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May 2007

Unlike that other so-called study about conservatives, this is a study I believe:

When they correlated their volunteers' Wilson-Patterson scores with childhood memories the researchers discovered that those classified as conservatives tended to report having had secure childhoods with strong attachments to one or both parents, and low stress. Those classified as liberals reported having stressful childhoods and weaker attachments to their parents.

Three updates on Wednesday's post about food safety.

Thanks to commenter Spencer E. for pointing out that the sharp rise in outbreaks and cases between 1997 and 1998 is at least partly an artifact of data collection. The CDC writes, "The annual number of FBDOs [foodborne-disease outbreaks] reported to CDC increased during this period [1998-2002] compared with previous years, following implementation of measures to enhance outbreak surveillance (3--5). Certain observations suggest that the increase in outbreak reports probably represents the effect of enhanced surveillance rather than a true increase in the occurrence of FBDOs."

The number of outbreaks in 2004 should be 1319, not 1310.

Finally, from information readily available at the CDC website, the time series on outbreaks and cases can be pushed back to 1983:

Year Outbreaks Cases
1983 505 14898
1984 543 16420
1985 495 31079
1986 467 12781
1987 387 16500
1988 451 15732
1989 505 15867

The message of the combined data is that from 1983 through 1997 there is no trend in cases and almost no trend in outbreaks; after the change in methodology, from 1998 through 2005, there is again essentially no trend in either outbreaks or cases. If we are currently experiencing a "crisis", it's a crisis that we seem to have had for a while.

Noted science fiction writer Charles Stross discusses the future:

Meet your descendants. They don't know what it's like to be involuntarily lost, don't understand what we mean by the word "privacy", and will have access (sooner or later) to a historical representation of our species that defies understanding. They live in a world where history has a sharply-drawn start line, and everything they individually do or say will sooner or later be visible to everyone who comes after them, forever. They are incredibly alien to us.

Krugman and food safety

In case you missed it, on Monday Paul Krugman became a part-time comedian (gated version; a non-gated copy is here):

Yesterday I did something risky: I ate a salad.

These are anxious days at the lunch table. For all you know, there may be E. coli on your spinach, salmonella in your peanut butter and melamine in your pet’s food and, because it was in the feed, in your chicken sandwich.

In the supposedly serious part of the article Professor Krugman blames our current "food safety crisis" on 1) globalization (that is, imported food), 2) big companies, 3) the Bush administration, and 4) the ideas of Milton Friedman.

Tim Worstall sharply criticizes Professor Krugman's reasoning. (He also adds, in a wonderful Britishism, that Krugman may be "rather losing the plot".)

Because of course food poisoning was so much lower in the days before globalization, food corporations, the Bush administration and Milton Friedman, right?

Read the whole thing.

But this did make me wonder: is U.S. food safety decreasing? A few minutes of searching on the Web turned up the Center for Disease Control's "Annual Listing of Foodborne Disease Outbreaks, 1990-2004" (and 2005 data are now provided). I state upfront that I am not an expert on these data. I don't know what biases they may be subject to. At a minimum, they don't indicate all the food-borne illness in the U.S., only the outbreaks that are serious enough and that affect enough people to be reported to the CDC. But as a first, quick-and-dirty empirical look at Professor Krugman's complaint they can be useful.

     Year         Outbreaks            Cases
1990 533 19231
1991 531 15052
1992 411 11083
1993 514 14080
1994 690 16695
1995 645 13497
1996 602 15421
1997 806 18082
1998 1314 26719
1999 1344 25286
2000 1417 26043
2001 1238 25035
2002 1332 24971
2003 1072 22791
2004 1310 28239
2005 982 20179

I leave as exercises for the reader whether 1) these figures indicate a crisis is in progress (hint: the U.S. is a country that seemingly shrugs at over 40,000 auto fatalities a year), and 2) even if so, what part of the blame President Bush and his evil minions deserve.