Sunday, October 23, 2005

Lost Liberty Hotel

In case you haven't heard, matters seem to be moving along in Weare, NH, with plans to seize the property of Supreme Court Justice David Souter to convert it into a hotel (the Lost Liberty Hotel) consonant with the decision Kelo v. New London in which Justice Souter concurred and which allows municipalities to sieze property by eminent domain in order to give it to private companies for private use.

There will be an initiative on the March 14, 2006 Weare ballot in which voters can indicate to the Selectmen their desire to have the town government use eminent domain to seize 34 Cilley Hill Road (currently owned by Supreme Court Justice David Souter) for the purpose of a promoting economic development (a valid seizure according to Souter's vote in Kelo vs. City of New London).

Also, a list of over thirty interested developers has been narrowed to seven. They are seeking a developer who has experience building a similar type of structure and is enthusiastically supportive of the purpose of the project. The name of the developer is expected to be announced by mid-November.

They can use financial support so anyone who'd like to see this project come to fruition can go here to find out how they can contribute. It would be nice to see our judges and politicians forced to accept the same consequences of their rulings and laws that the rest of us must accept.

Why There's No Vaccine

Why don't we have a vaccine for the avian flu? Why will it take so long to produce enough tamiflu to mitigate the symptoms of a potential flu pandemic? Is it that the drug companies are failing us? The Wall Street Journal explains:

Our political leaders keep telling us to fear the avian flu, and in one sense they're right: We should all be scared to death about how much damage our political leaders will do responding to the avian flu.

Consider Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who declared this month that he hoped concern for "intellectual property" wouldn't "get into the way" of procuring widespread vaccines for a potential avian-flu outbreak. In other words, companies that make vaccines should abandon their patents at Mr. Annan's whim. This kind of hostility to property rights is precisely the reason we now have a shortage of vaccines and drugs to combat this potential pandemic.

Whatever the risk, some good will come out of this public alarm if we use it as an opportunity to understand why the U.S. is now so poorly armed to cope with a deadly flu outbreak. The reason is that our political class has spent the past 30 years driving the vaccine industry out of business with its own virus of over-regulation, price controls, litigation and intellectual-property abuse.

The U.S. today has only three large vaccine makers--down from 37 in the 1960s. This is the reason that, as recently as 2001, there was a shortage of eight of 11 critical childhood vaccines. It is also the reason the U.S. fell drastically short of flu vaccine a year ago, after a shut-down of one of two major flu-vaccine makers. And it is the reason only one company, Switzerland's Roche, is being counted on for a drug that would potentially protect against bird flu.

Despite these warning signals, Washington has done almost nothing. One problem is the Food and Drug Administration, which puts safety above developing rapid cures. Flu-vaccine makers face particular difficulties because they must effectively gain approval for a new product (for each new flu strain) every year. The vaccine is still grown in chicken eggs--a process that takes up to eight months. The industry has revolutionary new technologies--reverse genetics and mammalian cell culture--that would dramatically reduce the time and cost of development. Europe is moving toward products using these new techniques, but the FDA refuses to adapt and allow more rapid approval.

The feds have also done their best to remove any financial incentive--i.e., profit--for developing new vaccines. The Vaccines For Children program, a pet project of Hillary Clinton back in her First Lady days, has been especially destructive. The program now buys more than 50% of all private vaccines, and it uses this monopsony clout to drive prices down to commodity levels.

When one pharmaceutical company offered to sell a new pneumococcal vaccine to the government for $58 a dose, the Centers for Disease Control demanded a $10-a-dose discount. Politicians want companies to take all the risk of developing new vaccines, but they don't want the companies to make any money from taking those risks. Then the politicians profess surprise and dismay that there's a vaccine shortage.

Vaccine makers are also a favorite target of tort lawyers, who've spent 20 years trying to get around the 1986 Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)--which was specifically designed to protect vaccine makers from liability abuse. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been trying to update the VICP for several years, and Republicans did pass a liability provision as a rider to a homeland security bill in 2002. But three GOP Senators--Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chafee--created a media ruckus and demanded that it be killed. The Senators promised more debate on the subject, yet once the headlines vanished so did their interest.

The larger point is that if politicians want private industry to develop new cures and vaccines, they can't steal their patents or confiscate their hope of making money. Private companies developed the AIDS drugs that have extended millions of lives, but countries like Brazil want to force those companies to give the drugs away at cost.

The solutions to getting more vaccines aren't complicated: Push the FDA for faster approvals, shield companies from tort robbery and get the government out of the business of buying routine vaccines. Politicians can't be held responsible for knowing when the next animal virus will strike the human race. But they will be responsible if their hostility to business leaves us unable to cope with its consequences.

Bureaucrats and politicians excel at two things: Wasting money on worthless projects and over-regulating businesses upon which our welfare depends. Other than these, the federal government, at least in its civilian sector, tends to be pretty incompetent.

Who'll Do the Test?

Michelle Starr of the York Daily Record, which has done some fine work reporting on the Dover ID trial, has written an interesting article on the testability of ID's claims. She writes:

Intelligent design and evolution proponents agree that a test on bacterial flagellum could show if it was or wasn't able to evolve, which could provide evidence to support intelligent design. But neither side wants to test it.

The test calls for a scientist to place a bacterial species lacking a flagellum under selective pressure and let it grow for 10,000 generations - roughly two years - to see if a flagellum or an equally complex system would be produced, according to testimony on Wednesday. A flagellum is a whip-like structure that can propel the bacteria.

Michael Behe, biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, testified in U.S. Middle District Court that he didn't know of anyone who had tested bacterial flagellum that way, including himself. During cross examination by plaintiffs' attorney Eric Rothschild, Behe said he hadn't completed the test because he has better ways to spend his time. He also said he already knows intelligent design is science. "It's well-tested from the inductive arguments," Behe said. "When we have found a purposeful arrangement of parts, we have always found this as designed."

Outside court, Dover school board members Alan Bonsell and Sheila Harkins said if anyone should perform the test, it should be the evolutionists. "Somebody could do that if they wanted to," Harkins said. "If somebody believes intelligent design is not science, certainly they have a means to prove it's not."

Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, said scientists - who widely accept evolution as the cornerstone of modern biology - aren't going to take two years on an expensive test to disprove something they don't consider science.

They wouldn't bother, she said. "This is not the first time creationists have tried to get scientists to do their work for them," Scott said.

This time around, even if the flagellum grew, Scott speculated that intelligent design proponents would say the test refuted the design of bacterial flagellum, not intelligent design. They could still point toward design of the immune system and blood-clotting cascade as evidence, Scott said.

Behe has testified that if evolutionists ran the test and it didn't work, they would provide a reason such as they didn't have the right bacteria, selective pressure or length of time. Evolution is harder to falsify than intelligent design, Behe said. He describes intelligent design as a fully testable, falsifiable scientific theory.

The design, he testified, is inferred from the purposeful arrangement of parts. During his time on the stand, he also testified about the concept of irreducible complexity, which means organisms are too complex to have evolved by natural selection or genetic mutation, so multiple systems had to arise simultaneously.

Scott said scientists couldn't disprove the purposeful arrangement of parts because too much could qualify. Anything outside of purposely arranged parts would be in state of chaos, she said. The purposeful arrangements of parts is quickly taking over as the essence of intelligent design from the idea of irreducible complexity, Scott said.

Bonsell and Harkins believe intelligent design qualifies as a testable and falsifiable scientific theory, and Bonsell said he was ready for it to be put to the test. "I'm all for scientific discovery and doing scientific experiments," Bonsell said. "They're the ones that are not."

I think Eugenie Scott is technically correct that the emergence of a flagellum wouldn't definitively falsify the ID position because many ID theorists assert that the design is front-loaded, i.e. it's programmed into biology at the Big Bang, or at the creation of life, so that bacteria could well be intelligently designed such that they would respond to certain selection pressures by developing a flagellum. Nevertheless, it would seem that Darwinian scientists would want to carry out the test if for no other reason than scientific curiosity.

Moreover, if such a structure were seen to emerge with no significant tinkering from the experimenter, it would be, for all practical purposes, the death knell for ID. It would be the biological version of the O.J. Simpson verdict: Technically his guilt was not proven, but everyone knows that he was guilty of the crime.

Likewise, and this is one reason that Darwinians are unlikely to actually attempt this test, if the experiment were to fail to produce a flagellum, logically the result would be meaningless, but psychologically it would give a big boost to ID among the masses. The Darwinians know that the chances of a flagellum evolving are vanishingly slim, and the chances of giving their ID opponents a propaganda coup if no flagellum appears are significant. Consequently, the test won't get done, or if it is done the public will not hear about it unless a flagellum were indeed to materialize. It's just easier, and less dangerous, to accuse ID of being untestable than to actually try to test it.

This leads to another reason that Darwinians won't conduct the test, of course, which is that doing so has a very serious drawback for the argument that has been consistently employed by the anti-ID folks. Simply by carrying out the test the experimenter would be demonstrating that the Darwinians' claim that ID is not testable, and therefore not science, is false. What an interesting predicament. The Darwinians argue vehemently that ID is not a scientific theory, but they dare not try to actually prove it is false because in so doing they undercut their argument that it's not science.