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Links With Your Coffee - Wednesday


A huge new study just out — “Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations” — published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, says just having books in the home is as important in determining a child’s educational success as the parents’ education level, according to this report in the Nevada News by Claudene Wharton.

In 1952 Martin Gardner, who just passed away this week at the age of 95, wrote about organic farming in his book Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. He characterized it as a food fad without scientific justification. Now, 58 years later, the science has not changed much at all.

The “big lie” is simple to frame but difficult to untangle. The “big lie” is about us and them. It’s about creating the illusion that there are two sides to an issue and then creating the distinction that “our side” is right, and “their side” is wrong. Our side is good, and their side is downright evil. The big lie is a lie of such monstrous proportion that it is beyond comprehension that anyone could assert such a thing if it were not true. The big lie probably reflects a mundane aspect of cultural framing. For example, in Germany, in the Great Depression, antisemitism was common. It had been for a thousand years or more.

Some thoughtful and interesting letters in response to the OpEd that James McWilliams and I wrote recently for the NY Times. Here are some highlights:

Both useless and dangerous, surprise!

Nearly all of the herbal dietary supplements tested in a Congressional investigation contained trace amounts of lead and other contaminants, and some supplement sellers made illegal claims that their products can cure cancer and other diseases, investigators found.



so, they needed a big scientific study to show that having books in the house gives kids a "better chance" and maybe says something about the parents, too.

the wonders never cease.

just wanted to point out that not all herbal supplements are useless. not to get all new agey on you, but herbs are the source of many corporationally regulated "medications" if that's your trip. me, i like herbs.

the contaminant level in certain (again, corporationally controlled) "supplements" is something else again.

So you like herbs, which ones?

i'm particularly fond of those which fight nausea and pain and stimulate apetite and healthy sleep patterns, if that's what you're getting at.

You mean like not watching Fox News, willow bark, and a warm glass of milk.

Hmm maybe this is a stupid question but I'm about to go off to bed after work so that's my excuse. I wonder what the difference would be if you had a couple of bookshelf full of books, or if you had one kindle with a thousand e-books. Would the kid feel as curious or as drawn to read? I myself remember climbing the tall bookshelf and checking out all the colorful covers and drawings and titles. We didn't have a lot of books (almost no "grown up" ones, mostly childrens' books, albeit very good educational ones), so I read them many times over. Something like a big bookshelf physically full of stories on paper probably sparks the child's wonder and curiosity more than a small electronic device.

I think you are absolutely right, but it was just fine with me that most of the books were for adults in my house. I still remember finding a copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four on our big bookshelf downstairs when I was about 13 years old. I had no idea what the book was going to be about when I started reading it. The 'adult' nature of Winston Smith having sex to defy the Party was an added bonus - i.e., sticking it to Julia as a way of sticking it to the man - it appealed the prurient interests of 13-year-old me. Anyway, I found a lot of good books on that big bookshelf.

The herbal supplement oreganol has many anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties, and a little goes a long way.

re: Organic food no healthier

Norm, Yer killin' me!

I read the article cited in your reference.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Sep;90(3):680-5. Epub 2009 Jul 29. Nutritional quality of organic foods: a systematic review

This is not new research. The writers did a literature review. Of the 455 nutrients and nutritionally relevant substances on 100 distinct food stuffs reported in this literature, the authors selected a few articles, and constructed from them a table which reports on 8 minerals, nitrogen, and in the case of livestock, fat and ash. NO differentiation remains in their study of which product contained which levels of what. Further, no review of pesticide, herbicide, antibiotic residuals were included in their review.

To conclude from this pitiful excuse for science that Organic Food is not healthier is a bit of a stretch don'cha think?

I respectfully suggest an alternative report:

Unlike the Clinical Nutrition article you cited, this one is free, it doesn't cost $40 for 30 days online access, and it recognizes that nutrient measurement is a complicated business.

For example, we now know that it isn't fat, but the Omega3/Omega6 fatty acid profile that determines whether fat is good for us or bad for us. With livestock, this depends primarily on feed protocols. A steer finished on corn will have more Omega 3 fat than one raised on grass. The total amount of fat in a finished carcass is also breed dependent. We should expect no difference in fatty acid profile between Organic corn fed and Conventional corn fed. We know there is a big difference between corn and grass feeding with respect to both fatty acid profile, levels of CLA and folates. The difference between Organic and Convention protocols are not in the fat and ash. They are in pesticide and herbicide and antibiotic residuals in the meat from conventional livestock handling.

Any assertion that one might learn anything about whether or not Organic is healthier than Conventional from a study such as the one you reference, gives "science" a bad name.

I'll do a little more research on the subject, but I must admit to getting a perverse sense of joy knowing that you'll be on it in a flash. I'm sorry if this means less time in the field and more in front of the computer.

Nutrition certainly is complicated. It's important to pay attention to what nutrient is in what food, and to compare apples with apples. It gets complicated when for example one points to the increased nutrient x in organic plant b compared to conventional plant b, but that the nutrient x occurs in plant c, conventional which has orders of magnitude more of said nutrient and is more available. There is a limit to the various nutrients we need. If we're getting them for half the price from conventional sources then why spend the extra for nutritional reasons. That leaves the question of the environment etc. out of the equation which may be important enough to change the balance in favor of organic, but then that's more than just a nutrition question.


The "book report" mentioned nothing about genes, and in the absence of such mention, I would assume that they didn't control for genes and the study is therefore worthless. For a detailed but beautifully clear explanation of this kind of thing, read "The Nurture Assumption" by Judith Rich Harris.

How would you separate groups "by genes"?


Adoption studies, kinda thing. Read the book.

I still don't see it. It should be relatively easy to explain for you, no? So, what you seem to be implying is that the results could be different if parents had the same genes as a child, as opposed to them being adopted?


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