Someone posted a comment on Schneier's blog about the supposed risk of in-breeding. I might be biased, after reading some of the research on this topic, but it seems to me that in the big scheme of risks to life there are more important things for people to object to on moral or even scientific grounds (e.g. poverty or pollutants found to cause death and mutations) than who you *want* to marry.
For example, we have hard evidence that forms of the herbicide 2,4-D cause harm to humans. Agent Orange, which some might try to argue is not the same as the 2,4-D variant sold and used today in America, continues to be a nightmare for tens of thousands of veterans and their families. I am not a chemist, but here is some compelling information that suggests it is really the same thing:
As a result of the veterans exposure to 2,4-D in Vietnam, veterans are being diagnosed 20 years later with rare cancers, sarcomas, immune deficiencies and Central Nervous System disorders. Children of exposed veterans are born with Learning Disabilities, Birth Defects and deficiencies.
Today, herbicide 2,4-D is being used for weed control across the United States; at National Cemeteries, school yards, golf courses and hospitals. It's used by utility companies, the Department of Transportation and railroads. Additionally, 2,4-D is being used by farmers which in turn is contaminating food crops, cattle, pigs, chickens etc. In addition to 2,4-D being used to eliminate the growth of plant life in our lakes thereby contaminating our freshwater and saltwater fish.
Aside from that contoversy, the NSF quite simply says that any form of 2,4-D has to be below 0.07 mg/L to prevent "Liver and kidney damage". Seems pretty clear, no? Don't drink the water if it has more than 0.07 mg/L…
Apparently this does not wash with the 24d.org site, which proudly says the US is practically covered in the stuff and we, as consumers, should be greatful:
After 60 years of use, 2,4-D is still the third most widely used herbicide in the United States and Canada, and the most widely used worldwide. Its major uses in agriculture are on wheat and small grains, sorghum, corn, rice, sugar cane, low-till soybeans, rangeland, and pasture. It is also used on rights-of-way, roadsides, non-crop areas, forestry, lawn and turf care, and on aquatic weeds. A 1996 U.S. Department of Agriculture study concluded that, should 2,4-D no longer be available, the cost to growers and other users, in terms of higher weed control expenses, and to consumers, in the form of higher food and fiber prices, would total $1,683 million annually in the U.S. alone.
Yes, that is right, the US is risking liver and kidney damage of perhaps tens of millions of Americans in order to avoid less than $2 billion in higher food prices. Hmmm, what's the annual cost of liver and kidney treatment? Have to look that one up. Oh, and just for good measure, since obviously there is no reason to be worried, the 24d.org site happens to reassure us that there is no reason to be worried:
The study also reviewed the 2,4-D epidemiology and toxicology data packages and concluded (page 2) that after several decades of extensive use, “The phenoxy herbicides are low in toxicity to humans and animals (1,9). No scientifically documented health risks, either acute or chronic, exist from the approved uses of the phenoxy herbicides."?
Oh, um, could someone perhaps clarify what "the approved uses" are? Sneaky, eh? Are you worried now? I see this all the time in information security. People say they were approved to do one thing with their code, and then suddenly you find the stuff all over the place. Even if it is only allowed for a very specific need, bug-riddled code can sometimes spread like wild-fire.
The obvious question, thus, is what percentage of use today of 2,4-D would be included by 24d.org in the approved category. Does it include things that end up in drinking water? The next question is what is done to detect unapproved use and prevent harm to people? The comparison with infosec gets even closer when the 24d.org appears to say "business is good, we can make it sound like bad things are really good, so please don't force us to innovate". Here's a classic quote from the same page:
2,4-D has for the past sixty years, been a major tool in the continuing fight to reduce world hunger.
Don't know about you but that kind of reasoning gives me the creeps. Could they really be saying that they are reducing world hunger by killing people who are hungry? Probably wasn't meant to come out that way, but the language is vague. Major tool? Are they trying to suggest that toxic chemicals are a good way to reduce world hunger, as if there is no safer and more effective/beneficial alternative that would provide a better balance/trade-off?
This reminds me of a discussion where a large company had a theory about getting successful login attempt numbers up by making passwords a little less secure. "I can get you to 100% login success by removing passwords altogether" I told them, "but alas we must ensure that the login is by the right person." In other words, failure rates could in fact be a good thing since it shows attackers are being repelled (a vulnerability is closed). Of course attackers (the threat) should be reduced as well, if possible, but opening up vulnerabilities is not usually a good way to change the measurement of attacks. Sometimes people fixate on one and only one metric/value and ignore or forget the big picture and the greater consequences…forest, trees, etc.
So, anyway, I'm just saying if you want to find ways to help reduce deformity and death in the world, in-breeding probably isn't the top of the list, if it's on the list at all. There is some evidence that people are starting to understand this.