Friday, June 18, 2010

She Blinded Me With Science

I’ve always liked Thomas Dolby’s 1982 song “She Blinded Me With Science”, because it’s goofy and weird and has a catchy hook. I’m really not sure what the song is supposed to mean, but I’ve always liked the title.

The song came to mind again the other day when I read a report on the latest E.coli outbreak in Minnesota. This strain, E.Coli 0157:H7, is particularly nasty, and there is no doubt among scientists and epidemiologists in our neighbor state that it came from the Hartmann Dairy – which sells raw milk. It has a clear DNA marker. Quite a few kids got really sick from drinking the tainted milk, but so far nobody has died.

Predictably, the Hartmann Dairy Farm denied responsibility, and accused the Minnesota Health and Ag Departments of defaming them.

Now, where have we heard that story around here?

Our highly-paid full-time professional state legislature passed a bill a few months ago which would allow the sale of raw milk in Wisconsin. The bill essentially rejected decades of hard science, going all the way back to some guy named Louis Pasteur, a Frenchman who discovered a way, over a hundred years ago, to make milk safe.

Governor Doyle did the legislature a favor and vetoed the stupid bill, probably saving the core of our state heritage, that slogan we put on our license plates: America’s Dairyland.

One of the many clowns who now inhabit the legislature was full of fake outrage, vowing to drink nothing but raw milk for the rest of his life, to “prove it is safe”.

No matter what science says, there will always be luddites and deniers. Such is the raw milk gang. Same as the folks who are convinced childhood vaccines cause autism. Never mind that the vaccine/autism study and the bogus scientist who published it have been completely and utterly discredited. They believe what they believe, and nothing is going to change their belief.

“She blinded me with science; and failed me in biology” goes the song.

Go ahead and roll the dice with your own life, and drink all the raw milk you want. But please don’t ask others to ignore hard science, and don’t try to pass laws that could potentially bring ruin to the state’s signature industry.


  1. Thanks for writing this. I actually wrote my state sentaor and legislator - something I almost never do - asking them to vote against the bill. The people who claim raw milk is healthier are engaged in magical thinking: there's no scientific evidence for it. DENIALISM by Michael Specter is a pretty good recently-published book on scientific illiteracy in our culture.

  2. I remember when I lived on my uncles' farm in Crivitz when I was 8 and afterwards when I worked summers there in my junior high school years, I'd drink milk right out of the cooling tank...and we'd fill up jugs to take back to the house.

    I was gratified when I read the following because of what you did not say:

    >> Go ahead and roll the dice with your own life, and drink all the raw milk you want. But please don’t ask others to ignore hard science, and don’t try to pass laws that could potentially bring ruin to the state’s signature industry. <<

    You did not say that no one should be permitted to drink raw milk or that the legislature should pass a law forbidding the distribution of raw milk. Thank you.

    The Town Crank

  3. Quality raw milk is much safer than driving a car. Farmers have to learn how to make quality milk right, just like car makers have to make cars right. Raw milk drinkers also have to learn how to drink it right. Please check out these resources:

  4. The Raw Milkers are an interesting lot. I may be mistaken, but a lot of them seem to be adherents of the Christian and political farfetched-right, to whom things that are good for society are turned into matters of belief and faith (and therefore personal entitlement), particularly if the government takes an interest.

    The FDA and the Centers for Disease Control say raw milk is swimming with pathogens. That's a fancy scientific term for little beasties that can make you very sick. Unless those un-seeable (except through a microscope) critters are scalded into harmlessness by Pasteurization, drinking raw milk can be a really bad idea - and you would have no way of knowing they are in there until the little buggers got you, or your kids.

    I have worked on a dairy farm and I can tell you there are an endless number of ways milk can be contaminated as it travels from the cow to the dairy. The so-called chain of custody is too long and convoluted to be reliably controlled. Even milk squirted right out of the cow can contain things you would not want to observe at 100x magnification, let alone ingest.

    I propose a compromise: Anybody who owns a cow should be allowed to drink the milk directly from the cow. If any person under the age of consent - including the farmer's kid - is sickened by drinking raw milk, the source of the milk (the farmer, for example) and the parents of the sick young person, if by their action or inaction allowed it, should be subject to the penalties prescribed for reckless endangerment of a child. Unless, of course, the child dies. That would be either manslaughter or homicide.

    This seems perfectly reasonable and could not possibly be regarded as a big deal, since the Raw Milkers insist it won't happen.

    I would also suggest that insurance companies be allowed to not pay for sicknesses stemming from the consumption of raw milk, because drinking the stuff contravenes science, health laws and common sense (which may be grossly misnamed). Again, no big deal, eh? The Raw Milkers say it's all good, and won't ever happen.