A PDF or DALY Might Be Negative
John Brockman asked another World Question: What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit? As is usually the case, some of the responses are bulshytt. For example, according to Daniel Goleman:
If a product comes from a fertilized plantation with lots of runoff, the ecosystems of nearby marine algae are enhanced. If BHA turns out to prevent cancer (it's an antioxidant), its DALY might be negative.
Do you know the PDF of your shampoo? A 'PDF' refers to a "partially diminished fraction of an ecosystem," and if your shampoo contains palm oil cultivated on clearcut jungle in Borneo, say, that value will be high. How about your shampoo's DALY? This measure comes from public health: "disability adjusted life years," the amount of one's life that will be lost to a disabling disease because of, say, a liftetime's cumulative exposure to a given industrial chemical. So if your favorite shampoo contains two common ingredients, the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane, or BHA , an endocrine disrupter, its DALY will be higher.
Even if you can prove something causes change, the change need not be malign. Remember the slogan “Hope and Change”? We can use it too.
Daniel Goleman was clearly wrong when he also said:
To be sure, we have methods for assessing CO2 buildups or blood levels of BHA. But for the vast majority of people those numbers have little to no emotional impact. Our amygdala shrugs.I don't think Daniel Goleman's amygdala is shrugging although the rest of his brain might be. Aubrey de Grey, another respondent to the same survery, said:
It looks like humans not only can react to invisible dangers but also over-react. Maybe we should pay less attention to PDF or DALY … except that the self-congratulation-based community probably won't let us.
One particular aspect of this problem stands out in its potential for public self-harm, however: risk-aversion. When uncertainty revolves around such areas as ethics (as with nuclear transfer) or economic policy (as with flu vaccination), the issues are potentially avoidable by appropriate forward planning. This is not the case when it comes to the public attitude to risk. The immense fall in uptake of vaccinations for major childhood diseases following a single, contentious study lining them to autism is a prime example. Another is the suspension of essentially all clinical trials of gene therapy for at least a year in response to the death of one person in a trial: a decision taken by regulatory bodies, yes, but one that was in line with public opinion.
By the way, what the bleep is meant by “disability adjusted”? It looks like the self-congratulation-based community has decided for us what the trade-offs should be between survival and survival without being “differently abled.”