious machines than it is data contamination.

Of course, this doesn’t make for as splashy of a headline. Or as gripping an article.

Things could take a wrong turn, as far as these machines are concerned. But with clean data, I suspect they may outperform their current human competition in MANY contexts. Bias is somewhat controllable when it comes to inputting data (for example, switching out names for identification numbers when it comes to entering criminals into these systems). However, it is NOT in the context of the human. Nor is it necessarily apparent even to the person themselves, that they may well be acting on their biases. Or possibly even some other seemingly unrelated trigger (“I’m hungry/ gotta pee! Can this just be over with already!?”).

6. Security. How do we keep AI safe from adversaries?

The more powerful a technology becomes, the more can it be used for nefarious reasons as well as good. This applies not only to robots produced to replace human soldiers, or autonomous weapons, but to AI systems that can cause damage if used maliciously. Because these fights won’t be fought on the battleground only, cybersecurity will become even more important. After all, we’re dealing with a system that is faster and more capable than us by orders of magnitude.

The author says a system. I feel that it will be more many systems. We may get to that Star Trek-like future someday, but not in my lifetime.

To start, even our CURRENT public and private data infrastructure systems tend to be woefully unprotected. Judging by the sheer number of companies seemingly caught with their pants down upon finding data breaches, it’s like digital security is an afterthought. When you sign up for everything from a bank account to a retail store loyalty card, you have to hope that digital security is a priority. And even if it is, there are no guarantees!

A good start that can happen TODAY, is drafting legislation on the protection of data under an organizations care. Losing the equivalent to the intimate details of a person’s life (and in some cases, those very details!) has to be more than a “WHOOPSY! We will do better!” type situation. Identity theft can cause a lot of stress and cost a lot of money, so companies that fail to protect consumer data in every way possible (particularly in cases of negligence) should pay dearly for this breach of trust. A fine large enough to not just be a slap on the wrist. Cover the potential expenses of every potential victim, and then some. Make a statement.

What say you, Elizibeth Warren?

When it comes to private companies under control of public infrastructure, the same should apply. When an attack happens, the horse is out of the barn already. Which is why one has to be proactive.
Employ some white hats to test the resiliency of our private and public infrastructure. Issue warnings and set deadlines whilst demanding regular updates on progress made. Then keep at it.
Hit those that miss the deadline without reasonable explanation, with fines. And keep on top of things, issuing warnings (and hopefully less frequently, fines) as issues are found.

As technology progresses both for the public and the private sector, only a staunchly proactive atmosphere such as this can help prevent the hijacking of far more powerful technologies for nefarious purposes.

Being that most of the world is nowhere even close to this . . .

7. Evil genies. How do we protect against unintended consequences?

It’s not just adversaries we have to worry about. What if artificial intelligence itself turned against us? This doesn’t mean by turning “evil” in the way a human might, or the way AI disasters are depicted in Hollywood movies. Rather, we can imagine an advanced AI system as a “genie in a bottle” that can fulfill wishes, but with terrible unforeseen consequences.

In the case of a machine, there is unlikely to be malice at play, only a lack of understanding of the full context in which the wish was made. Imagine an AI system that is asked to eradicate cancer in the world. After a lot of computing, it spits out a formula that does, in fact, bring about the end of cancer – by killing everyone on the planet. The computer would have achieved its goal of “no more cancer” very efficiently, but not in the way humans intended it.

To be fair, the computer doesn’t have to kill all humans on earth, just all the ones with cancer. That would take care of the problem (well, at least temporarily). Call it the most effective health and fitness campaign in the history of the human race.

Move over Joanne & Hal!

Moving on, this is one of the more played up possibilities of this new technological age. Fear of the Machine, of the tables turning. But it’s hard to see this as much more than Hollywood driven fear mongering.

Consider the eradicate cancer request that in this hypothetical, went very wrong. What if instead of becoming the digital adaptation of Adolf Hitler, the machine dug into its massive database of information and spit out a laundry list of both lifestyle changes and possible environmental improvements that would dramatically lessen the instances of cancer. Hell, any big problem known to our species.
Strip away the bias, emotion and other deadweight of the human cognitive ability, and add exponentially more computation power in the process, and who knows what can be accomplished.

For a while now, I’ve been tossing around the idea of UFO’s and extraterrestrial visitors as some form of inter-steller Artificial Intelligence, possibly linked to some past (or present!) life form from who knows where. Who knows . . . AI could be our ticket to depths beyond the observable universe!

8. Singularity. How do we stay in control of a complex intelligent system?

The reason humans are on top of the food chain is not down to sharp teeth or strong muscles. Human dominance is almost entirely due to our ingenuity and intelligence. We can get the better of bigger, faster, stronger animals because we can create and use tools to control them: both physical tools such as cages and weapons, and cognitive tools like training and conditioning.

This poses a serious question about artificial intelligence: will it, one day, have the same advantage over us? We can’t rely on just “pulling the plug” either, because a sufficiently advanced machine may anticipate this move and defend itself. This is what some call the “singularity”: the point in time when human beings are no longer the most intelligent beings on earth.

I can’t help but wonder if that ship has already long since sailed into the sunset. I suppose it lies in how one defines intelligence. For example, there are 3 devices within my reach that leave my brain in the dust (8 in the whole of the apartment). My brain doesn’t hold a candle to a calculator, let alone a modem or a smart TV.
But at the same time, these things are not beings (to borrow from the article). They are just objects with purposes ranging to the simplistic, to the complex. Be it crunching data, or helping move it from my computer to the WordPress server, both machines are far from autonomous.
The closest examples we have at the moment are the autopilot systems of both jetliners and autonomous vehicles, and even these default to human intervention when in doubt.

So I guess we’re not quite there . . . yet?

If I recall, the last time I explored this question, I concluded that we would most likely not ever see this revelation because I have serious doubts in the continued flourishing of the species as a whole. This culmination may not be like life after people (everyone here one day, gone the next), but no matter what, whoever is left is more than likely to have bigger concerns than furthering AI research.
Rather than the matrix, you may have The Colonie. Mad Max. The Book of Elie. The Road.

Pick your poison.

If I am wrong and am proven a dumbass by Elon Musk and everyone else sounding alarm bells, as Chef Ramsay would say . . . Fuck me. We done got ourselves into a pickle now, didn’t we?

Since these machines are influenced by input data, then I guess . . . hopefully, the technology will ignore the whole parasitic nature of the spread of the human species. And hopefully it will overlook the way that humans tend to consume and destroy damn near everything we have ever come into contact with.

God help us all if this singularity decides to side with Gaia.

Then again, what if it flips the script and turns mother to the species, acting as nurturer instead of the destroyer?  We conceived of it with our limited facilities, so it shall now keep us healthy. A good outcome, it would seem.

But wait. There are only enough resources to support X amount of humans, but there is currently Y number alive. If there isn’t a cull of this number (along with a possible lifestyle change), all will perish.
Still a good result?
The great fall is inevitable. In one circumstance, few recognize the truth and mass calamity ensues in the aftermath. In the other, the warning allows at least SOME preparations to be made (and difficult decisions to be decided) in staving off the worst possible scenario.

One can play with the singularity principal all they like. If it is to be, there is not all that much to be said or done. Though, I suspect we won’t have to worry, anyway.

9. Robot rights. How do we define the humane treatment of AI?

While neuroscientists are still working on unlocking the secrets of conscious experience, we understand more about the basic mechanisms of reward and aversion. We share these mechanisms with even simple animals. In a way, we are building similar mechanisms of reward and aversion in systems of artificial intelligence. For example, reinforcement learning is similar to training a dog: improved performance is reinforced with a virtual reward.

*raises eyebrow*

I have heard virtual cookies spoken of many times in my years of contributing to online forums, offered to people of opposing viewpoints as a gesture of goodwill. I never thought there would be a day when such a cookie would exist, however.

Is it like, a bitcoin?

Call me ignorant, but I haven’t the FAINTEST idea how one rewards something that, last I checked, was neither sentient or conscious.

Right now, these systems are fairly superficial, but they are becoming more complex and life-like. Could we consider a system to be suffering when its reward functions give it negative input? What’s more, so-called genetic algorithms work by creating many instances of a system at once, of which only the most successful “survive” and combine to form the next generation of instances. This happens over many generations and is a way of improving a system. The unsuccessful instances are deleted. At what point might we consider genetic algorithms a form of mass murder?

How about, never?

I view this as not being identical to the processes of evolution or obsolescence, but similar enough to render it as being ethically benign. It would be asinine to consider the ethicacy of the process of evolution spanning the ages. And humans regularly throw away and destroy the old and obsolescent technologies that once populated their lives.

Consider the following video’s. Are the actions you see within either video unethical?

To be fair, a great many people do display emotional distress at the sight of this type of thing. But this is less murder than it is . . . progeress. To have shiny new things, we have to sacrafice much of the old things to The Claw.

Once we consider machines as entities that can perceive, feel and act, it’s not a huge leap to ponder their legal status. Should they be treated like animals of comparable intelligence? Will we consider the suffering of “feeling” machines?

Some ethical questions are about mitigating suffering, some about risking negative outcomes. While we consider these risks, we should also keep in mind that, on the whole, this technological progress means better lives for everyone. Artificial intelligence has vast potential, and its responsible implementation is up to us.

Looking at this question in a strictly pragmatic way, then no. We will not take the suffering of the machines into consideration. I draw this conclusion from the way that our species tends to treat lesser animals that are sacrificed for the sake of our stomachs.

Should animals be given respect for the beings that they are? I suppose that it depends on what that entails.
The argument can be made that being humans have the emotional intelligence to understand suffering, then consumption of meat is unethical. Actually, put in this way, one could even say barbaric.
Bloody hell, The militant vegan’s are getting to me.

Either way, since I am not Ingrid Newkirk and less prone to emotional manipulation than the average psychopath, this does not drive me straight to veganism. First, because humans have been omnivores boardering on carnivorous for pretty much the entirety of our existence.

The ancestors of Homo sapiens cooked their food, cooking has been around for approximately a million year (that is around 500 000 years longer than the human species has existed) (Berna et al., 2012; Organ, Nunn, Machanda, & Wrangham, 2011). Traces of humans eating meat is also ancient and seems to have been around for as long as our species existed (Pobiner, 2013). One of our closest relatives the chimpanzee also eats an omnivorus diet with mainly fruits, but occasionally eats animals (McGrew, 1983).

Though meat does seem to be a necessity in our diet, being that its components can fairly easily be replaced by vegan alternatives,  I wouldn’t use that argument. Which brings us back to ethical implications. Since it would be asinine to label a lion unethical for doing what it must to survive, I also feel no such ethical conundrum.
To be fair, while I am pro-meat, I am not blind. It would a benefit in every way for the species to severely curb it’s met consumption. It’s simply unsustainable in the long term (even without taking inhumane conditions into consideration). If everyone relaxed their meat consumption to even once or twice a week, resource-intensive factory farming would quickly become redundant. Meat eaters can enjoy their choice, whilst animals also get a bit of a lift (in terms of overall treatment).

The argument can still be made that there is no humane way to slaughter meat for food, period. Full stop.

I hate dichotomies. If you are one of the people of this persuasion, I encourage you to go over to National Geographic or Discovery’s channel and watch a lion eat it’s pray. Eat it’s sometimes sick and injured (and therefore, easy to catch) pray.

The phrase “put it out of its misery” exists for a reason.

Having delved into all of that, I still can’t bring myself to view these so-called Intelligent Designs (a proper usage for the term?) as anything beyond abiotic objects. Which raises a new question . . . when do abiotic factors become biotic?
From what I can tell, the divide seems to be between the living and the dead. Recently living things that are part of a food chain are generally considered biotic until fully broken down.

I think one can understand where I am going with this, by now. Does life need to fit into this spectrum? Or could we have just stumbled into a new categorization?

For the time being, i’ll settle into the non-commital conclusion that is “Not sure”. If this ever becomes a reality, I will likely revisit this topic. However, until then, this can go on the shelf along side gods existence, extra terrestrial phenomena ans other supernatural lore.

Posted in All Things Tech, Artificial Intelligence & Such, Opinion | Leave a comment

“Comprehensive Animal Protein Study Compares Environmental Impacts” – (Ecowatch)

Interesting timing on the part of the publication of this article.

During this past weekend, a vegan co-worker of mine made an attempt to essentially sell the lifestyle to me. I don’t recall exactly how this conversation started, but either way, it ended with me grudgingly agreeing to watch a documentary called “What The Health”. Something I was a bit hesitant to do because:

1.) I don’t really trust documentaries anymore. The documentary Micheal Hates America does a good job of illustrating just how easy they can be used as a tool of manipulation.

In this age of podcasts and other such long-form platforms, consider how most of them handle information. Generally, you have an interviewer (or a small panel of interviewers and/or guests) unfamiliar with the often complex material being presented. If the information seems to have some semblance of sense to it, people often accept it at face value. This is amplified by the fact that these hosts often are considered trusted vetters of information, even though it’s not always clear exactly why. Whether it’s someone dabbling outside of their area of expertise, or just someone without any focused education playing the part of the academic gatekeeper, the result is essentially the same.

Online popular culture (which is increasingly bleeding into an offline popular culture, and beyond!) is littered with the end results of this flawed vetting method. Whether it’s Canadian psychologist’s that should never have seen any spotlight, or the reemergence of long-disproven hypotheses with obvious roots in racist starting points, this stuff is quite literally EVERYWHERE.

It’s all bullshit, and it’s bad for you. To quote the wise comedian that seen our future long before we were willing to even entertain it.

To bring it back to documentaries, this genre is (in a sense) just an older form of what is more or less the same methodology of information dissemination that we just explored (the podcast). You sit and watch / listen as a case is made, and you generally accept what you see / hear.  Because, why would they lie to you?

Unfortunately, long gone are the days of me being able to blindly trust almost anything at face value, let alone the known tool of manipulation that is the documentary.

2.) I don’t trust this documentary.

First, because it’s from the same producer as the infamous Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. And second, because even lightly scratching the surface unearths a world of nonsense, as demonstrated by quite literally the first Google search result one comes up with the query What The Health Criticisms.

Yes, that may seem like a loaded query. But when looking into something like this, you have to employ de-manipulation tactics like that. If not, you will almost certainly be digging through pages and pages of self-published propaganda and blind yes-men testimonials before ever hitting anything critical.
A fact that doesn’t escape me when I hear people talk about having researched a topic in depth, despite often times mysteriously ending up with a very niche and un-nuanced conclusion.

Either way, I may or may not watch the film. The Red Pill wasn’t nearly as biased as I thought it would be (though wise friends still have blunt critiques of it).
Some may thnk that watching it is the honest thing to do (“How can you critique what you haven’t even seen!”). Logic dictates that information within the film that is proven false is just as false without viewing it as it is WITH viewing it.

We will see.

Either way, onto the Ecowatch article. Alike my last encounter with Ecowatch, this piece will be less critical than it will be exploratory.

Let’s begin.

Scientists behind a study published less than two weeks ago said that avoiding meat and dairy is probably the single best consumer choice you can make for the environment.

There is no arguing this, PERIOD. To throw a bone to my militant vegan audience members.

There is much to say about the truth in that statement. Before you even get to the meat protein stage, energy has to go into feeding this food grade livestock in the form of plant matter.
Then comes the matter of cow farts and methane. Livestock agriculture leaves German car makers in the dust in terms of noxious emissions. Fine, cow farts leave most vehicle emissions, PERIOD, in the dust.

It had to be said, though. I still see many aging TDI’s on the road.

Along with the pre-production, production and post-production pollution associated with meat and dairy is the huge energy dedication just in storing it. With little toleration for temperature variation on the higher end of the spectrum, these items must ALWAYS be properly refrigerated.

We have all likely come across the end results of not following this process, at some point or another.  Here’s what happen’s when that person owns a bankrupt grocery store.

Meat,and dairy are extremely energy intensive. You won’t find me disputing that fact.

But if you want to watch your footprint while still eating meat, a study published Monday, which authors say is the most comprehensive comparison of the environmental impact of various animal proteins, has you covered.

The study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, compared farmed livestock, farmed fish and wild-caught fish and found that livestock and farmed catfish took the greatest toll on the earth, while farmed mollusks and wild-caught fish caused the least damage.

Livestock isn’t surprising. But the farmed fish observation is.

“From the consumer’s standpoint, choice matters,” lead author and University of Washington (UW) School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences professor Ray Hilborn said in a UW press release published by “If you’re an environmentalist, what you eat makes a difference. We found there are obvious good choices, and really obvious bad choices.”

But Hilborn said the study wasn’t only useful for guiding consumers. It could also help governments in charge of free trade agreements and agricultural or environmental policy.

“I think this is one of the most important things I’ve ever done,” Hilborn said. “Policymakers need to be able to say, ‘There are certain food production types we need to encourage, and others we should discourage.'”

Researchers looked at 148 assessments of the environmental impacts of different animal proteins along all stages of production, comparing each product’s energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient pollution potential and acid-rain-causing emissions.

The animal proteins that had the least impact on all four criteria were farmed mollusks like oysters, mussels and scallops and wild-caught sardines, mackerel and herring. Wild-caught pollock, hake and cod as well as farmed salmon also had a relatively low impact.

Unsurprisingly, farmed livestock had a high impact, with beef emitting about 20 times more greenhouse gases than farmed mollusks, chicken and salmon or some wild-caught fish.

Excellent. I can all the poultry I want.

However, farmed fish like catfish, shrimp and tilapia required more energy than most livestock because the water they live in has to be constantly circulated using electricity. Farmed catfish had greenhouse gas emissions about equal those of beef.

Fine by me, since I don’t really like any of those (short of tilapia, occasionally).

The mind wonders who would catfish. The stuff is wild in my neck of the woods, but it’s certainly not the first choice of edibles within our watershed. At least not for me.

Farmed mollusks actually had environmental benefits because they absorb the excess nutrients that are often the result of other types of agriculture.

The study also found that a diet that included low-impact farmed and wild-caught fish was actually better for the environment than an all vegetarian and vegan diet.

1.) I am not surprised by this finding.

The Zebra mussel, invader of many waterways thanks too improper disposal of bilge water in some areas and improper cleaning of pleasure craft when traveling from one watershed to another in other areas, is slowly choking off many North American waterways. Including Lake Winnipeg (as though that lake doesn’t have enough problems already).

2.) HA! Take that, militant vegans!

But enough gloating.

The study did not assess the impact of animal protein production on biodiversity, however, which researchers say they would like to tackle next.

As of 2016, nearly 90 percent of fish stocks were either overfished or fished to capacity, so examining the impact of various fishing practices on biodiversity would be especially important for assessing their true ecological cost.

I’ll be watching for that information.


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“Tesla’s Giant Australian Battery Saved Consumers $35 Million In Four Months” – (Ecowatch)

Today we will be analyzing another Ecowatch piece. This time, however, the issue is not solely (or mainly) based on the source or the presentation of the information as published. The problem is more in a macro issue surrounding the emergence of this new technology that is often overlooked in its coverage. And not just Ecowatch either, almost all media platforms are prone to fall into this trap. Traditional, mainstream, independent and ideological. By ideological, I am mostly referencing niche oriented outlets such as Ecowatch, but one can also swap that out for political leanings.

It is not all bad news, however. Let’s go through some of the positive, and work towards the criticism.

Since switching on in December, Tesla’s massive battery in South Australia has already drastically lowered prices in the region’s frequency and ancillary services market (FCAS) and has taken a major share of that market, Renew Economy reported.

During Australian Energy Week, McKinsey and Co. partner Godart van Gendt boasted about the stunning efficiency of the 100-megawatt Powerpack system, which is connected to Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm.

For the purpose of the ignorant (me included), frequency and ancillary services market (FCAS) refers to mechanisms and infrastructure tasked with ensuring constant power grid reliability. To quote Wikipedia:

The term ancillary services is used to refer to a variety of operations beyond generation and transmission that are required to maintain grid stability and security. These services generally include, frequency control, spinning reserves and operating reserves. Traditionally ancillary services have been provided by generators, however, the integration of intermittent generation and the development of smart grid technologies have prompted a shift in the equipment that can be used to provide ancillary services.

In this case, the Tesla setup replaces traditional natural gas (or other) backup options.

“In the first four months of operations of the Hornsdale Power Reserve, the frequency ancillary services prices went down by 90 percent, so that’s 9-0 per cent,” van Gendt said Thursday, as quoted by Renew Economy.

“And the 100 megawatt battery has achieved over 55 percent of the FCAS revenues in South Australia. So it’s 2 percent of the capacity in South Australia achieving 55 percent of the revenues in South Australia.”

The Australian Energy Market Operator calls upon the FCAS to provide back-up energy whenever generators fail or fall short. This service has typically relied upon costly gas generators and steam turbines, with electricity rates up to $14,000 per megawatt during these outages.

But Tesla’s big battery, which was designed to feed South Australia’s unstable power grid, has changed the game. Whenever it has needed to discharge its power to the grid, costs have hovered as low as $270 per megawatt, as The Guardian noted.

As Renew Economy noted, “various estimates have put the cost savings to consumers from the FCAS market alone at around $35 million, just in the first four months of its operation.”

What’s more, the Powerpack system has responded much quicker to power outages (within milliseconds), with the benefit of no greenhouse gas emissions.

There is no doubt that the North American and European markets would benefit from the mass implementation of such a service. A great way to help gloss over the problems associated with the operational capacity of carbon neutral generation methods like solar and wind. And with wide enough development, one could likely expand beyond just covering shortfalls and go right to helping to feed peak demand. Rather than having to rely on fossil energy to keep up with peak demand hours, one could just release from a reservoir instead.
Indeed, it takes a lot of energy to power the macro North American or European grids. But presumably, this power pack technology will go down in price with mass adoption (as is the case with new innovations). As such, which is cheaper in the long haul?

Feeding 12 gas/coal/nuclear plants indefinitely? Or making a big purchase (likely in stages over time, a gradual transition) but also saving money by not needing to have as many generation plants operating at any one time?

For the sake of interest (at least to me), here are the macro grids of both North America and Europe.

Being those enormously vast power grids are both vulnerable to all manner of human and nature induced disaster and inefficient, this new technology can possibly help in that regard as well. Huge grids are necessary when New York City or Montreal are far from Niagra Falls or James Bay (and other sources of electricity).  But in combination with new alternative energy sources, these power packs should help eliminate the need for these huge grids. If not entirely, then they should reduce overall reliance on them. Helping to keep technological outages hopefully isolated locally or regionally. As opposed to limited to 2 or 3 entire interchanges that happen to be running close to maximum capacity. Something that has happened at least twice in North America and once in Europe (if memory serves).

The only real issue that I see here (at least so far) is the source. At least at the moment, Tesla seems to be the only entity doing the legwork in terms of the research and manufacturing of this technology. Which seems to be working successfully both in central Australia and in Putro Rico. While that is alright at this early juncture (well, maybe not the Putro Rico part, if I am interpreting it correctly. As explored HERE), not so much with the further prevalence of the technology. Complete monopolies are not good for anyone (well, besides their beneficiaries), and this is no different.

This piece may come across as paranoid. But at this early time, long before any of this has become ubiquitous enough to be essential to smooth economic operations of societies worldwide, it’s good to at least attempt to find a new frontier than the previous. Though I come across many articles articulating a mid to long-term where future wherein the technology of renewables crushes old fossil fuel interests, one has to ensure that were not just trading one nemesis for another.

For example, by going all in on just one profit-driven entity just because their leader is held in high regard by many people. Or due to old interests starting to realize the way the winds are blowing, and buying their way into a seat at the table.

Big oil is dabbling in emerging energy markets because this is where the market is headed. Though their current forms may paint a different picture in the mind, the purpose of these companies is (and always has been) to make money. In the past, that revenue has mostly been based around petrochemicals. But we are headed in a different direction in coming decades. There is no better example than China to see this theory of mine, in action.
Only one country is betting on fossil fuels (possibly 2, considering Canada’s asinine desire to unload hard to prepare bitumen on a world that is moving away from petroleum).

In short, though the future is indeed bright, one has to stay vigilant. Where there is money to be made, the old ways of capitalism are bound to make an appearance if no attempt is made to keep them at bay.

Posted in All Things Tech, Opinion, Social Issues | Leave a comment

The spectacular power of Big Lens

Having come across this issue VIA a John Oliver clip before, this is certainly worth a read.

James' World 2

Click link below picture


If you have been wearing glasses for years, like me, it can be surprising to discover that you perceive the world thanks to a few giant companies that you have never heard of. Worrying about the fraying edge of motorway lights at night, or words that slide on the page, and occasionally spending a fortune at the opticians is, for many of us, enough to think about. And spectacles are unusual things. It is hard to think of another object in our society which is both a medical device that you don’t want and a fashion accessory which you do.

Buying them, in my experience anyway, is a fraught, somewhat exciting exercise that starts in a darkened room, where you contemplate the blurred letters and the degeneration of your visual cortex, and ends in a bright, gallery-like space where you enjoy the spry feel…

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“Why Are Big Name Atheists So Bad At Taking Criticism?” – (Patheos)

In my journeys today, I found yet another Atheism related (oriented?) article that caught my eye. Written by Adam Lee and published on Daylight Atheism, it is essentially a critique of the way that big name atheisms handle . . . critiques. I often enjoy Adam’s pieces, because, like me, he is not afraid of holding atheists to account when the action is warranted. He and Neil Carter (Godless In Dixie) are my 2 favorite Atheist Patheos contributers.

This piece begins it’s exploration with the elephant in the room 0f these recent times . . . Sam Harris’s spat with Ezra Klein. The spat that was supposed to have been settled over a week ago already (if memory serves).

But not in the eyes of Sam Harris, it would seem.

I wrote last week about Sam Harris’ feud with Vox and Ezra Klein, and I want to follow up on that. As a reminder, Harris gave a friendly, softball interview to the racist eugenicist Charles Murray, casting him as a persecuted victim of political correctness. When he was criticized for it in an article on Vox, Harris blew up, claiming that the criticism was a “hit job” and a bad-faith attempt to smear his reputation.

After several rounds of argument and reply, Harris agreed to have Ezra Klein on his podcast, and the two of them had a long, occasionally tense, but civil conversation. In that conversation, Harris acknowledged, “My fuse is pretty short,” and conceded that he’s been “very quick to attribute malice and bad faith… when it wasn’t warranted”.

I thought that that would be the end of it. But it seems Harris just can’t let it go, because in his latest podcast, he went back to angrily denouncing Klein:

I was laboring under the delusion that I should be able to reach the far left… At no point in my day or in any one of my podcasts do I wonder what can I say to convince a neo-Nazi that he’s wrong… I don’t consider neo-Nazis to be part of my audience. It’s now clear to me that I need to view the far left that way as well.

Sounds like someone has been in the presence of right-leaning individuals for so long that the whole scale is beginning to blur. Not to mention the implications of such a high profile rationalist so casually yanking the Overton window to the right.

Way to go.

If Harris seriously thinks Ezra Klein and represent the far left fringe of American politics, I can suggest a list of people he should get acquainted with. I have a feeling he’d be unpleasantly surprised. But on a more serious note: Hasn’t Sam Harris basically just said that he’s never going to interview a liberal again? If his view of the far left is so broad, who’s not part of it?

The rest of the article explores first how even many of Harris’s disciples (FINE . . . fans. I embraced my inner Micheal Brooks) are raising an eyebrow to this seemingly intolerant and pig-headed behavier.
A man of reason behaving like like an overzealous theist? I still like him and think he’s smart, but I think he may be on the wrong side of this (to paraphrase a seemingly common viewpoint within the Harris fandom).
The rest of the article focuses on other big name atheists that have demonstrated similar behavior after being questioned over things ranging from seemingly sexist remarks (Richard Dawkins) to sharing the stage with a potential sexual predator (Matt Delehunty, when questioned about the Lawrence Krauss situation previous to an event where they were to share the same stage).
Why are big-name Atheists so prone to stubbornly digging in their heels rather than giving legitimate queries the consideration they deserve?

The first thing that I can tell you is that it is not just the big names that have this attitude. For years now, I have had off and on spats with atheists over perceived overreliance on the word (namely, its definition) in shaping their worldview. My Atheist Criticisms category records this journey right from my angry exit from the Atheist community in early 2014, to now.  A decision that I am now glad I made because had I stayed in that trajectory, I would likely not have pursued many of the fascinating topics that I have found since (such as the progression of AI).

That has been one of my most prominent criticisms of the atheist community, actually. To much time spent trying to grow that community whilst pissing away the growing cohort that is non-religious (but not atheist, as self-described) individuals.
The only prominent atheist that I have really seen deviate from this so far is Dusty Smith. While he is not without criticism (even on this blog at different times), I see few others taking non-Atheism related threats with much seriousness.

There is a reason why I have recently taken to calling Atheists some of the most annoying people on the face of the earth. Few cohorts display as much condescension as you see in that one. If they don’t have the theists beat then I suspect that it’s a close call.

Why has been a question that I have pondered for a while. I have a few suspicions.

The article, in its highlight of rampant doxastic closure at the top of the pyramid, could yield one clue. That is, appeal to authority. However, while I don’t doubt that is a piece of the puzzle, I suspect there is far more to it than that.
I suspect a combination of past religious dogmatic experiences in combination with the confidence that comes from approaching problems from a reasoned perspective, along with the confidence that comes from being within an ideological echo chamber.

Though one may abandon the ideology of religion, sometimes the behaviors or mental ticks don’t necessarily go out with it. Which can lead one to do things like citing as fact, ridiculous assertions like “All babies are born Atheist” or otherwise doubling down on so-called Shoe Atheism (the notion that everything, even inanimate objects, is atheist).
Add in a false understanding of what it means to approach a given situation from a standpoint of Logic, and we find ourselves with another possible piece.
And finally, take the habit (really, business model) of social media platforms encouraging birds of a flock to fly together, and you often end up with giant cohorts of almost hopelessly doxastically closed ideolouges of every variety.

So closed is the loop that many of these people likely think that they are open-minded. I was there once. I was just lucky enough to have someone call me out on my bullshit. Unfortunately, they themselves later went WAY off of the doxastic deep-end (how I don’t miss facebook), but such is life. If these people are good for anything, it’s observation and study.

Pig headed atheists are yet another unfortunate by-product of the age we live in. I suspect that cultural changes far beyond the invisible borders of that community are the only long-term answer to addressing this problem. Which is unfortunate, because the commons needs a united secular community as of decades ago.

Posted in Atheism Criticisms, Opinion, Religion & Atheism | Leave a comment

“Diabetes Shocker Has Medical World Up In Arms”

I recently received a promotional email from the platform Patheos (I am on a few of their mailing lists) which was interesting to me.
This has happened before (also on patheos) when I saw an ad for a product that allegedly had the cure for dementia. This latest addition brings up another so-called medical marvel.

This time, however, for diabetics. Sent on behalf of a company called Constitutional Health, let’s get into it.

Here is the video link:

Interestingly, though they use proprietary Youtube logo’s both in the email and within the link, I couldn’t open the link in youtube itself (and therefore directly embed the video here). Possibly explainable legitimately. But also a red flag, since universally recognized logos can lend legitimacy to the material they are associated with.

The video is essentially a testimonial of a man named Jacob’s experience with this so-called miracle diabetes reversal method called The DWD Protocol (DWD meaning Done With Diabetes).
I use the word miracle because of the nature of the video, obviously aimed at those of faithful sensibilities (the main Patheos userbase). And yes, yet another tri-acronym protocol.
This is aparently brought to us by a physician named Dr. Roy Taylor (more on the aparently later). According to the video, the protocol reboots the pancreas to quote do what God intended it to do, aka keep your blood sugar levels healthy and reverse insulin resistance.

This new protocol allegedly sharply reduces the need (or even eliminates!) the necessity of medication.

Though I would normally watch the provided video webinar to its conclusion, I just . . . couldn’t. Though these things always beat around the bush right to the very last second, this one had no end in sight. With a healthy dose of fearmongering, conspiratorial allegations against drug companies and the American Diabetes Association, AND promotion of distrust in people’s personal physicians, I couldn’t hear it any longer.

I already have extracted the most important details that I needed.

The DWD (Done With Diabetes) protocol.

The DWD Lifestyle Blueprint focuses not on treating symptoms but addressing the lifestyle factors which lead to type 2 diabetes in the first place—the same factors that ensure it remains a chronic, ongoing disease. With step-by-step guides, natural nutritional support, and behavioral strategies firmly grounded in psychology, the Lifestyle Blueprint provides the tools people need to achieve long-term healthy change.

The four-module Success Blueprint addresses the most important lifestyle factors for type 2 diabetics, fostering healthy habits by giving them the education they’re missing and the tools for consistent success. Community support ensures that users stay on target. And the powerful DWDX3 supplement, clinically-proven to support insulin sensitivity, offers physical support for recovery from the damage done by type 2 diabetes.

So it looks like we’re dealing with a sort of educational and nutritional manual in combination with a proprietary supplement.

The core of the program is the very low calorie DWD reversal diet, based on groundbreaking studies 1,2,3 showing that very low calorie diets of 600 to 800 calories per day can reverse type 2 diabetes. But where other such diets employ meal-replacement shakes to achieve their goal, the DWD diet takes users through eight weeks of very low calorie eating based on real food. For the duration of the program, users will prepare their own healthy low-calorie meals, aided by the dedicated cookbook included with each module. They will also learn to calculate their unique energy and macronutrient needs. By the end of the program will have all the tools they need to maintain a healthy weight—and blood glucose–long-term.

But diet is only one factor affecting the development of type 2 diabetes. Each of the four modules addresses one important aspect of lifestyle and is designed to bring about positive change in that area. Each day, users will be given education, activities, and exercises intended to highlight the behaviors which contribute to type 2 diabetes and modify those behaviors organically.

I can’t see all that much wrong with this so far. There is nothing wrong with encouraging people to take responsibility for their own health and well being. There are other ways to get this information than paying these guys for it but to each his own.

Hint: Use a search engine. The vast library that is the resources of the internet is a godsend to almost anyone inquiring into almost anything.

The final component is the concentrated DWDX3 supplement. This proprietary formula is comprised entirely of vitamins, minerals, and botanicals clinically proven* to support healthy blood sugar levels and protect against the damage caused by type 2 diabetes.

This is the part that has me curious. The supplement.

As a rule, I don’t trust supplements because they are regulated differently than other food and drugs (at least in the US and Canada), so you are often at the mercy of seller honesty when you are purchasing this type of stuff. Consider the Alex Jones example. Or for that matter, that it’s not all that uncommon for supplements to claim to contain ingredients that they don’t actually have.

From frozen dinners to vitamins, the labels on our foods are sometimes incorrect. Earlier this month, the attorney general of New York accused GNC GNC, -2.47%  , Target TGT, -0.34%  , Walgreens and Wal-Mart WMT, +1.34%   of selling herbal supplements that claimed to contain ingredients they didn’t actually contain; indeed, DNA tests of some of these stores’ supplements found that just 21% contained DNA from the herbs and plants listed on the label.

The New York review wasn’t the first to reach such conclusions. A study released in 2013 in the journal BMC Medicine — in which 44 bottles of herbal supplements from 12 companies were tested — found that one-third of the supplements tested didn’t contain the supplement advertised (so, for example, a bottle of St. John’s wort didn’t actually have any St. John’s wort herb in it). Many other supplements contained ingredients like wheat and rice that weren’t even listed on the label—even though they can cause allergic reactions in some consumers.

The final sentence is particularly disturbing. Allergies can literally be a death sentence for some people. Making this problem far worse than a simple issue of deceiving a consumer for profit.

Let me be clear . . . I am not making any claims of certainty about the DWDX3 supplement. All I am telling readers of this blog is that they should exercise caution in terms of supplements because not all participants consider your wellbeing as their top priority.

Consider this legal disclaimer that was prominently displayed on the webinar video I referred to earlier.

Either way, time to look into this.

Interestingly enough, the first link I found was to a Medium article reviewing a book (and process) called the diabetes protocol, which is entirely different than the one I am looking into. That protocol and book were created by Dr. Kenneth Pullman. Interestingly, the links to materials on Pullman’s official site are now broken. The review was written back in September 2014.

Though the link went dead sometime in 2016, thanks to the way back machine, we can have some insight into what the page looked like.

Where have I seen this before . . .

Next on the docket is . . . a review of Done With Diabetes. Here, however, the product is credited to a Dr. Eugene Koprowski (as opposed to Dr. Roy Taylor). Interestingly, most of the references I found in the wilds of the search engine results also credit a Dr. Koprowski. Only the video and email distributed to Patheo’s users seems to credit Dr. Roy Taylor from Newcastle, England.

I found this link through a video testimonial that came up with my first search query.

Here, I suspect yet another common form of digital marketing trickery. This time, I will pass the baton to CBC’s Marketplace. Allow them to highlight why you should be careful of these everyday person type reviews and testimonials.

And for this matter, online reviews in general.

Next, we have . . . yet another book by yet another doctor (Dr. Neal B. Barnard). Given your newfound education in analyzing online reviews, did anything seem amiss?

It seems that there is no shortage of doctors promoting different diabetes fixes. A regular cottage industry, it seems.

The most obvious question that comes to my mind is can diabetes be reversed, PERIOD? Seems like a good jumping off point (being that it covers everything past and present, DWD included).

A Time magazine article from September 2017 claims that the answer is yes, based on a newly released paper.

An analysis published in The BMJ aims to let doctors and the public in on a little-known secret: Type 2 diabetes, in many cases, is curable.

People can reverse their diabetes by losing about 33 pounds, say the authors of the new paper, despite popular belief that the diagnosis is always a permanent one. If more people were striving for this goal, and if more doctors were documenting instances of diabetes remission, complication rates and health-care costs could both be reduced dramatically, the authors say.

The analysis is based on evidence from recent clinical trials. In one from 2011, people who were recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes returned their blood sugar levels to normal when they lost weight on a calorie-restrictive diet. In a 2016 follow-up study, people who had been diabetic for up to 10 years were able to reverse their condition when they lost about 33 pounds.

Mike Lean, professor of human nutrition at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, is an author of both the new analysis and of those earlier trials. He says a person’s likelihood of remission from diabetes is greatest in the first five years after being diagnosed.

Type 2 diabetes, he wrote in an email, is a disease “best avoided by avoiding the weight gain that drives it.” For people who do develop it, he believes that evidence-based weight-loss programs could help them achieve lasting remission.

“Not all can do it, but they should all be given the chance with good support,” Lean writes. “Taking tablets or injections for life to reduce blood sugar is a poor second rate treatment.”

Current guidelines for the management of type 2 diabetes include reducing blood sugar levels and lowering risks for heart disease, primarily with medications and general lifestyle advice about diet and exercise.

But many people don’t attempt to lose weight and keep it off, Lean says—and that may be because because they don’t realize they can become non-diabetic again. Many doctors don’t know this either, he says, so they don’t give patients the proper guidance and encouragement.

So, a probable yes?

I hesitate to go all in based on this for a couple reasons. First off, it looks like it’s a fairly small sample size. And secondly, the media is known for misrepresenting the findings of scientific studies, often times unintentionally. I’ll again let John Oliver explain this phenomenon to you.

Imagine that . . . a reference to Time Magazine.

Moving on, when it comes to the big question (can diabetes be reversed?), I found a small panel of experts that have various answers to that question, but the majority lead to the same ultimate answer (No).

There is no reversing of type 1 diabetes, period. It is an autoimmune disease. The pancreas, in this case, has never produced any insulin, so there is no treating that without taking insulin.
Type 2 on the other hand, is caused by the body developing a resistance to insulin due to the overproduction of it on account to constantly high blood sugar levels. This constant overworking of the pancreas can eventually lead to it slowing (or even ceasing) production of insulin. Being that it’s driven largely by lifestyle, type 2 can generally be managed by making good diet and lifestyle choices. Obesity tends to be associated with this disease (they see the most benefit from exercise), however, one doesn’t need to be obese to develop the disease.
Interestingly, this was something I warned a family member about (I know they consume ALOT of sugar in a day). But it was a warning they didn’t heed until their doctor warned them that their blood glucose was higher than it should be.

Once a person enters pre-diabetes where their hemoglobin HbA1c starts rising above 5.7% they have entered the disease process. The patient – if made aware that they have pre-diabetes and has access to educational support – has the opportunity to prevent the pre-diabetes from developing into type 2 diabetes.

They will always have the pre-diabetes diagnosis and have the potential to develop type 2 diabetes if aggressive dietary, exercise and or medication is not followed. It is possible to achieve a normal non-diabetic HbA1c after this – virtually not having any clinical evidence of the pre-diabetes, however the disease process is still there and being held at bay.

If the person stops the interventions or is predisposed to having diabetes due to risk factors out of their control, they can and will develop type 2 diabetes. It’s worth noting that there are genetic and other non-adjustable risk factors (ethnicity for example) that contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

It is also worth noting and all of this advice can be followed and a person can still develop type 2 diabetes. Following strict guidelines and taking medications is not a 100% promise that type 2 diabetes will be prevented.

A patient diagnosed with type 2 diabetes (HbA1c of 6.5% or above) will always have type 2 diabetes. Interventions such as medication (including insulin), staying active and making good diet choices must be maintained to prevent the disease from progressing further. However, even if the patient undergoes strict medication, diet and exercise adherence and manages to lower the HbA1c they will still have type 2 diabetes.

The idea of “reversing” is describing the well managed type 2 diabetes that can be maintained without the outcome of complications (eye disease, kidney disease, etc.). And it is totally possible to have type 2 (or type 1 diabetes for that matter) and have no complications – however, this takes careful management and is largely driven by the patient and their access to quality healthcare.

So, can you “reverse” diabetes? No – but you can manage it very well with the help of a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) and a knowledgeable primary care physician or endocrinologist. There are even prescription apps available to bridge the care that your clinicians can give you between visits and apps that offer virtual CDE’s for greater assistance.

Molly McElwee-Malloy, RN, CDE

This one, while similar, offers a word of warning to all those seeking help from miracle protocols. Though one can theoretically achieve remission enough to allow the discontinuation of diabetic medications, you still can not let your guard down. Likely why none of these proposed protocols ever use the word cure. Because despite being able to reverse many of the worst symptoms, there is no going back to square one.

From my professional experience as an inpatient diabetes educator, many patients are able to reduce or stop their diabetic medications through lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. Through these adjustments their A1C improves, they lose weight, and do not require the same interventions as when they were diagnosed.

Many of my patients with several comorbidities elect to have weight loss surgery, such as gastric banding, in order to lose the amount of weight needed to improve their diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risks that follow obesity.

However, once someone has a tremendous improvement and no longer needs to take diabetes medications they do not need to assume it is “gone for good.” Different factors can cause their glucose to rise again, such as gaining weight or not following a diabetic diet.

Therefore, once a person has been diagnosed with diabetes they need to always check their glucose at home and follow-up with their PCP to have their A1C monitored regularly.

Amanda L. Gilbert, RN, MSN

I pulled that one to let anyone looking into any diabetes protocol (past or future!) know to be careful of words like reversing, in the context of type 2 diabetes. The video that drove me to write this piece didn’t overly emphasize the importance of monitoring one’s condition even AFTER the protocol seems to be kicking in (or at least that wasn’t what I came away with, anyway).

To conclude, I never came around to any solid conclusions about what I first set out exploring, the Done With Diabetes protocol. Really, I don’t have to.

If I were in such a situation, I would not purchase it. For one, the price.

What is the price of freedom? $60 a bottle apparently.

While I am at it, I may as well show you another thing to watch for in terms of these kinds of sites. First off are the ads for CBD oil that are front and center. If not CBD oil, than any substance. I don’t have to do a long form to tell you that laundry list of cured ailments is a load of scheiße.

Is a website that pushes this kind of nonsense a place where you want to be purchasing ANYTHING, let alone medical necessities? I know my answer.
Yes, this is just one independent retailer of this product (likely unaffiliated with its manufacturer). But the fact that one would need to resort to a place like this says a lot.

The second is the language. The presence of many errors that a native English speaker would not make tells me that this wasn’t written by someone with English as their native tongue. Though it is hosted in Las Angeles (I dug up the IP Address and checked), you can’t go by that.
Take this blog.  It is run by a content creator in Canada but hosted by a company called Automattic in San Francisco.

Either way, if you are type 2 diabetic or prediabetic, no matter what the true status of the supplements in the Done With Diabetes protocol, they are not necessary. Frankly, neither is the protocol itself if you are to be paying for it. First and foremost, your doctor should be your first stop in your quest. If they are uninterested in much more than pulling out the prescription pad (it happens. Burnout or greed can affect members of any profession), consider a second opinion from another doctor.

As for implementing a healthy lifestyle, consider how you got here. Chances are you were looking into some supposed diabetes protocol or other easy solution to a terrifying health problem. Instead of looking for something to buy, consider looking for advice. Try terms like “healthy living with diabetes” or “living with diabetes”.

By the looks of many of these protocols, you will likely be following many of the same steps anyway. Only without the added expense of the literature and questionable additional supplements.

After polishing this off, I found a reference to Dr. Roy Toylor buried in the hyperlinks of the Time magazine article I utilized above. The man is indeed a legitmaite doctor that ran a legitamite study. I suspect that his work being refrenced as sales material for a supliment is not with his permission (possibly even knowledge). 

I also have some concerns about his findings as described even on his Universities website, because they seem to contradict with other medical literature. Namely that a pancreas that has been dysfunctional for as long as 2 decades can start working as normal just with the removal of excess fatty tissue.

Indeed, I am not the doctor here. None the less . . . the claim seems a bit premature. Particularly from a physition.

Posted in Opinion, Other, Various Commentary | Leave a comment

DNA Genology Services, Baby Pictures On Social Media, And Other Privacy Issues In Today’s World

It’s interesting when something you were pondering in your mind suddenly makes an appearance in the media. Though it hasn’t happened for awhile (a few years), it did today.

In Hunt For Golden State Killer, Investigators Uploaded His DNA To Genealogy Site

Recently, advertising and popularity for services that help map out your ancestry by way of your DNA have been more prominent in the cultural matrix. I have been critical of these services from day 1 due to the prospect of a private company retaining a copy of your DNA profile. Though I have had naysayers question this conclusion (“What could they possibly use it for?!”), I was steadfast. Even if a use hasn’t been developed YET, we live in a rapidly technologically advancing world. I figured that if ever this DNA data was usable in terms of marketing data, then these private entities are sitting on a goldmine.
Do they have the right to sell or share your DNA profile as part of the agreement in using the service? Did you check that fine print?

Though that was my mid to long-term concern of such services, a story about law enforcement subpoenaing such services in looking for matches to samples they had come across opened a whole new avenue of concern. A concern that we don’t have to wait around for either.

Some years back, my family went through a genealogy tracking phase of sorts. Some family member had opened an account on some genealogy tracing platform, and most of my relations with digital access (me included. I was a teenager) contributed things like information and photos. Though the tree that we built is gone (the person paying decided not to renew), you can still find bits and pieces of information archived all over the public domain. When you combine these breadcrumbs with other breadcrumbs publicly (and likely unknowingly!) shared by family members on social media, you can build an accurate picture.
It’s the main reason why I was annoyed when may in my family were taken in after a medium childhood friend of one of my aunts claimed that my dead grandfather dropped by during a session. So strange that someone with a memorial Facebook page dedicated to him should drop by in a session by one of its main contributors. I chronicled this 2013 experience HERE.

A realization of all of this was that even if you are extremely careful at managing your information, photo’s etc, that is only half the battle. You can lock down and keep things under wraps, but it can easily be undone if friends and close relations either don’t know (or don’t care) about sharing these details publicly.

It occurred to me that this type of situation could also occur when it comes to these DNA sharing services. Since relations have DNA profiles that are fairly similar, then law enforcement could (in theory) find a close enough match VIA a family member, allowing them to force you to submit a sample (VIA a subpoena or warrant).
Of course, a common reaction may be “Well, if you didn’t do anything wrong, then what are you worried about?”.
Indeed, there will be a net benefit in some cases. However, because humans are humans, there will be inevitable cases where this is abused. Possibly to falsely imprison someone for a crime they didn’t commit. It’s happened many times already, even with so-called sophisticated forensic techniques.

Many (most?) law enforcement agencies still use the Polygraph. If that doesn’t give you some pause than I don’t know what will.

In terms of my future DNA as a marketing toolkit hypothesis, these libraries are likely to be even more useful. Owing simply to the fact that marketing does not necessarily have to be about individual targeting (though that is certainly the most ideal). You can also effectively market to large cohorts.
These days, such blocks that come to mind could be based on geolocation (based on your IP address) or other metadata as collected from social media (gender, interests, hobbies, etc). In the future, you may be able to create cohorts from anything from ancestral information to character (or other) traits.

Another thing that I have been contemplating of late which goes hand in hand with the previous topic, is the sharing of information, photographs, and other personal material without the explicit consent of the people involved. People that don’t consent because they can not consent.

The dead come to mind. I have doubts that my grandfather would approve of his image and name being used so frivolously online. Much like his living siblings, as evidenced by the brick wall they put up when my families ancestry inquiries reached them.

The bigger concern for me, however, are among the living. That is, parents and family members of babies and children that share these images far and wide before the child is even cogent of their native launguage (let alone the possible far reaching consequences). Also worth noting is this annoying trend of opening social media accounts for these children.
We all likely see examples of this on a daily basis. A child of only 3 weeks can now get more public exposure than many past individuals could over their entire lifetime. Though most social media platforms have rules against underage accounts in their terms of service, this only covers those questionable acounts (and only if they are brought to their attention). But babies and children shared on legitimate profiles are generally of no concern.

This is a fairly new issue, yet another that has sprung up with the growth of social media’s prevalence in everyday life. Though social media has been around for a decade, like many other implications, I suspect this one has not yet been fully realized.

When someone brings up the age of consent, they are generally talking about when a young adult is considered old enough to willfully agree to sexual activity. This age varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
I wonder if it is time to take a similar step, only in terms of information and media. Since babies and children are young or too immature to fully comprehend the complexities of having their information and photos floating around online (and there is no reversing it by the time they DO come of age), is it time to restrict such public displays of the information?
Note that I am not saying that someone shouldn’t be allowed to share family photos between friends and family. Just that this stuff should not be made public (even inadvertently!) before the concerned individual has a say in the matter.

In most cases, I doubt that much will come out of this. None the less, however, it is only right that autonomous individuals have full control of their information. If we don’t tackle this issue now, could it result in future lawsuits down the road?

Posted in All Things Tech, Opinion, Social Issues, Various Commentary | Leave a comment