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#JunkScience is entering courtrooms at expense of consumers

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One of the most notable features of modern politics is how much easier it is today to be ‘involved’ in one way or another. That’s great. I’ve personally spent much of my energy in the past couple of years campaigning for better political education and other policies which do exactly that. Today, you can reach thousands of people through social media and have genuine influence with a single vote being cast for you – or by having any real-life experience in the areas you criticize, writes Matt Gillow.

One of the dark sides to that, however, is that much is commented on instantaneously – and people are encouraged to think with their gut in a split-second. That’s what gets retweets. All too often, lawmakers are basing their judgement on emotion and how social media will react, rather than cold, hard evidence and scientific fact.

The recent European Court of Justice ruling, which obliged the European Food Safety Authority to release a wealth of commercially sensitive data on the pesticide glyphosate, is the perfect example of split-second decision making which fails to pay heed to the evidence. Whilst encouraging greater transparency for consumers to make decisions is a good thing, the ruling raises intellectual property issues, acquiesces to lobbyists, and ignores the fact that many companies – which produce and sell products with pesticides like glyphosate - actually voluntarily release much of the information requested anyway. To top it all off – the ruling is based on junk science espoused by lobbyists and demonises safe products – to the detriment of the consumer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer was instrumental in the verdict by adding glyphosate to a list of things considered carcinogenic. IARC’s list of carcinogenic products include chemicals found in carrots, celery, lettuce, jasmine tea and aloe vera – to name a few. The US House Committee on Space, Science and Technology, which has stated the IARC finding on glyphosate is an “affront to scientific integrity that bred distrust and confusion,” requested that (now former) IARC Director Christopher Wild appear before the Committee. Wild refused to testify, and his successor, Elizabete Weiderpass, has not responded.

The fundamental problem is that IARC misrepresents the relationship between hazard and risk. Risk is the hazard in question, paired with the degree of exposure to that hazard. In a practical example: a road is a hazard to pedestrians because while crossing it, you can get hit. However, identifying the real risk implies knowing whether people actually cross this street, and depends on the level of care they take while doing so.

For the agency, the best risk management process is to remove all hazards, even if their exposure doesn’t make them risky. Yes, residues of glyphosate is found in beer, but for beer to become a risk factor in relationship to glyphosate, you’d have to drink 1,000 litres a day. We’ll take it that in that particular case, it still won’t be the pesticide that will be your biggest concern.

According to science blogger The Riskmonger - Scientists working with toxic tort law firms are compelling IARC to produce monographs for the purpose of increasing their lucrative opportunities as litigation consultants. Collusion between tort lawyers and agencies such as the IARC for lucrative payouts is not only disconcerting and corrupt - but sets a horribly dangerous precedent. Any scientific innovation could soon fall victim of this procedure.

So not only has IARC become a front for junk science and peddling of bad news, but it has become a tool for trial lawyers seeking cancer findings by IARC which they then leverage in US courtrooms into multi-million dollar verdicts. In the case of school groundskeeper Dwayne Johnson vs. Monsanto, the judge ended up setting punitive damages at $39 million. By confusing hazard and risk, IARC has declared herbicides as carcinogenic when they are not.

The fact of the matter is that consumers are being peddled lies by junk science organisations, and crooked get-rich-quick litigation consultants are getting payouts off the back of dodgy opinions from IARC - with scientific research that is not backed up by their peers.

Junk science and split-second judgements based on a headline are infiltrating and harming commerce and courtrooms – and harming the consumer and taxpayer at the same time. But a move away from evidence-based policy making isn’t confined to science. In politics, legislators are increasingly voting on sentiment instead instead of taking a scientific approach.

Soundbites have infiltrated policy-making. In order to protect ordinary people and improve their daily lives – it’s absolutely essential that we make a return to evidence-based policy making when it comes to science.Instead, politicians, commentators and activists are pandering to their support base and their ideological tribes. People deserve better than policy-makers refusing to look past the headlines.

EU

Kazakhstan sets parliamentary elections for January 2021

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Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev signed a decree scheduling Majilis elections for 10 January 2021, reported Akorda press service, writes Assel Satubaldina.

Majilis is the lower chamber of the Kazakh Parliament consisting of 107 deputies, who are elected for a five-year term.

The previous elections were held in March 2016. Six political parties participated in the elections and three of them including Nur Otan (82.2%), Ak Zhol Democratic Party of Kazakhstan (7.18%), the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan (7.14%), received more than 7% of the votes and won the right to delegate their deputies to the chamber.

Currently, the Nur Otan party has a majority of 84 deputies in the Majilis, the Ak Zhol and the Communist People’s party have seven deputies each.

Nine deputies are elected from the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan, an advisory body under the President of Kazakhstan whose members are drawn from organizations representing major ethnic communities living in Kazakhstan.

“All political parties had time to prepare for the upcoming election campaign, develop an election platform, and enhance party infrastructure. The Central Election Commission and the Prosecutor General’s Office will continuously monitor the legality, transparency, and fairness of elections,” said Tokayev in his address.

He emphasized the reforms he has undertaken since he stepped into the presidential office in June 2019, including the introduction of a parliamentary opposition institute.

“One chair and two secretaries of the Majilis standing committees will now be elected from the members of the parliamentary opposition. In addition, the parliamentary opposition will have the right to initiate parliamentary hearings at least once during one session and to set the agenda for the government hour at least twice during one session,” said the Kazakh president.

In 2019, Tokayev signed the decree that introduced a mandatory 30 percent quota for women and young people in party lists in an effort to increase their voice in the decision-making process.

The next elections to maslikhats (representative local authority bodies) will for the first time be held based on party lists, which according to Tokayev will “enable parties to strengthen their position in the country’s political system.”

In August, seventeen Senate deputies from the nation’s 14 regions and cities of Nur-Sultan, Almaty and Shymkent were elected to the Senate, the upper chamber of the Kazakh parliament.

The renewed composition of the Kazakh parliament, noted Tokayev, will focus on “quality legislative support for social and economic reforms in the country”.

“The serious economic crisis stemming from the coronavirus pandemic has affected many countries and adversely impacted the entire global economy. At these challenging times, Kazakhstan has to take effective anti-crisis measures, ensuring sustainable economic development, social wellbeing of our citizens, and improving the well-being of the people,” said Tokayev, encouraging all citizens to take part in the upcoming elections.

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Brexit

EU says there is a deal to be done, but reminds the UK that 'Brexit means Brexit'

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Following last week’s European Council, European Council President Charles Michel, Vice President Maroš Šefčovič and EU Chief negotiator for relations with the UK Michel Barnier presented the conclusions to MEPs.

The British government, through its Chief Negotiator Lord Frost, appeared to take the hump at the replacement of the word ‘intensify’ with the word ‘continue’ in the conclusions of last week’s European Council meeting. There was much sabre-rattling from the British side and much continuity from the EU side. 

Today (21 October), the conclusions were reiterated, but this time a Downing Street spokesperson replied: "We note with interest the EU's negotiator has commented in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks. We're studying carefully what was said. David Frost will discuss the situation when he speaks to Michel Barnier later today."

Charles Michel borrowed from Theresa May, saying that “Brexit means Brexit” and that this means making choices. He said that EU leaders want a deal, but not just any deal: “No other economy is as closely aligned to ours as the British economy. We need to ensure that the European Union and the United Kingdom's companies face fair competition on the EU market, this is why we have put so much emphasis on ensuring a level playing field on governance and conflict resolution. Together with fisheries these are the main outstanding issues where we are still far apart.”

Michel Barnier pointed to the progress that has been paid on many fronts including transportation where the UK has agreed to specific level playing field provisions in road transportation. He also mentioned progress on Europol and Eurojust co-operation, data protection, energy, social security coordination, trade in goods and on European programmes such as Horizon (R&D) and Erasmus. However, he said that much progress was needed on fisheries and governance.

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Brexit

As clock ticks, EU and UK tell each other to budge on Brexit

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A frustrated European Union and piqued Britain both exhorted the other on Tuesday (20 October) to compromise to avoid a fast-approaching disruptive finale to the five-year Brexit drama that would add to economic pain from the coronavirus crisis, write Elizabeth Piper, Michael Holden and Costas Pitas in London.
Failure to clinch a trade deal when Britain leaves a standstill transition period on 31 December would sow chaos through supply chains and undermine Europe’s economy as it already sees jobs and businesses pulverized by the COVID-19 disease.

After an EU demand for concessions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke off talks and said it was time to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.

The EU has since offered to intensify talks and open discussions on legal texts of a draft deal, but Britain maintains there is no basis to resume discussions without a fundamental change in approach.

“My message: we should be making the most out of the little time left,” Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, said after a telephone call with British counterpart David Frost.

“Our door remains open.”

The European Commission said it was ready to negotiate though both sides would have to compromise.

UK says Brexit talks situation remains unchanged

Johnson’s spokesman said the EU had to show it was taking a fundamentally different approach.

EU diplomats cast Britain’s moves as bluster and a frantic bid to secure concessions before a last-minute deal, though an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said chances of a deal were narrowing.

“At the moment, I see the chances worse than 50-50,” Detlef Seif, Brexit rapporteur for Merkel’s conservatives in the lower house of parliament, told Reuters. “The ball is still in Britain’s court at the moment.”

There is concern in some European capitals that Johnson may judge that the domestic political benefits and potentially the long-term economic freedom of a noisy no-deal exit outweigh the benefits of a shallow trade deal.

“If they want to get back to the negotiating table, they can,” said one EU diplomat. “If they want to jump – we won’t be able to stop them.”

“All this posturing is only aimed at strengthening Johnson’s hand. If they don’t want to talk, that’s their choice. There is no point at this stage to give them anything more,” said another EU diplomat.

Britain formally left the EU at the end of January, but the two sides have been haggling over a deal that would govern $900 billion in trade from car parts to medicines.

Johnson and his Brexit supremo Michael Gove will tell businesses on a video call on Tuesday to step up preparations for the end of the transition period.

Failure to strike a deal with the EU would be “extremely damaging” and cut profits by up to a quarter at carmaker Bentley, its boss told Reuters, as the government urges firms to plan for potential disruption.

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