science - search results
Trump’s Proposed Budget Eviscerates Federal Science, Rural and Environmental Programs | Union of Concerned...
CDC Bars Words Like “Transgender” and “Science-Based” as “Ideology Is Being Elevated Above Evidence”
Twelve Years After Katrina, Hurricane Harvey Pummels Gulf Coast and Its Climate Science-Denying Politicians
Jettisoning 'Best Available Science,' Trump Admin. Tosses Out Federal Protections for Yellowstone's Grizzlies
Climate Advocate: Trump's Racist, Anti-Science Worldview Will Make One in 30 People Worldwide Refugees
Video: Science meets religion: Android robot presented to Patriarch Kirill at Orthodox Student Forum
European Agency Says Monsanto’s Flagship Product Is Not ‘Likely’ Carcinogenic Based on Flawed Science
NYT calls out Coca-Cola’s harmful junk food science while ignoring Monsanto’s fraudulent GMO science
STUPID: Washington Post claims omega-3s are useless; science shows they improve diabetes, brain health...
Tony Trewavais wrote his letter after reading my article ‘So You Want to Help Africa Mr Paterson? Then Stop Promoting Ideology and Falsehoods to Push GMOs’. The article originally appeared on a number of prominent websites. On Global Research, the piece appeared under a different title ‘The Propaganda Campaign in support of GMOs’ (read here).
“Most objectors in this area have a political programme not a scientific one but they like to bend science to their own political point of view. Science is by its nature not politics or political propaganda or anything like it. It deals with evidence not superstition, or political or social philosophies. If you have a political programme then please stop trying to justify it by claiming it has scientific support; it does not.”
Despite its claims to the contrary, the sector cannot win the scientific debate, so it resorts to co-opting key public bodies or individuals to propagate various falsehoods and deceptions. Part of the deception is based on emotional blackmail: the world needs GMOs to feed the hungry, both now and in the future. This myth has been blown apart. In fact, the organisation GRAIN highlights that GMOs have thus far have actually contributed to food insecurity!
“If agroecological approaches can currently match yield that can be attained by using modern farming methods then by all means use it.”
“But if not and my understanding is that currently it cannot, then they should not be the farming method of recommended choice at present.”
“No-one with any concern for humanity or the welfare of its population should currently consider any other alternative. The groups that campaign for this kind or that kind of farming method and destroy crops to try and bounce others into their point of view have lost that fundamental concern for their own species.”
This is not what the GMO industry wanted to see: banner headlines in major newspapers and across the internet exposing the fraud behind GMOs. But this constitutes much more than a PR nightmare. The story behind the headlines shakes the very foundations upon which the industry is built.
“Contrary to the assertions of its proponents, the massive enterprise to reconfigure the genetic core of the world’s food supply is not based on sound science but on the systematic subversion of science – and it would collapse if subjected to an open airing of the facts.”
“convince the public and government officials, through the dissemination of false information, that there was an overwhelming expert consensus, based on solid evidence, that the new foods were safe. Yet this, as Druker points out, was clearly not true.”
“Druker describes how amazingly successful the biotech lobby has been – and the extent to which the general public and government decision makers have been hoodwinked by the clever and methodical twisting of the facts and the propagation of many myths. Moreover, it appears that a number of respected scientific institutions, as well as many eminent scientists, were complicit in this relentless spreading of disinformation.”
“It will go a long way toward dispelling the confusion and delusion that has been created regarding the genetic engineering process and the foods it creates. Although this book tells a story that’s in many ways distressing, it’s important that it has finally been told because so much confusion has been spread and so many important decision-makers have apparently been deluded.”
“Contrary to the assertions of its proponents, the massive enterprise to reconfigure the genetic core of the world’s food supply is not based on sound science but on the systematic subversion of science – and it would collapse if subjected to an open airing of the facts.”
“Steven Druker’s investigation into the history of fraud and deceit that ushered in the era of GM deserves serious consideration before we take actions that will irreversibly alter the European food supply.”
On Twitter this week, someone asked the question “Why do people doubt science?” Accompanying the tweet was a link to an article in National Geographic that implied people who are suspicious of vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), climate change, fluoridated water and various other phenomena are confused, adhere to conspiracy theories, are motivated by ideology or are misinformed as a result of access to the ‘University of Google.’ The remedy, according what is said in the article, is for us all to rely on scientific evidence pertaining to these issues and adopt a ‘scientific method’ of thought and analysis and put irrational thought processes to one side.
Who tweeted the question and posted the link? None other than Robert T Fraley, Monsanto’s Vice President and Chief Technology Officer.
Before addressing that question, it is worth mentioning that science is not the giver of ‘absolute truth’. That in itself should allow us to develop a healthy sceptism towards the discipline. The ‘truth' is a tricky thing to pin down. Scientific knowledge is built on shaky stilts that rest on shifting foundations. Science historian Thomas Kuhn wrote about the revolutionary paradigm shifts in scientific thought, whereby established theoretical perspectives can play the role of secular theology and serve as a barrier to the advancement of knowledge, until the weight of evidence and pressure from proponents of a new theoretical paradigm is overwhelming. Then, at least according to Kuhn, the old faith gives way and a new 'truth' changes.
Philosopher Paul Feyerabend argued that science is not an 'exact science'. The manufacture of scientific knowledge involves a process driven by various sociological, methodological and epistemological conflicts and compromises, both inside the laboratory and beyond. Writers in the field of the sociology of science have written much on this.
But the answer to the question “Why do people doubt science” is not because they have read Kuhn, Feyerabend or some sociology journal. Neither is it because a bunch of ‘irrational’ activists have scared them witless about GM crops or some other issue. It is because they can see how science is used, corrupted and manipulated by powerful corporations to serve their own ends. It is because they regard these large corporations as largely unaccountable and their activities and products not properly regulated by governments.
That’s why so many doubt science - or more precisely the science corporations fund and promote to support their interests.
US sociologist Robert Merton highlighted the underlying norms of science as involving research that is not warped by vested interests, adheres to the common ownership of scientific discoveries (intellectual property) to promote collective collaboration and subjects findings to organised, rigorous critical scrutiny within the scientific community. The concept of originality was added by later writers in order to fully encapsulate the ethos of science: scientific claims must contribute something new to existing discourse. Based on this brief analysis, secrecy, dogma and vested interest have no place.
This is of course a highly idealised version of what science is or should be because in reality careers, reputations, commercial interests and funding issues all serve to undermine these norms.
But if we really want to look at the role of secrecy, dogma and vested interest in full flow, we could take a look at in the sector to which Robert T Fraley belongs.
Last year, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called for “sound science” to underpin food trade between the US and the EU. However, he seems very selective in applying “sound science” to certain issues. Consumer rights groups in the US are pushing for the labelling of GMO foods, but Vilsack said that putting a label on a foodstuff containing a GM product “risks sending a wrong impression that this was a safety issue.”
Despite what Vilsack would have us believe, many scientific studies show that GMOs are indeed a big safety issue and what’s more are also having grave environmental, social and economic consequences (for example, see this and this).
By not wanting to respond to widespread consumer demands to know what they are eating and risk “sending a wrong impression,” Vislack is trying to prevent proper debate about issues that his corporate backers would find unpalatable: profits would collapse if consumers had the choice to reject the GMOs being fed to them. And ‘corporate backers’ must not be taken as a throwaway term here. Big agritech concerns have captured or at the very least seriously compromised key policy and regulatory bodies in the US (see this), Europe (see this), India (see this) and in fact on a global level (see here regarding control of the WTO).
If Robert T Fraley wants to understand why people doubt science, he should consider what Andy Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at Sussex University, says:
“The main reason some multinationals prefer GM technologies over the many alternatives is that GM offers more lucrative ways to control intellectual property and global supply chains. To sideline open discussion of these issues, related interests are now trying to deny the many uncertainties and suppress scientific diversity. This undermines democratic debate – and science itself.” (see here)
Coming from the GMO biotech industry, or its political mouthpieces, the term “sound science” rings extremely hollow. The industry carries out inadequate, short-term studies and conceals the data produced by its research under the guise of ‘commercial confidentiality’ (see this), while independent research highlights the very serious dangers of its products [see this and this). It has in the past also engaged in fakery in India (see this), bribery in Indonesia (see this ) and smears and intimidation against those who challenge its interests [see this), as well as the distortion and the censorship of science (see this and this).
With its aim to modify organisms to create patents that will secure ever greater control over seeds, markets and the food supply, the widely held suspicion is that the GMO agritech sector is only concerned with a certain type of science: that which supports these aims. Because if science is held in such high regard by these corporations, why isn't Monsanto proud of its products? Why in the US doesn't it label foods containing GMOs and throw open its science to public scrutiny, instead of veiling it with secrecy, restricting independent research on its products or resorting to unsavoury tactics?
If science is held in such high regard by the GMO agritech sector, why in the US did policy makers release GM food onto the commercial market without proper long-term tests? The argument used to justify this is GM food is ‘substantially equivalent’ to ordinary food. But this is not based on scientific reason. Foreign genes are being inserted into organisms that studies show make them substantially non-equivalent (see this). Substantial equivalence is a trade strategy on behalf of the GM sector that neatly serves to remove its GMOs from the type of scrutiny usually applied to potentially toxic or harmful substances. The attempt to replace processed-based regulation of GMOs in Europe with product-based regulation would result in serving a similar purpose (see this).
The reason why no labelling or testing has taken place in the US is not due to ‘sound science’ having been applied but comes down to the power and political influence of the GMO biotech sector and because a sound scientific approach has not been applied.
The sector cannot win the scientific debate (although its PR likes to tell the world it has) so it resorts to co-opting key public bodies or individuals to propagate various falsehoods and deceptions (see this). Part of the deception is based on emotional blackmail: the world needs GMOs to feed the hungry, both now and in the future. This myth has been blown apart (see this, this and this). In fact, in the second of those three links, the organisation GRAIN highlights that GM crops that have been planted thus far have actually contributed to food insecurity.
This is a harsh truth that the industry does not like to face.
People’s faith in science is being shaken on many levels, not least because big corporations have secured access to policy makers and governments and are increasingly funding research and setting research agendas.
“As Andrew Neighbour, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, "There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by”… This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto [in India] is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered.” - 'Monsanto, a Contemporary East India Company, and Corporate Knowledge in India'.
Ultimately, it is not science itself that people have doubts about but science that is pressed into the service of immensely powerful private corporations and regulatory bodies that are effectively co-opted and adopt a ‘don’t look, don’t find approach’ to studies and products (see this, this and this).
Or in the case of releasing GMOs onto the commercial market in the US, bypassing proper scientific procedures and engaging in doublespeak about ‘substantial equivalence’ then hypocritically calling for 'sound science' to inform debates.
The same corporate interests are moreover undermining the peer-review process itself and the ability of certain scientists to get published in journals - the benchmark of scientific credibility. In effect, powerful interests increasingly hold sway over funding, career progression as a scientist, journals and peer review (see this and this, which question the reliability of peer review in the area of GMOs).
Going back to the start of the piece, the question that should have been tweeted is: “Why do people doubt corporate-controlled or influenced science?” After that question, it would have been more revealing to have posted a link to this article here about the unscrupulous history of a certain company from St Louis. That history provides very good reason why so many doubt and challenge powerful corporations and the type of science they fund and promote (or attempt to suppress) and the type of world they seek to create (see this).
“Corporations as the dominant institution shaped by capitalist patriarchy thrive on eco-apartheid. They thrive on the Cartesian legacy of dualism which puts nature against humans. It defines nature as female and passively subjugated. Corporatocentrism is thus also androcentric – a patriarchal construction. The false universalism of man as conqueror and owner of the Earth has led to the technological hubris of geo-engineering, genetic engineering, and nuclear energy. It has led to the ethical outrage of owning life forms through patents, water through privatization, the air through carbon trading. It is leading to appropriation of the biodiversity that serves the poor.” Vandana Shiva
A Canadian high school student named Bronwyn Delacruz never imagined that her school science project would make headlines all over the world. But that is precisely what has happened. Using a $600 Geiger counter purchased by her father, Delacruz measured seafood bought at local grocery stores for radioactive contamination. What she discovered was absolutely [...]
Just one problem. This Cold Case was a real murder, and not just any murder, but the murder of a President who was secretly at war with his own intelligence agency and military chiefs. He had enemies who had the power to muddy any crime scene, kill any witness, destroy tangible evidence, even highjack the body for pre-autopsy alteration. You won’t see this in any TV special. In the JFK case you have to actually do your own thinking instead of relying on some TV contrivance.
For instance, in TV land bullets can do impossible things like land intact on a hospital stretcher after fracturing human bone and tearing human skin and muscle. In real life this never happens. But in NOVA the magic bullet is pristine after passing through Kennedy’s and Connally’s bodies. The Cold Case scientists concoct, contort, and twist themselves into logic pretzels to accomplish this. They ignore the fact that no other bullet in recorded human history has ever done this. And Dallas doctors found more fragments in Connally's body than are missing from the magic bullet…no mention of this on NOVA.
Then the TV scientists try to make us believe that it is quite common for a person who is shot in the head from behind to have his head move backwards. It all has to do with putty in the head…or play-dough in the brain…I can’t recall which. It was all explained so fast that I could barely follow the logic (which was the whole point, I suppose). It’s meant to rationalize JFK’s head snap backwards while being shot from the back. (No gunshot victim in recorded history has ever done this, but this is TV land where anything is possible.) Most appeasing to the uncritical viewer. But it ignores eyewitnesses’ testimony of hearing and seeing shots from in front of the motorcade. Eyewitness evidence was discretely omitted from the NOVA episode.
Contradictory wound analysis was glossed over. Some doctors got it right; others got it wrong. The ones who agreed with NOVA were right; the others were whimsically wrong. No dissenting experts were given more than brief air time; then they were summarily dismissed as quacks. I'm surprised the NOVA producers did not insist they wear black hats. You see, conflicting medical evidence makes for bad TV…as in not comforting.
JFK’s autopsy photos and x-rays are assumed to be genuine. And only the set which were done at the end of the autopsy are presented. No mention made of earlier photos and x-rays which have just disappeared. And omitted are the Dallas doctors’ observations of frontal entry wounds. These men saw bullet entries in the front of Kennedy’s body and an exit wound to the rear of his head. But an autopsy photo shows the rear of Kennedy's head intact...the bullet exit wound just DISAPPEARED between Dallas and Bethesda. This is too dangerous and confusing information to present to mindless TV viewers, so I guess the NOVA scriptwriters thought it best to ignore the Parkland evidence.
I was left wondering what NOVA really stands for. My best guess is Never Offer Viable Alternatives.
I call on all thinking Americans to boycott PBS. Do not send them your dollars; do not support them in any way. If the network persists in preserving and protecting the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people, then it has outlived its usefulness.
Follow me on Twitter @tpfleming
In an empty, muted family court, with armed guards at its doors, D.C. Superior Court Judge J. William Ryan released a discovery order revealing that the DEA’s analysts are producing false marijuana test reports resulting in wrongful convictions. By critiquing DEA chemist Heather Hartshorn’s reports and testimony through the prism of the 2009 National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on forensic tests, Ryan showed that her marijuana report mirrored the NAS’s example of a totally deficient report. Their example read: “Results: The green-brown plant material in item 1 was identified as marijuana.” Hartshorn’s report read: “Exhibit 1 contains a measurable amount of marijuana.”
A number of state courts have “held that the [prosecution] should provide more than the bare test results and reports to the defendant in discovery under similar [expert notice] rules.” For instance, the Court of Appeals of North Carolina has ruled that a defendant charged with selling heroin was entitled to the state laboratory analyst’s “laboratory protocols, incidences of false positive test results, quality control and quality assurance, and proficiency tests.” 
The Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia has ruled that reports such as Hartshorn’s, based on non-specific, screening tests are not worth the paper they’re printed on because they do not provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt of the presence of marijuana in a seized substance. Hartshorn herself admitted she used non-specific, screening tests yet testified erroneously that they positively confirmed the presence of marijuana.
Ryan also disclosed that Hartshorn’s report lacked adequate details and data to allow a review of her work by an independent defense analyst to see whether she used valid, reliable tests and applied them correctly. This was a significant failing as the NAS report concluded that many forensic tests “are not based on a body of knowledge that recognizes the underlying limitations of the scientific principles and methodologies for problem solving and discovery (Hartshorn claimed there were no limitations) [and] are not informed by scientific knowledge, or are not developed within the culture of science.”
According to Dr. Vedoster Ingram, a 29-year-veteran of the DEA, this was typical of the DEA. “As reports are normally presented, an official report of analysis is introduced into the court records for litigation without significant explanation.” Reviewable data for Hartshorn’s tests should have included microphotographs of the suspected marijuana sample, highlighting the relevant morphological characteristics; photographs of the Duquenois-Levine (D-L) color chemical test results, including side-by-side contemporaneous images of the suspected marijuana and actual marijuana standard for proper comparison; and photographs or photocopies of the Thin Layered Chromatography (TLC) plate with the measured values and observed colors recorded contemporaneously with the testing.
The NAS report said that such reports were unacceptable and should lead to dismissals of charges. In fact, much of Hartshorn’s report was indecipherable with abbreviations known only to herself. She dismissed this concern by stating that: “It’s not our policy to keep [reviewable data]; it’s not needed.” 
Reviewability and reproducibility are at the heart of verification and the scientific method. Regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the Ninth Circuit Court declared that: “Something doesn’t become ‘scientific knowledge’ just because it’s uttered by a scientist nor can an expert’s self-serving assertions that his conclusions were ‘derived by the scientific method’ be deemed conclusive, else the Supreme Court’s opinion could have ended with footnote 2. As we read the Supreme Court’s teaching in Daubert, therefore, though we are largely untrained in science and certainly no match for any of the witnesses whose testimony we are reviewing, it is our responsibility to determine whether those experts’ proposed testimony amounts to ‘scientific knowledge,’ constitutes ‘good science,’ and was ‘derived by the scientific method.’
Judge Kozinski’s Ninth Circuit opinion noted further that a gate keeping court must decide in part whether “ ‘… scientists have derived their findings through the scientific method or whether their testimony is based on scientifically valid principles….’ (Daubert, 43F. 3d at 1316). In its gate keeping role, the court should view reliability as follows: ‘this means that the expert’s bald assurance of validity is not enough. Rather, the party presenting the expert must show that the expert’s findings are based on sound science, and this will require some objective, independent validation of the expert’s methodology.’” – i.e., review and reproduction of test findings.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland has ruled that: “Access to laboratory information generally is significant for another reason. The validity of testing procedures and principles is assessed in the scientific community by publishing the data in peer review journals …. [P]ublication of a laboratory’s work product and data used in [scientific] analysis, as well as independent replication and validation studies, are essential prerequisites to reliability.” Replication and validation of Hartshorn’s findings were impossible since she presented no supporting data.
For independent reviewability, replication, and validation, lab reports should contain sufficient information to evaluate case notes and interpret the data as well as procedures, standards, blanks, observations, and test results. Supporting documentation should include charts, graphs, and spectra generated during an analysis.  Since Hartshorn provided none of these details, her reports could not be checked out and proved nothing, least of all that the suspected sample was marijuana.
The DEA founded and presently chairs Scientific Working Group on the Analysis of Seized Drugs (SWGDRUG) which provides minimum standards for scientifically sound lab and testing procedures. According to SWGDRUG:
Laboratories shall have documented policies establishing protocols for technical and administrative review.
Laboratories shall have and follow documented analytical procedures.
Laboratories shall have in place protocols for the sampling of evidence.
Laboratories shall monitor the analytical processes using appropriate controls and traceable standards.
Laboratories shall have and follow documented guidelines for the acceptance and interpretation of data.
Analytical procedures shall be validated in compliance with Section 11.
When analysts determine the identity of a drug in a sample, they shall ensure that the result relates to the right submission. This is best established by the use of at least two appropriate techniques based on different principles and two independent samplings.
Method validation is required to demonstrate that methods are suitable for their intended purpose. For qualitative analysis (identifying drugs), the parameters that need to be checked are selectivity, limit or detection and reproducibility.
Minimum acceptability criteria should be described along with the means for demonstrating compliance.
Validation documentation is required. Laboratories adopting methods validated elsewhere should verify their methods and establish their own limits of detection and reproducibility.
Documentation shall contain sufficient information to allow a peer to evaluate case notes and interpret the data.
Analytical documentation should include documentation including charts, graphs, and spectra generated during analysis.
Laboratories shall perform proficiency testing in order to verify the laboratory’s performance. 
Hartshorn was asked whether she followed DEA protocols or at least the guidelines of SWGDRUG. “[T]hey aren’t laws, and so, as of right now, that is not our policy,” she casually responded. In other words, the DEA does not follow its own regulatory body. Even worse, the “DEA does not have such guidance set forth in one particular document type or ‘protocol’ that would provide instruction on how one is to test cocaine or marijuana. . . There are no mandatory methods, and the forensic chemists are afforded considerable discretion in determining which testing methods and instruments to use.” This according to Harshorn’s lab director, James Malone, who testified that the DEA has no protocol or standard methodology and does not validate its drug tests; calibrate its testing instrumentation right before testing; or run contemporaneous scientific controls to prevent and detect contamination.
Judge: For marijuana in this case, for example, there is no calibration?
James Malone: There is not. . . So we’re not running a positive control on the Duquenois-Levine (marijuana test) on a daily basis.
Prosecutor: Now with regard to standard methodologies, DEA has a standard methodology on how to do examinations?
JM: No, we don’t.
P: So for qualitative analysis, the actual identification of a drug, you don’t have such (validation) studies, as you understood her (defense expert) to mean, correct?
JM: Correct. . . Identification – (validation) studies related to identification are not generally – there are no requirements for that. (SWGDRUG: “Method validation is required to demonstrate that methods are suitable for their intended purpose.”)
According to SWGDRUG Recommendations at Part IV.A.6.1.1 (“Laboratories shall have and follow documented analytical procedures”); id at Part IV.A.6.1.6 (“Analytical procedures shall be validated in compliance with Part IV B Validation”); id, at Part IV.B.IA (“All methods shall be validated or verified to demonstrate that they will perform in the normal operational environment when used by individuals expected to utilize the methods on casework”); id at Part IV.B.1.5 (“The entire validation/verification process shall be documented and the documentation shall be retained. Documentation shall include … personnel involved, dates, observations from the process, analytical data, a statement of conclusions and/or recommendations, authorization approval signature”).”
In short, the DEA is not engaged in scientific testing; a conviction machine. Voodoo science as someone commented. It also means that the DEA labs are, in fact, unaccredited because they received their accreditation on the basis that they follow strict protocols and SOPs, determine error rates and test limitations, validate its tests, and run positive and negative controls.
What really set off Ryan, however, was Hartshorn’s testimony that the DEA’s marijuana tests as well as her testing are infallible. She claimed a zero percent (0%) error rate with the tests and her testing. “Ridiculous on its face,” said Ryan. “Ms. Hartshorn makes a bold statement in her testimony in which she asserted that the three tests performed in these cases are infallible in their combined ability to conclusively identify marijuana,” wrote defense expert Heather Harris. “She was unable to offer any scientific studies to confirm this assertion, which is a scientific impossibility.” The NAS report concluded that “no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source.”
Infallibility claims fly in the face of the fact that uncertainty enters testing in many ways, and each life stage of the evidence is susceptible to error. Contamination or misidentification can occur during the collection of the evidence. Analytical methods have practical and technical limitations. Reference standards and controls may fail quality control checks. Laboratory analysts who oversee the entire analytical process may make mistakes. Transcription errors can occur. In short, contrary to Hartshorn’s testimony, there is a panoply of errors that can occur. The three tests she used were: a microscopic examination, a presumptive color test named Duquenois-Levine (D-L), and Thin Layer Chromatography (TLC). None of these tests provide a specific identification to the exclusion of all other possible substances, and each of these tests has an associated degree of uncertainty or error rate.
With the microscopic exam, DEA analysts look for so-called cystolith hairs which occur on marijuana plants. But many other plant species unrelated to marijuana have cystolith hairs. Thus, a false positive (error) is possible with this examination. Also according to the NAS report, the microscopic exam can only be done properly by a qualified botanist. The DEA does not employ botanists.
George Nakamura, who is not a botanist, established use of the microscopic exam as a marijuana test. He examined 600 plants and found 80 with cystolith hairs. He then subjected the 80 “similar” plants to the D-L test, and only marijuana passed the entire test. However there was an elementary scientific flaw in Nakamura’s procedure for which reason his report should not have been published, let alone adopted as a protocol. His plant population sample was woefully inadequate since there are 200 –500, 000 plants he did not examine, and there are at least 24 species of plants with cystolith hairs. Nakamura himself admitted that there were some 30,000 plants which he did not examine.
Nakamura also claimed that the D-L was confirmatory of, and, specific to, marijuana, i. e. identified it to the exclusion of all other substances and did not render false positives. In fact, with the D-L test, false positives are expected based on the analytical mechanism of color tests. Color tests are screening tests that look at molecular groups rather than the specific molecule as a whole. Many unrelated molecules share common molecular groups, so any substance containing the target molecular group would give a positive response. In other words, the D-L test solely identifies the group of chemicals to which marijuana belongs. And there are other chemicals in that group which could give a positive D-L response, i.e., a false positive. Moreover, Nakamura himself reported that there were 25 substances that had been shown to cause false positives with the D-L test. So his claim was contrary to chemical facts and scientific demonstrations, and, again, should not have been published.
The D-L test is actually a combination of two individual tests. With the Duquenois test, a petroleum ether or chloroform extract of the plant extract is added to an ethanolic solution of vanillin and acetaldehyde, followed by addition of concentrated hydrochloric acid. Marijuana gives a deep blue-violet color. With the Levine modification, the blue-violet test mixture obtained in the Duquenois test is shaken with chloroform. With marijuana, the blue-violet color is transferred into the chloroform layer. However, at least 50 legal substances have been shown to give the same color reactions.
As early as 1938, the French pharmacist Pierre Duquenois, who developed the Duquenois test, found that it was not specific and gave false positives. Yet, he reported that the test was specific. Although he claimed it was specific, he worked to modify the original test into the D-L test to eliminate false positives – which as noted above was impossible given the nature of the D-L test. As he should have known in advance, the D-L test was no better and rendered false positives. Still, he reported that the D-L test was specific. Duquenois’s lie was repeated in 1972 by John Thornton and George Nakamura who falsely claimed that the D-L test was specific and in conjunction with a microscopic exam was a confirmatory, identification test. Their study is still the protocol for marijuana identification in crime labs throughout the country even though it was false and rebutted by Fullerton and Kurzman and Whitehurst.
With regard to TLC, its ability to identify a substance, which in this case is not marijuana but rather its active ingredient THC, is limited by the number of distinguishable responses possible. TLC is a method of separation, not of identification. “It is prone to confusion because of the appearance of unrecognized peaks or spots on a chromatograph, particularly when an analyst is dealing with a wide variety of biological samples from a number of sources.” The TLC test as generally performed for marijuana evidence has 100 distinct measurable values and 2 to 3 distinguishable colors. This allows for the distinct identification of at most 300 compounds without taking into account the possibility of compounds that will behave the same as the target molecule, THC. In other words, a positive TLC test could indicate any one of some 300 compounds in addition to THC.
When these three tests are performed in sequence, the uncertainty of the final result is the sum of the uncertainties attributable to each test. In this case, where each of the tests can produce errors, the uncertainty can be great. Moreover, a main concern with this sequence of testing is that the D-L and TLC tests produce results that are heavily dependent on the analyst’s subjective interpretation of the colors produced. What’s dark blue to one analyst, is purple to another. At a minimum, a standard reference material (a sample of known marijuana) should be tested along with the evidence sample as a comparison sample. The DEA does not do this. In addition, without the proper determination of the variability of positive results, the final identification is still simply the analyst’s subjective opinion.
Confirmation bias is also a concern with this sequence of testing. This is the tendency of an analyst to interpret analytical information in a way that confirms his/her preconceptions about an item of evidence as well as the results of the previous test. In a sequence of testing that relies entirely upon an analyst’s interpretation of test results, this is a likely source of error.
Hartshorn admitted that separately each of the tests is a screening test that renders false positives, i.e. errors. But miraculously when they are conducted in concert, they are error-free as is the analyst. In direct contradiction of Hartshorn’s claims of infallibility was a study done at her own lab which found false positives and a very high 20% error rate. And every independent scientific study has found an error rate and false positives with these tests. For instance, a comprehensive series of studies in 1974 involving no fewer than 14 scientists and two attorneys concluded, in part, as follows.
The probability of error in using screening tests for forensic identification is particularly great with marijuana because:
1. Screening tests are not specific;
2. Many common plants are confused with marijuana by “users” and law officers alike;
3. Inexpertly collected plant samples are not necessarily homogenous, i. e., only a single plant; and
4. The flowering plants include some 200,000 – 500,000 species besides marijuana.
As many as 20% (An Army study found 30%.) of the samples presumed to be marijuana and submitted to forensic laboratories have been found in recent years not to be Cannabis. “If BNDD (Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, predecessor to DEA) files are any indication, many. . . marijuana users are getting ‘high’ on parsely, alfalfa, or some other weed.” Common plants which have been confused with marijuana include tobacco, catnip, parsley, oregano, tea and other substances – sometimes laced with various chemicals.
Inexpertly collected plant samples commonly contain some extraneous plant materials – a weed grabbed by mistake, a plant which looked like the others, etc. The forensic analyst then needs to be concerned with one plant passing one screening test, and a contaminant passing another. (Furthermore, it’s not possible to determine if ground-up plant samples are from the same species. To avoid a misidentification, the analyst should assume the sample is adulterated or contaminated.) Because of this factor, and the common presence of added chemicals, the specificity of marijuana screening tests, even when used in combination, is no greater than the specificity of the most specific single test.
Because Hartshorne’s testimony raised serious concerns about her qualifications and “integrity” as well as a “flaw” in her testing, Ryan ordered that the prosecution produce all information verifying that the three tests in combination were infallible. What Ryan apparently did not realize was that Hartshorn was repeating unsupported infallibility claims made by DEA lab directors since at least 1999. For instance, on April 9, 1999, Joseph P. Bono, director of the DEA’s Mid-Atlantic Laboratory submitted a sworn affidavit to the courts that all DEA analyses and tests are “incapable of producing a false positive. . . In other words, even if the test results are inaccurate, the results will not indicate the presence of a controlled substance when none is present in the unknown sample. Even if the instruments used in the testing are not properly calibrated, if no controlled substance is present in the exhibit, then no controlled substance will be identified . . . even when an instrument is not functioning properly, it will not identify cocaine, or any other controlled substance, as being present in a sample, unless that controlled substance is actually present.”
Bono’s successor at this lab, Richard Fox, was more specific in his sworn affidavit which stated, in part, that:
“There is no other plant material that will give a positive result for all three tests. . . Neither the analyst in this case, nor any other DEA analyst, has ever misidentified marijuana. . . As such, the uncertainty measurement associated with the conclusions reached by the analyst resulting in the identification of marijuana is zero.”
Fox’s successor, James Malone, who is also Hartshorn’s supervisor who has signed off on her reports, has testified, in part, as follows in another marijuana case in D.C.
Prosecutor: To your knowledge, while you’ve been at the lab, has the laboratory ever misidentified a controlled substance?
James Malone: No.
P: And when you say – what are you basing that on?
JM: On my knowledge of the operations of the laboratory. We have not misidentified anything.
P: Are you aware of anything which shows that a mis-calibrated system or chromatographer in this case, but any system that was not calibrated correctly would create a false positive for cocaine or a controlled substance?
P: Have you ever seen it in the lab?
JM: Have I ever seen what?
P: A false positive from a mis-calibrated system.
Judge: But Mr. Chawla’s position was, can it ever – can a mis-calibrated machine ever give a false positive?
JM: No. A mis-calibrated machine isn’t going to give you a positive cocaine if there’s not cocaine.
Judge: Why not?
JM: It just wouldn’t. . .
P: More specifically, if the reagent isn’t working, is it going to show that the substance isn’t marijuana? In other words, if the reagent isn’t working, what’s the result of the Duquenois-Levine going to be?
JM: It’s going to be negative.
P: Would I get a positive out of a Duquenois-Levine test? If I used a reagent that wasn’t working anymore and tried to run a Duquenois-Levine with that reagent, what would happen?
JM: You wouldn’t get a false positive, no.
P: With regard to identification techniques, is there any – do you have any reason to believe that a mis-calibrated or non-calibrated device would result in a false positive?
JM: No, I don’t.
Malone’s testimony makes clear that he is basing his infallibility claim on ipse dixit evidence as were Bono and Fox who have never presented data to support their unheard of assertions.
Decades before their infallibility claims, several high courts including the U.S. Supreme Court found that the tests did not prove the presence of marijuana beyond a reasonable doubt. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled in 1973 that: “An expert opinion that the substance is probably marijuana (based on a microscopic examination, D-L test and TLC) is not sufficient to meet the burden of proving the identity of the substance beyond a reasonable doubt. . . If this were a possession case, the tests would be insufficient. . . It is quite true that the tests used by Mr. Michael Rehburg, a chemist and witness for the prosecution, were not specific for marijuana. . . . He admitted, . . . these tests were not specific for marijuana.”
In 1979, a trial judge in North Carolina found that the D-L test was “not specific for marijuana” and had “no scientific acceptance as a reliable and accurate means of identifying the controlled substance marijuana.” This finding was upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals as well as the North Carolina Supreme Court which found that: “The determination that the test used was not scientifically acceptable because it was not specific for marijuana was amply supported by the facts. . . The trial court’s ruling that the results of the tests conducted on green vegetable matter by using the Duquenois-Levine color test in the Sirchie drug kit were inadmissible in evidence was supported by the court’s findings that the test is not scientifically accepted, reliable or accurate and that the test is not specific for marijuana because it reportedly also gives a positive reaction for some brands of coffee and aspirin. . . . The conclusion to exclude the test results is amply supported by these findings of fact . . . and the test results were properly suppressed . . .”
Also in 1979, the U.S. Supreme Court in Jackson v Virginia ruled that nonspecific tests could not be the basis for advancing a prosecution or a conviction because they do not provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Ultimately, Judge Ryan concluded that “such claims of infallibility belie one of the most basic tenets of science: that some degree of error is inherent in every scientific test, process, or analysis. . .While explaining that each of these tests used alone is presumptive, as distinct from confirmatory, Ms. Hartshorn nonetheless maintained their infallibility when used in concert. With the designation that these tests are merely presumptive, the DEA chemist acknowledged that there is some degree of inherent error calculable with respect to each of these tests when they are performed in isolation. That there is some distinct and additional degree of error calculable with respect to this analyst’s performance of each test is also without question.”
It is clear from Judge Ryan’s remarks that he would have denied admission of the test results as evidence as well as Hartshorn’s testimony at trial, and this would have resulted in a withdrawal of the charges. He did not do so because defense counsel did not request it. Since Kurzman’s study and others occurred before this case as well as applicable court decisions such as Jackson, Daubert and Kumho Tire, defense counsel should have requested an evidentiary hearing for challenging the tests and sufficiency of evidence. Their failure to do so amounted to ineffective counsel.
This is exactly what U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner concluded in a similar case wherein the defense counsel did not request an evidentiary hearing to challenge the forensic evidence. This is seen if one simply substitutes “marijuana” in her following remarks. “Under the ‘prevailing professional norms,’ reasonably competent counsel should have moved for a Daubert/Kumho Tire hearing before trial on all the expert testimony — a) on the [marijuana] laboratory analysis based on the investigator’s failure to use a comparison or control sample and not test beyond the generic finding of [“Exhibit 1 contains a measurable amount of marijuana”]; b) on the [marijuana] evidence, highlighting problems with proficiency testing and emphasizing the limited scope of the testimony; and, c) on the expert cause-and-origin testimony, when the expert’s proposed testimony was scientifically flawed. If counsel had requested such a hearing, there is more than a ‘reasonable probability’ that it would have been granted, that the laboratory analysis and the [marijuana] evidence would have been excluded, or severely limited, at the very least. . . . As the Court held in Daubert, some testimony may be so problematic that the usual trial techniques are just not enough to prevent a jury from giving it far more credence than it deserves. See Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596-97. The testimony should not reach the jury at all. (This was absolutely true with Judge Ryan’s case.) Here, the scientific literature cast doubt on the significance of the [marijuana tests] and even raised concerns about . . . “proficiency” testing, concerns counsel never raised. . . just what the law and literature caution against”
It is instructive to compare the two cases in detail because like Judge Ryan, Judge Gertner also critiqued the government’s evidence and experts through the prism of the NAS report. Gertner pointed out that it was significant that by 2006, a number of articles in legal journals and cases had cast a critical eye on the scientific reliability of arson evidence, methodologies, and techniques. Because of this, competent counsel should have been aware that defendants had been convicted and sentenced on the basis of flawed arson evidence and taken appropriate steps to litigate the issues using all the tools available including challenging the tests and requesting an evidentiary hearing.
The same was even more true of marijuana evidence by the time of Judge Ryan’s case. The marijuana tests had been scientifically established as unreliable and inaccurate, and previous court decisions had excluded admission of the marijuana test results as evidence.
Gertner found that there was ineffective counsel because the defense attorneys did not move for a Daubert hearing prior to trial on any expert issue. They did not seek exclusion of any of the proposed expert testimony or move for its limitation. They did not argue that the expert testimony failed to meet the minimal threshold for reliability of scientific evidence and should not have been admitted at all. They did not alert the Court to the ways in which the government’s investigation undermined their very ability to present a defense.
The same was true with the case of Judge Ryan who called Hartshorn’s testimony “[R]idiculous on its face” and lacking in “integrity.”
In addition, Gertner argued that it was crucial to try to exclude expert testimony before trial because “a certain patina attaches to an expert’s testimony unlike any other witness; this is ‘science,’ a professional’s judgment, the jury may think, and give more credence to the testimony than it may deserve. United States v. Hines, 55 F. Supp. 2d 62, 64 (D. Mass. 1999); see also Michigan Millers Mut. Ins. Corp. v. Benfield, 140 F.3d 915, 920 (11th Cir. 1998) (‘The use of ‘science’ to explain how something occurred has the potential to carry great weight with a jury, explaining both why counsel might seek to couch an expert witness’s testimony in terms of science, as well as why the trial judge plays an important role as the gate-keeper in monitoring the evidentiary reliability of such testimony.’).”
This again was even more true with Judge Ryan’s case because DEA chemists were poised to testify that the marijuana tests as well as their testing were infallible, and that no DEA analyst had ever misidentified marijuana. In fact, defense counsel in Judge Ryan’s case had been involved in previous marijuana case wherein DEA analysts had claimed infallibility under oath. All the more reason why they should have sought to exclude the evidence.
For its part, the DEA was ethically and scientifically bound to suspend Hartshorn and Malone and investigate all their previous marijuana cases. In fact, Hartshorn and Malone were subsequently both witnesses in another discovery hearing in the same court room opposed by the same defense counsel who again had not requested an evidentiary hearing to challenge the same marijuana tests. This hearing was presided over by Judge Florence Y. Pan who had read Judge Ryan’s order. Heather Harris, who was highly praised by Judge Ryan, was the defense expert in this hearing as well. With no justification, Pan found Hartshorn and Malone to be credible as opposed to Harris even though Malone claimed infallibility without any proof. “On my knowledge of the operations of the laboratory,” he said, “We have not misidentified anything.” He also said that “a mis-calibrated instrument would never cause a false positive result.” Asked why by Pan, he replied: “It just wouldn’t.”
As we saw, Malone further testified that the DEA has no protocols or standard operating procedures and does not validate its tests or run sufficient numbers of controls. He threw in that the Analysis of Drugs Manual and the Analytical Sufficiency Document are “the closest thing the DEA has to standard operating procedures for the chemists.” Again, no problem for Pan even though Malone said these documents were “DEA proprietary,” and SWGDRUG and scientific practice require protocols, test validations, and controls. Malone claimed there were published studies validating the tests, but this is not true.
Harris disagreed with Malone on all accounts. No problem for Pan who decreed that: “To the extent the testimony of the witnesses conflicts, however, the Court credits the testimony of Mr. Malone. . . the Court found the testimony of Mr. Malone to be extremely credible and persuasive [and was] impressed by Mr. Malone’s candor, expertise, and professional demeanor. . . His testimony was very clear and logical, and the Court found him to be forthright.” Pan did not mention the lack of scientific data or explanations for Malone’s testimony or that it showed the DEA was at odds with SWGDRUG requirements and scientific practice.
In short, there were more than enough scientific studies and favorable case law before Judge Pan’s case, not to mention Judge Ryan’s order, to justify requesting an evidentiary hearing in an attempt to deny admission of the test results as evidence. Defense counsel also had a highly qualified expert to confirm that the tests results did not provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the DEA’s proffered evidence and testimony were false.
As Judge Gertner observed: “If the lawyers do not tee up the issue, the evidence will be introduced without objection.” This is exactly what happens in nearly all marijuana cases. Defense attorneys do not challenge the tests or the sufficiency of the evidence. In 2010, 853, 839 people were arrested on marijuana charges, and you can count on one hand the number of defense attorneys who challenged the tests or even the subjective opinions of arresting police officers.
This failure on the part of defense attorneys is particularly irresponsible because claims of infallibility can be to the advantage of a defendant as they undermine the admissibility of marijuana test results and the credibility of a prosecutor’s expert witnesses. Before a trial, a defense attorney can request an evidentiary hearing wherein he or she can examine the qualifications of the prosecution’s forensic analysts, the laboratory, and the nature and manner of the testing procedures used in identifying the drug the defendant was charged with possessing or selling. If this examination reveals deficiencies or inadequacies, the attorney can challenge the sufficiency of the prosecution’s evidence and seek a dismissal. Dr. Bruce Stein et al have reported that: “Based on our survey, such a challenge would be warranted in many cases.”
The possibilities of these challenges was seen in a recent case in Michigan in 2010. Defense attorney Michael Nichols obtained a pre-trial evidentiary hearing and cross examined Michigan State Police lab analyst Jerome Waldron who testified that in more than 6,000 cases, he had never encountered a false positive, and that the marijuana tests had an error rate of zero. Nichols then entered a motion to exclude Waldron’s testimony from trial as well as use of the test results as evidence, citing scientific articles, prior court decisions, and Waldron’s lack of credibility. Even before the judge rendered his decision, the prosecutor withdrew the charges.
If lab conditions or procedures do not conform to scientific guidelines and principles or court rulings such as Daubert, the defense attorney can motion to exclude the test results as well as testimony from the analyst at trial. Below is a list of such requests which have led to pre-trial dismissals of marijuana charges because they revealed deficiencies in the lab.
1. Evidence collection forms or logs (description of evidence, packaging, identification of specimens, identification of individuals collecting samples, sample collection procedures.
2. Chain-of-custody records (field-to-lab transfers, and all transfers of evidence and associated analytical samples within the laboratory).
3. Laboratory receiving records (records documenting the date, time and condition of receipt of the evidence in question; laboratory-assigned identifiers; storage location).
4. Laboratory procedures for subsampling (collection of analytical aliquots) and contamination control.
5. Copies of technical procedures in effect at the time the subject testing was performed (often termed Standard Operating Procedures, or SOP’s) for each procedure used during sample screening and confirmation, including; sample preparation, sample analysis, data reporting, and instrument operation.
6. Copies of the two bracketing controlled substance proficiency results for each analyst and technician responsible for preparation or analysis of subject specimens, including raw data and reported results, target values and acceptance ranges, performance scores, and all related correspondence.
7. Copies of traceability documentation for standards and reference materials used during analysis, including unique identifications, origins, dates of preparation and use, composition and concentration of prepared materials, certifications or traceability records from suppliers, assigned shelf lives and storage conditions.
8. Sample preparation records, including dates and conditions of preparation, responsible analyst, procedural reference, purity, concentration and origins of solvents, reagents, and control materials prepared and used, samples processed concurrently, extract volume.
9. Copies of bench notes, log books, and any other records pertaining to case samples or instruments; records documenting observations, notations, or measurements regarding case testing.
10. Instrument run log with identification of all standards, reference materials, sample blanks, rinses, and controls analyzed during the day/shift with subject samples (as appropriate: run sequence, origins, times of analysis and aborted run sequences).
11. Record of instrument operating conditions and criteria for variables, including as appropriate: Gas chromatograph column, instrument file identification, tuning criteria, instrument performance check (e.g., ion abundance criteria), initial calibration, continuing calibration checks, calibration verification.
12. Record of instrument maintenance status and activities for instruments used in subject testing, documenting routine and as-needed maintenance activities in the weeks surrounding subject testing.
13. Raw data for the complete measurement sequence (opening and closing quality control included) that includes the subject samples. For GC-MS analysis, this would include: areas and retention times, injection volumes, dilution factors, chromatograms and mass spectra. As prepared and as determined values for all quality control samples.
14. A description of the library used for spectral matches for the purpose of qualitative identification of controlled substances, including source(s) and number of reference spectra.
15. Copy of records documenting computation of illicit drug laboratory’s theoretical production yield, including the basis for the computation, and the algorithm used, as appropriate.
16. Procedure(s) for operation and calibration checks of analytical balances used to weigh controlled substances
17. Results of calibration checks and documentation of mass traceability for gravimetric determinations.
18. Results of contamination control surveys for trace level analytes relevant to test methods at the time of analysis, including sampling design and analytical procedures.
19. Records and results of internal reviews of subject data.
20. Method validation records documenting the laboratory’s performance characteristics for qualitative identification and quantitative determinations of the controlled substance, to include data documenting specificity, accuracy, precision, linearity, and method detection limits.
21. Copy of the laboratory’s Quality Manual in effect at the time the subject samples were tested as well as the laboratory’s most recent Quality Manual (however named; the document that describes the laboratory’s quality objects and policies).
22. Copy of the laboratory’s ASCLD-LAB application for accreditation, and most recent Annual Accreditation Review Report, as appropriate.
23. Statement of qualifications of each analyst and/or technician responsible for processing case samples to include all names, locations and jurisdictions of cases in which these personnel testified concerning the same substances found in the present case.
24. Copy of the laboratory’s ASCLD-LAB on-site inspection report, as appropriate, as well as any reports of on-site inspections by any other testing laboratory audit organization.
25. Copy of internal audit reports generated during the period subject samples were tested..
26. List of capital instrumentation in the laboratory at the time subject testing was performed, including manufacturer, model number, and major accessories.
27. Production throughput data for the drug testing section: numbers of tests performed per month or per year, and the number of Full Time Equivalent personnel in the drug testing section of the laboratory.
Marijuana field tests also have specific requirements that are seldom observed by the police. For instance, the field tests used by police officers have expiration dates because the chemicals and reagents in the tubes deteriorate over time and as a result of heat or cold. Before going to a hearing or trial, a defense attorney can find out exactly what brand of field test kit was used with his/her client. This can be done through a public records request and sometimes by simply asking the prosecutor. The defense attorney can then purchase the exact same kit online. In court, the defense attorney can show the judge that the test has an expiration date after which the test would be inaccurate. If the police officer did not check the expiration date before using the test, then the test results should be assumed to be invalid. Under the law, any tests or equipment that are not in good working order produce results that are inadmissible as evidence. If the police officer cannot attest to the expiration date or whether the test was used after its expiration date, the drug charges should be dismissed. Some search warrants are based on positive kit results and may be ruled invalid if the police officer did not know the expiration date of the kit. This should also result in a dismissal of charges.
Even if the field test has not expired, the test does not prove the presence of marijuana in a seized substance because it is a presumptive or screening test only. Information accompanying the kits indicate this fact. For instance, the carton containing one commonly used NIK field test states that it is: “A specially formulated reagent system for the presumptive identification of Marijuana.” In other words, the company itself is saying that the test does not prove the presence of marijuana. It is further stated that: “The results of a single test may or may not yield a valid result. . . There is no existing chemical reagent test, adaptable to field use that will continually eliminate the occurrence of an occasional invalid test results [sic]. A complete forensic laboratory would be required to qualitatively identify an unknown suspect substance.” A defense attorney can show this to a judge or jury and explain what it means. Therefore, if the only evidence is positive results from a field test, the charges should be dismissed or the defendant acquitted.
Recently, defense attorneys in Colorado did challenge the DEA’s test results and blocked their admission as evidence including results from Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS) analysis, the gold standard of drug testing. U.S. District Court Judge Marcia S. Krieger of Colorado ruled on April 21, 2011 that based on DEA information and the testimony of DEA chemist Anthea Chan, the prosecution failed to show the existence of reliable, accurate testing being reliably applied that proved the presence of amphetamines. She therefore denied admission of the test results as evidence at trial.
The hearing, known as a Rule 702 (of the Federal Rules of Evidence) Hearing, provided a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a DEA lab. It was meant to determine whether their testing conformed to Rule 702 requirements for scientifically sound testing. Rule 702 requirements are all but identical to Daubert requirements. Krieger’s first task was to determine whether Chan had correctly tested according to DEA protocols and SOPs. Chan testified that she followed no protocols or SOPs and, in fact, was not aware of any protocols or SOPs. These facts alone, said Krieger, were enough to deny admission of the test results as evidence because it was impossible to determine whether Chan reliably applied reliable tests.
Krieger did, not, however, rule at this point because she wanted her ruling to encompass defense expert Janine Arvizu’s findings. Arvizu attempted to reconstruct the practices, protocols, and results relevant to Chan’s qualitative and quantitative test conclusions and whether they adhered to quality requirements and universally accepted standards designed to ensure the quality and reliability of tests, specifically, what’s known as ISO 17025 standards. However, as was the case in Washington, only a very limited amount of laboratory discoverable material was made available making it impossible to determine or evaluate the laboratory’s technical requirements or quality controls during the subject testing.
“That’s exactly the position the Court finds itself in,” noted Judge Krieger, “because it does not have evidence as to the protocol that was used, the reliability of the protocol compared to other labs, or whether Ms. Chan complied with the protocol in a reliable fashion.”
Arvizu was, however, able to determine that Chan’s testing in particular was unreliable and inaccurate. Chan first used the Marquis chemical color test as a screening test, and the suspected substance turned orange/brown suggesting it was amphetamines. But the test was unreliable and meaningless because she did not use a color chart with which to compare her results. As she herself testified: “I believe it’s the same as you saying something is blue and me saying it’s light blue. It’s subjective.” Subjective tests are unreliable by definition.
Her next test was a GC/MS analysis. Chan first ran a “blank” or negative control to check for contamination. The test consisted of putting the suspected amphetamines into a solution and then placing this solution onto the machine. But she first put the solution alone onto the machine, to see whether it would register positive. It did, meaning the machine was contaminated. As Arvizu testified: “When quality control samples fail, the run should be terminated and the failure should be investigated and corrective action taken before unknown sample are tested.” Inexplicably, Chan continued the testing with the contaminated machine.
Actually, even before beginning her test, Chan should have also run a positive control by placing a known quantity of amphetamines, known as a standard, on the machine to calibrate it and see whether it was working properly. DEA analysts are required under ASCLD/LAB and ISO 17025 guidelines to run standards immediately before testing. Chan said she was not familiar with these guidelines and was not required to do so. Chan’s superior Shana Irby, who approved her testing, also testified that it is not required to run contemporaneous standards, and that it suffices if the machine has been checked ten months prior. She claimed to have never seen any protocol requiring the running of contemporaneous standards, and that “as soon as I walk up to an instrument, I know – I generally know if it’s working or not.” She also claimed it was not necessary to check beforehand whether the standard had disintegrated because “[M]ethamphetamine to my knowledge does not degrade.” This is false, and these standards come with an expiration date beyond which they are not useable.
DEA labs are accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/ Laboratory Accreditation Board ((ASCLD/LAB) under the international criteria detailed in ISO/IEC 17025:2005 and the 2006 ASCLD/LAB International Supplemental Requirements. Accreditation certifies that the management and technical operations of the laboratory comply with the program requirements, including any corrective action that was required during any of audits. (Details regarding the accreditation program may be obtained from www.ascld-lab.org.) In other words, DEA labs are accredited on the basis that they ascribe to ISO/IEC 17025 and ASCLD/LAB International Supplemental Requirements. Arvizu said the DEA adheres to neither, and is, therefore, de facto, unaccredited.
Why Did Popular Science Can Its Comments Section?
Posted on Oct 17, 2013
kevin dooley (CC BY 2.0)
your inbox every week.
New and Improved Comments
Editors of the Popular Science website last month announced they would no longer accept readers’ comments under new articles. Why? Because studies suggest Internet “trolls” don’t just spoil the chance for intellectual debate, they create doubt where there should be none.
“It wasn’t a decision we made lightly,” wrote Suzanne LaBarre, the magazine’s online content director. “As the news arm of a 141-year-old science and technology magazine, we are as committed to fostering lively, intellectual debate as we are to spreading the word of science far and wide. The problem is when trolls and spambots overwhelm the former, diminishing our ability to do the latter.”
LaBarre cited a study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, in which 1,183 Americans were asked to read a fake blog post on a science topic and state in a survey how they felt about the subject. Then they were randomly assigned either “epithet- and insult-laden comments” or “civil comments,” LaBarre explained.
The study’s authors said of the results in a New York Times op-ed:
Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.
In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.
Simply including an ad hominem attack in a reader comment was enough to make study participants think the downside of the reported technology was greater than they’d previously thought.
Another similar study determined that disagreements between commenters that were firmly worded but not uncivil still impacted readers’ perception of science, LaBarre reported.
“If you carry out those results to their logical end,” LaBarre wrote, “commenters shape public opinion; public opinion shapes public policy; public policy shapes how and whether and what research gets funded—you start to see why we feel compelled to hit the ‘off’ switch.”
“A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again. Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television. And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”
“Even a fractious minority wields enough power to skew a reader’s perception of a story,” LaBarre wrote.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
Get truth delivered to
Previous item: Americans Need More Downtime—Seriously
Neuroweapons, Neuroscience and “Brain Circuit Manipulation”: Inside Story of Obama’s Mind Control Project
Steingraber says civil disobedience is a last-resort show of bravery that can change the outcome -- but you have to get there before the bulldozers do.
Photo Credit: © Benjamin Gervais / The PPC
March 21, 2013 |
Like this article?
Join our email list:
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
Watkins Glen, New York made Yahoo! Travel’s top 10 list of America’s coolest small towns. This Finger Lake village is described as having “Award-winning wineries, awe-inspiring gorges and waterfalls, and a racetrack that draws visitors to auto-racing events.” The story mentions hiking, NASCAR and “crisp Rieslings.”
Here’s what it doesn’t say about this dream town: it’s at the heart of the battle over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for unconventional shale gas in the Marcellus.
Companies aren’t drilling for gas here, but they’re drilling into the land in order to store fracked gas. Sandra Steingraber was among a group of individuals willing to put her body between drilling rig trucks and their destination on shores of Seneca Lake on Monday. Steingraber was arrested for her bravery, which is but one step in her evolving journey as a scientist, writer, and now activist.
Steingraber is a renowned scientist, currently a scholar in residence in Ithaca College. She’s also a lyrical writer, author of four books: Post-Diagnosis (written after being diagnosed with bladder cancer at age 20); Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment (later optioned as a film); Having Faith: An Ecologist’s Journey to Motherhood; and most recently Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis.
On World Water Day, this is a good time to reflect on the threats of drought and water contamination, in which fracking plays a key role. Steingraber talked with AlterNet about the health effects of fracking, her own personal connection to the issue, and what keeps her up at night. (Spoiler: it’s cement, but more on that soon.)
Tara Lohan: If I’m reading the news correctly, it looks like you were arrested earlier this week.
Sandra Steingraber: Yes, I was.
TL: How did you get involved in that action?
SS: It has an odd trajectory. I was writing about three other people who were arrested for civil disobedience at that same facility last September. One of them, the night before, showed up on my front porch and asked me if I would come the next morning to bear witness to what he was about to do and be available to talk to the press about compressor stations, which was something I was researching. I was happy to talk about the kinds of chemicals that compressor stations put into the atmosphere and what the problem is with this whole project. The whole project being a storage facility for fracked gases that a company called Inergy from Kansas City is trying to build. The plan they have for this part of the world is to use depleted salt caverns where salt mining has been done for probably a century at least, and use it as a storage facility for gas from the fracking fields in Pennsylvania. The idea is that the gas would be pressurized to the point of liquidification, then injected into salt caverns.
So I went last September and served as a sort of science writer/interpreter and witness and what impressed me was that the three people who chained themselves to this fence were not young people. The youngest was my age and I’m 53, she was a nurse. And then there was Rev. Gary Judson who is a retired Methodist minister who is 72 and he spoke eloquently about the underground geology of these caverns, about the history of salt caverns being used to store liquified petroleum products and their terrible track record with catastrophic accidents in other states. And then there was also the moral and ethical issue of using these caverns to store something toxic and explosive knowing that they have cracks and fissures and that this is a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. He, himself was an avid fisherman and he felt strongly that this was a treasure and we are called to defend creation.
Some day soon, you might tuck into a plate of salmon without knowing that the fish you are eating was genetically engineered. The so-called AquAdvantage salmon, a salmon genetically engineered to grow faster than normal salmon, just moved one step closer to legalization. If so, (Photo: Andrea Pokrzywinski via Flickr)it will be the first genetically engineered (GE) animal allowed for consumption in the United States. Thus, every part of the regulatory process related to the GE salmon sets a precedent for all future GE animals in the United States – and so far, according to experts, that precedent is a sloppy, inadequate one.
What Is AquAdvantage Salmon?
To create the GE salmon, the Boston-based public company AquaBounty Technologies inserted DNA from another salmon species and an eel-like fish into the genome of an Atlantic salmon. The new genes make the GE salmon produce growth hormone all year round instead of just for three months a year as they normally would. This helps them grow to market size in 16 to 18 months instead of the usual 30 months required for an Atlantic salmon.
To prevent any GE salmon from escaping into the wild, surviving, and reproducing there, AquaBounty will only produce female GE salmon, each with three sets of DNA instead of the normal two. Triploids, as organisms with three sets of DNA are called, are infertile. Therefore, producing only female, triploid GE fish should provide two mechanisms of preventing reproduction should any fish escape into the wild. (Obviously, it takes a bit of scientific tinkering to create an all-female triploid fish population and the process used to do this might make your stomach turn.)
AquaBounty will produce salmon eggs in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Then it will transport them to an inland facility in Panama, where it will grow the fish, harvest, and process them. The firm claims no live fish will ever enter the United States.
How Are GE Animals Regulated?
The next question one might ask is how the federal government goes about deciding whether or not a GE animal should be allowed in our food supply. Under a 1980s decision, written by anti-regulation ideologues in the Reagan and Bush I era before any GE foods – plants or animals – were ready for commercialization, the government decided that no new laws were needed to regulate GE plants or animals. This decision is called “the Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology,” or the Coordinated Framework for short.
Whereas the European Union debated the regulation of GE foods and drafted new laws to address issues such as safety, traceability, allergenicity and environmental impacts, the U.S. never passed any new laws specific to GE animals or had the kind of public debate passing a new law would require. Instead, they decided to regulate GE animals as “animal drugs,” using laws that are not well-suited to the unique, complex issues posed by GE animals. Specifically, the government considers the extra DNA added to the GE animals as the “animal drug.” New Animal Drugs are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and they receive input from the Veterinary Medicine Advisory Committee (VMAC) – a committee mostly made up of veterinarians, not genetic engineering experts.
When a new animal drug is approved, it is only approved for production in a specific facility. Therefore, if you invent a new pill for cats, you submit data on its production in a specific facility, and you receive approval to produce it only in that facility. If you decide to build eight more factories because your drug is so popular, you must go back to the FDA to receive approval for the eight new facilities.
2010: Sloppy Science on Trial
Back in 2010, the FDA took the first steps to approve AquaBounty’s application to produce the GE salmon. It released a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) and several hundred pages of safety testing data from experiments performed by AquaBounty on the GE salmon. Then it gave the public a mere two weeks to comment on the data, and it convened VMAC to advise it on the GE salmon.
For watchdog groups, this was the first signal that something was, well, fishy. Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen excoriated the safety data as “sloppy,” “misleading,” and “woefully inadequate.” In addition to using small sample sizes and culling deformed fish and thus skewing the data, AquaBounty only provided data gathered in its Prince Edward Island facility, where it will produce GE salmon eggs. But, by law, it must also provide data from its Panama facility, where it will grow the salmon to full size.
The VMAC committee didn’t give a resounding approval either. The New York Times summarized their findings, saying, “While a genetically engineered salmon is almost certainly safe to eat, the government should pursue a more rigorous analysis of the fish's possible health effects and environmental impact.” However, the committee only advises the FDA, and its decisions are not binding.
2012: FDA Readies Its Rubber Stamp
Following the VMAC meeting and a second, public meeting on labeling issues surrounding the GE salmon, the FDA went silent. Over the next two years, it quietly examined the public comments and the input from the VMAC committee. But despite VMAC’s suggestion for a more rigorous analysis, the FDA moved the application one step closer to approval without really addressing the gaping holes in the AquaBounty’s science. In May of 2012, it produced an ever-so-slightly improved Environmental Assessment (EA) compared to the original draft it made public in 2010, and a preliminary “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI).
The preliminary FONSI and draft EA were not made public until they were published in the Federal Register on December 26, 2012. At that point, the FDA began a 60-day period in which the public could review its findings and submit comments.
What happened between 2010 and 2012 to improve our confidence that the GE salmon is safe for human consumption and for the environment? Nothing. There’s no new data whatsoever. The only changes are a few minor additions to the EA – certainly not enough to inspire confidence that the government heard the critiques made in 2010 and addressed them.
What’s Fishy About the GE Salmon?
“There are still unanswered safety and nutritional questions and the quality of the data that was submitted to the FDA was the worst stuff I've ever seen submitted for a GMO. There's stuff there that couldn't make it through a high school science class,” reflected Hansen in early 2013, after reviewing the newly released documents.
Almost laughing, Hansen remarks on the obvious flaws in AquaBounty’s scientific justification of the fish’s safety, saying, “That's not science, that's a joke!" Becoming more serious, he adds, “There's allergenicity questions and other health questions. It shouldn't be approved. They don't have any data to show that it's safe."
"There are environmental issues as well,” Hansen continues. “Not so much in Panama, but on Prince Edward Island. That's where they're going to producing eggs. Guess what, to produce eggs, you've gotta have fertile adults." Before the wild Atlantic salmon population was decimated, the waters around Prince Edward Island was salmon habitat. An escaped GE fish could easily thrive there. “Yet,” adds Hansen, “they conclude that even if they get out the water's too cold!”
In an interview with Flash in the Pan, environmental risk scientist Anne Kapuscinski also criticized the FDA’s process. Back in the 1990s, she authored the reports on how to perform environmental risk assessment. But, by 2007, her 1990s publications were so out of date that she led a team of scientists to write an updated book on the subject. Despite the updated scientific methods, the FDA opted to use the old, outdated methods from the 1990s to conduct its environmental risk assessment on the GE salmon.
The 2007 publication was rigorously peer reviewed by reviewers from around the world. Yet, the FDA ignored it. Kapuscinski calls their methods unscientific, adding that if the FDA were a student who submitted this report for a grade, it would fail. “Students would get into serious trouble if they were citing really old methods, and there had been huge advances in the methods since then and they ignored that. That would be a reason to fail them.”
She submitted comments back in 2010, but says, “it looks like either they didn’t read our comments or they just decided to ignore them.” She points out that the Panama facility that AquaBounty will use to grow the fish out of is not large enough for a commercial venture. “It’s at a scale to show proof of concept of the commercial viability of this,” she said. “Once the company scales up to selling millions and millions of eggs, the fish will be farmed by producers with all kinds of facilities.” Those facilities might not be as well protected as the one in Panama. Unless the FDA brings its risk assessment methods up to date, we have no adequate, scientific assurance that GE salmon won’t escape into the wild.
Despite the scientific questions, there’s no sign that the FDA will overturn its preliminary decision to allow commercialization of the GE salmon. The best Michael Hansen is hoping for at this point is a requirement that the GE salmon – one legalized – will be labeled as genetically engineered. He calls this “an outside chance.”
Unfortunately, as Hansen notes, "This is to set a precedent. If they let the GE salmon go through, why would any other company that wants to get a genetically engineered animal through bother” producing rigorous, scientifically valid data to prove its product’s safety?
If you don’t want to see GE salmon in your local supermarket in as little as a few years, you can take action. The FDA is accepting public comments until April 26, 2013. You can write your own message and submit it at Regulations.gov or you can join Food and Water Watch’s campaign against the GE salmon here. You can also write your representatives to let them know your point of view.
© 2013 Center for Media and Democracy
Pfc. Bradley Manning last week explained how and more importantly, why, he leaked military and government documents. As Ratner frames it: 'He saw wrongdoing and he acted.' (Credit: Reuters)
“I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information… this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general…” —Pfc. Bradley Manning in his plea statement, February 28th, 2013
This past Thursday, I was among a handful of individuals seated in the small windowless room at the military court facility in Fort Meade, Maryland, where Private First Class Bradley Manning would confess as the source of the largest leak of classified information in history.
Sitting in his dark blue full military uniform, Private Manning responded thoughtfully each time the judge addressed him, as he prepared to read aloud a 35-page statement that precisely detailed his actions and motivations for each of 10 charges. But as I witnessed this momentous occurrence, I was struck by a glaring inconsistency: the young soldier I saw in front of me – poised, resolute – bore absolutely no resemblance to his common depictions in the media from the last three years.
For over 1000 days, Private Manning has been held in military detention, in Iraq, Kuwait, Quantico, Virginia and Leavenworth, Kansas. Reports from these facilities and the media depicted Manning as unstable, depressed, weak, and worse. While imprisoned, he has endured some of the worst treatment imaginable at the hands of his own government, notably characterized by the UN special rapporteur for torture as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading,” possibly amounting to torture. Worse yet, this abuse comes in response to actions which Manning believed, and continues to believe, were in the service of both his country and international human rights law. Given all that he has endured, if the characterizations about his mental state were accurate, it would hardly come as a surprise.
Yet, facing life in prison, possibly execution (which the government says it will not request), and all but sealing his fate for at least a lengthy prison term by his guilty admission to 10 of 22 charges against him, Bradley Manning exhibited calm, collection, great intelligence and, yet again, incredible bravery. In fact, if there was any room for doubt about Manning acting from a powerful moral compass, and representing the best and bravest of our military, the plea into which Manning entered must remove it.
The last 10 years have brought to light egregious acts committed by U.S. soldiers who, when exposed, cower under the defense of “just following orders,” or claim to have been influenced by institutional culture. Yet, remarkably, at just 22 years of age, a heroic young man began exposing the worst of this culture not to harm the country, but to better it. He saw wrongdoing and he acted.
Over the course of nearly two hours, Private Manning detailed with startling clarity his precise motivations for each leak. On the Iraq War Logs and Afghan War Logs, he expressed his shock and dismay at the rampant use of targeted killings as a conflict-resolution tactic. On the Reykjavik 13 cable: the world should know of the U.S. and U.K.’s bullying tactics against Iceland to accept austerity measures in the wake of the global financial meltdown. On the Iraqi police’s arrests and disappearances of anti-corruption leafleters: that U.S. should not support those stifling democratic processes in Iraq. On the Guantanamo detainee files: the Obama administration’s stance is two-faced, claiming on the one hand to want to close the prison, yet on the other, knowingly holding innocent and low-level prisoners. On the State Department cable leak: the so-called “leader of the free world” engaged in “seemingly criminal activity” via backdoor deals is wrong and hypocritical. And on the most famous of his leaks, the “Collateral Murder” video: the soldiers’ “bloodlust” as they wantonly shot Reuters journalists whom they had mistaken for insurgents from an apache helicopter, along with the ensuing cover-up must be open to public review.
And though the words imply powerful moral and ethical motivations for the actions, Manning did not allow for any ambiguity regarding his ownership of the leaks. Toward the end of his statement, Manning added, “the decisions that I made to send documents and information to [Wikileaks] were my own decisions, and I take full responsibility…”
One might question why Private Manning would make such a naked admission of guilt. To this, it should be stated clearly that the plea into which he entered does not function in the same way as those in civilian court: as a deal with a prosecutor to confess to lesser charges for leniency in sentencing. On the contrary, Manning’s plea, actually designated a “naked plea” in colloquial terms, not only leaves the door open for the U.S. government to pursue the remaining 12 charges against him – charges which, ridiculously, include “aiding the enemy” – but provide them with ammunition in the form of his confession statement, should they decide to do so. The implications of such an action are unsurprising given Private Manning’s record: simply that his commitment to placing the truth into the public record is a priority that exceeds concern for his personal well-being.
Unfortunately for Private Manning, he faces an administration that seems intent on criminalizing every conceivable act of whistleblowing, in effect deleting its vital function from our democratic system. Not only has the Obama Administration pursued a greater number of whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined, but it has recently announced that Private Manning’s plea will have no bearing on its pursuit of the remaining charges.
The sad irony in Private Manning’s case is that while the Obama Administration throws the book at him, even accuses him of aiding the enemy by exposing great wrongs in U.S. foreign policy, he actually serves as one of the most redeeming examples of service our country could ask for. The last 10 years have brought to light egregious acts committed by U.S. soldiers who, when exposed, cower under the defense of “just following orders,” or claim to have been influenced by institutional culture. Yet, remarkably, at just 22 years of age, a heroic young man began exposing the worst of this culture not to harm the country, but to better it. He saw wrongdoing and he acted.
In processing these actions another quote comes to mind:
“I felt that as an American citizen, as a responsible citizen, I could no longer cooperate in concealing this information from the American public. I did this clearly at my own jeopardy and I am prepared to answer to all the consequences of this decision.”
No, these are not the words of Private Manning; they were spoken by Daniel Ellsberg on June 28, 1971 upon his admission to leaking the Pentagon Papers to the press.
The fact that these words ring as true now, in Private Manning’s current circumstance, as when they were spoken, is no coincidence. Daniel Ellsberg too was maligned by many at the time of his confession. Now history regards his action as a profound contribution to the public good. There is little doubt that Bradley Manning’s contributions will be regarded with the same heroism in due time.
Bradley Manning is being punished for failing to follow authority. Yet, from a very young age, he realized an unshakable moral and ethical imperative to answer to a higher authority than his superiors: the Constitution, and the rule of law.
Hopefully, Bradley Manning’s statement will someday be read in classrooms all across the country as example of the duty each of us has to act in the face of criminality and evil. Hopefully, he will be free to add to the discussion, remark on his terrible ordeal and be recognized as the hero he is. But no matter how long he is imprisoned, we all must recognize that to lock him up for even a day is to lock up the conscience of our nation.
Michael Ratner is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and currently serves as attorney for Julian Assange and Wikileaks. He is co-author with Margaret Ratner Kunstler of “Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century”.
February 11, 2013 |
Like this article?
Join our email list:
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Science has all the answers, right? Wrong. But it has a pretty good sense of things, a lot of the time. So what does science have to say about the pursuit of happiness? A lot. Like, build-an-entire-industry-around-it, even-the-pseudo-scientific-stuff a lot.
So let's look at some of the more recent things science has had to say about happiness and how you can score some for yourself — including one tip that might actually work (and you won't even have to pay us to hear it).
1. Surround yourself with happy people
Or, at the very least, surround yourself with people who surround themselves with happy people. A longitudinal investigation conducted over 20 years in collaboration with the Framingham Heart Study revealed that shifts in individual happiness can cascade through social networks like an emotional contagion. That's right, happiness is kind of like a disease. (The researchers don't mean Facebook, btw, but physical, old-school networks — like live-in friends, partners and spouses; and siblings, friends and neighbors who live close by.)
"Most important from our perspective is the recognition that people are embedded in social networks and that the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others," conclude the researchers, noting that the relationship between people's happiness was found to extend up to three degrees of separation (i.e. all the way to friends of friends of friends). "This fundamental fact of existence provides a fundamental conceptual justification for the specialty of public health. Human happiness is not merely the province of isolated individuals."
Also worth noting: the researchers found sadness to be nowhere near as "infectious" as happiness.
2. Master a skill
This one is kind of a tradeoff: a study published in a 2009 issue of the 100% real Journal of Happiness Studies found that people who dedicate themselves to mastering a skill or ability tend to experience more stress in the moment, but reported greater happiness and satisfaction on an hourly, daily, and longterm basis as a result of their investment.
"No pain, no gain is the rule when it comes to gaining happiness from increasing our competence at something," said Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University in a statement. "People often give up their goals because they are stressful, but we found that there is benefit at the end of the day from learning to do something well."
3. Self-government is key
The same study that found mastering a skill could bolster overall, longterm happiness found that the minute-to-minute stresses of mastering a skill could be lessened by self-direction and a sense of fellowship. "Our results suggest that you can decrease the momentary stress associated with improving your skill or ability by ensuring you are also meeting the need for autonomy and connectedness," explains Howell. "For example, performing the activity alongside other people or making sure it is something you have chosen to do and is true to who you are."
4. Smile for once
Darwin laid it out for us all the way back in 1872: "The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it," he wrote. And recent studies — involving botox, of all things — suggest he was onto something. SciAm's Melinda Wenner explains:
Psychologists at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that people whose ability to frown is compromised by cosmetic botox injections are happier, on average, than people who can frown. The researchers administered an anxiety and depression questionnaire to 25 females, half of whom had received frown-inhibiting botox injections. The botox recipients reported feeling happier and less anxious in general; more important, they did not report feeling any more attractive, which suggests that the emotional effects were not driven by a psychological boost that could come from the treatment's cosmetic nature.