Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Fireplace Delusions [LINK]

32 Post author: mas 03 February 2012 04:13AM

 

Sam Harris, in his recent article called The Fireplace Delusion, tries to make you feel what it's like to react to a cached belief being irreparably destroyed. Just incase you forgot what your apostasy (if you had one, of course) was like in its early stages.

 

What are some of the Fireplace Delusions you've come across in your days?

 

EDIT: WOODSMOKE HEALTH EFFECTS

Comments (67)

Comment author: MileyCyrus 03 February 2012 04:55:47AM *  12 points [-]

The fireplace delusion seems like small potatoes compared to the conversations we had in that other thread.

Comment author: timtyler 03 February 2012 08:52:55PM *  24 points [-]

Research shows that nearly 70 percent of chimney smoke reenters nearby buildings.

WTF? Is Sam deliberately trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

What he probably meant to say was that particles from 70% of chimneys have been found to show up inside nearby buildings - though that is surely not the same thing at all.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 04 February 2012 09:42:29PM 4 points [-]

That pinged my BS detector as well. I see later on in this thread they show a reference. I still think it's BS. Consider the volume of air versus the volume of buildings. Consider that hot smoke goes up. Consider how well smoke must diffuse for you to smell it from a chimney down the block. I doubt that you could purposefully design buildings to be such wonder air filters.

But like others here, and unlike Sam's general presumption, I find the premise that smoke is bad for you quite believable. I have some reservations about whether the actual risk I'd receive from recreational burning is worth worrying about. Sam would have made a more convincing case if he had included such facts.

The article is actually more telling about Sam, his friends, and maybe us as well, than fireplace smoke.

Sam makes an uncompelling case that doesn't include the hard facts needed to make a clear determination of costs associated with a wood burning fireplace, and when people don't automatically accept it, he treats their resistance to his received word as evidence for faith based irrationality on their part. The objections he anticipates and chooses to respond to are not fact based questions about dosage, but historical anecdotes, basically straw men.

The most interesting thing I took away was the apparent disparity between the reaction of LW'ers and the reaction Sam reports from his friends. Almost everyone here seems open to the possibility, and even consider it plausible, while by my reading of Sam's reports about his friends, they are completely dismissive of the possibility.

Comment author: JonathanLivengood 06 February 2012 08:41:11AM 1 point [-]

The most interesting thing I took away was the apparent disparity between the reaction of LW'ers and the reaction Sam reports from his friends. Almost everyone here seems open to the possibility, and even consider it plausible, while by my reading of Sam's reports about his friends, they are completely dismissive of the possibility.

Does this make you skeptical that Sam is correctly reporting the reactions he's getting from his friends? I would have guessed that he had smarter friends than his report indicates.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 06 February 2012 06:55:50PM 1 point [-]

It makes me skeptical in a certain sense. I don't question Sam's honesty, but I do question his account in much the same way I'd question the interpretation of events of a narrator in a Browning poem - there's what the narrator says, and then there's what's going on, if you read between the lines.

I can totally see a friend of Sam being blissfully unconcerned with Sam's pronouncement, as he thinks, "there's Sam on his soapbox again", while making half hearted excuses for continuing to use his fireplace. If I knew Sam, I could even see myself yanking his chain as he gets increasingly incredulous and huffy about my dismissals. Sam, the great Enemy of Faith, see's it lurking in every corner. Why not throw out a little chum and watch him go berserk?

Then again, there's a whole class of people who like to think of themselves as rational intellectuals who are predominantly emotionally driven members of a herd, who wear the identity of rationalism (at times) as signaling of membership in the herd. That they aren't actually rational is not news to me. Sam seems to live amongst that herd, even if he is something of an outlier.

But again, I don't think Sam has given a particularly compelling argument. I'll buy that smoke is bad for you. I'm not buying that he has established that at the doses one receives as a recreational burner, one is taking a particularly large risk. Would Sam also interpret my attitude as "faith based dismissal"? If he's busy ranting on his soap box, possibly. If he actually listened, probably not.

I probably should have expressed myself better in what you quoted. If we take Sam's report at face value, then his friends aren't the brightest constellation in the sky, and I'd be surprised that his friends were so entirely homogenous. But I find it hard to believe that no one Sam knows would be open to the idea, if for no other reason than that I doubt the vast majority of people have such an emotional attachment to fireplaces. If he only asked those who had them, these people would have the obvious bias to try to rationalize and justify their choice of a home with a fireplace. I'm sure there are many here who an cite the relevant studies on this particular bias.

Comment author: juliawise 05 February 2012 12:39:30AM 8 points [-]

What are some of the Fireplace Delusions you've come across in your days?

That I can adopt children and mold them to be like me.

Comment author: Raemon 05 February 2012 07:52:43AM 4 points [-]

Did you figure this one out before or after you adopted children?

Comment author: juliawise 05 February 2012 06:57:29PM 4 points [-]

Before.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 February 2012 04:36:33AM 18 points [-]

Good article, but there's a huge difference between realizing that one's fireplace is dangerous and realizing that one's entire belief system is completely wrong. The crushing feeling of emotional loss that often comes with the latter isn't easy to replicate, and losing an "everyday" cached belief can't even compare. Nonetheless, having a cached belief broken is still good mental exercise.

(My personal reaction to updating about fireplaces: It didn't occur to me until now that fireplaces were dangerous, and at one of my former places of residence there was a pretty active wood-burning fireplace. After reading the article (and spending a few minutes fact-checking Harris's claims), I just thought "Huh, didn't know that. I'll avoid them from now on" and then went back to thinking about other stuff.)

Comment author: HoverHell 03 February 2012 11:27:59PM 5 points [-]

Similar for me, but in addition I had (and still have) a residual thought: why didn't I know about this before? (as in, what can be changed? what other important things am I missing?)

Comment author: Solvent 03 February 2012 04:59:37AM 4 points [-]

(My personal reaction to updating about fireplaces: It didn't occur to me until now that fireplaces were dangerous... After reading the article (and spending a few minutes fact-checking Harris's claims), I just thought "Huh, didn't know that. I'll avoid them from now on" and then went back to thinking about other stuff.)

Same here. I just updated and moved on.

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2012 05:09:50AM *  13 points [-]

While I was reading it, I found myself thinking

"Come on, give me some citations! Just show me some trustworthy studies so I can show my rationalist virtue by gracefully accepting it!"

I'm not sure this was quite the right way to respond.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 February 2012 08:35:37AM 5 points [-]

"Come on, give me some citations! Just show me some trustworthy studies so I can show my rationalist virtue by gracefully accepting it!"

You mean, like the review article he linked to, and which can be found free online?

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2012 12:42:56PM 4 points [-]

Yes, but in-text citations so I wouldn't have to reach the bottom before I knew if there was going to be a payoff would have helped.

Comment author: Incorrect 04 February 2012 06:52:18AM 2 points [-]

My apostasy was nothing like that, there was a large sense of confusion, and the discomfort of holding conflicting beliefs while things resolved themselves but not loss.

Comment author: Baughn 04 February 2012 04:47:21PM 0 points [-]

From conversations with less rational people, I get the feeling that having a sense of discomfort from holding conflicting beliefs is in itself rare.

Comment author: mas 03 February 2012 04:46:44AM 1 point [-]

there's a huge difference between realizing that one's fireplace is dangerous and realizing that one's entire belief system is completely wrong

Good point! I equated the two because that is what my experience was like. That is, my apostasy was more akin to a Fireplace Delusion than to an overhauling of my map.

Comment author: jmmcd 03 February 2012 06:22:47PM 5 points [-]

Overall, LW rationalists, self-reporting, seem to have a much easier time dealing with wood-burning apostasy than Sam Harris' friends.

Comment author: pjeby 03 February 2012 10:47:41PM *  14 points [-]

Overall, LW rationalists, self-reporting, seem to have a much easier time dealing with wood-burning apostasy than Sam Harris' friends.

Rationality aside, we're collectively younger and have less attachment to our fireplaces, assuming we even have them. it's not really a good measure of our ability to handle discomforting facts.

Comment author: r_claypool 06 February 2012 05:47:21AM *  9 points [-]

A better measure would be evidence that video games are harmful.

Comment author: faul_sname 10 February 2012 10:29:58PM 6 points [-]

Or that staring at a computer screen is harmful.

Comment author: Konkvistador 05 February 2012 12:40:06PM 3 points [-]

I don't know if its just me but generally I prefer [Link] articles to quote what they are linking to, especially if the latter is a short text.

Comment author: Emile 04 February 2012 11:22:05AM 3 points [-]

Apparently Incense has similar problems (not a scientific study, but it's on the website on homemade incense. Wikipedia has a few references, such as this:

In this study, real-time characterization of the size distribution and number concentration of sub-micrometer-sized particles (5.6–560 nm) emitted from incense smoke was made, for the first time, for four different brands of sandalwood and aloeswood incense sticks commonly used by different religious groups. In addition, the respective emission rates were determined on hourly and mass basis based on mass balance equations. The measurements showed that the particle emission rates ranged from 5.10×10^12 to 1.42×10^13 h−1 or 3.66×10^12 to 1.23×10^13 g−1 and that the peak diameters varied from 93.1 to 143.3 nm. Airborne particles in the nanometer range (5.6–50 nm), in the ultrafine range (50–100 nm) and in the accumulation mode range (100–560 nm) accounted for 1% to 6%, 16% to 55% and 40% to 60% of the total particle counts, respectively, depending on the brand of incense sticks. To assess the potential health threat due to inhalation of particles released from incense burning, the number of particles of different sizes that can be possibly deposited in the respiratory tract were evaluated for an exposed individual based on known deposition fractions in the literature. The findings indicate that incense smoke may pose adverse health effects depending on exposure duration and intensity.

Comment author: siodine 03 February 2012 10:09:25PM *  3 points [-]

There's a similar risk with any smoked foods. Although, I'm not sure how the relative risks actually compare.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 03 February 2012 05:59:39AM 16 points [-]

I call bullshit.

He doesn't quantify anything sensibly. Sure, maybe wood smoke is 30x more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke, but they are consumed very differently. Smokers stood out by getting the rare disease of lung cancer at a time when wood heating was quite common. Maybe it's comparable to living with a smoker, but he doesn't say. Sure, it's bad for you, but so is skiing. Is it worth it as recreation? Nothing he says addresses this. I would guess that the life expectancy cost from the dangers he mentions is less than the expected cost from the acute danger of messing up the flue, passing out from CO and dieing (something that nearly happened to my mother).

(When he talks about burning solid fuel in the developing world, does that include coal?)

Comment author: djcb 03 February 2012 08:23:42PM *  9 points [-]

Sadly, the paper it is based on seems to be behind a pay wall; but indeed, it seems to be about the properties of the properties of wood smoke and the potential problems it could cause -- rather than an investigation into actual health consequences.

So, until further notice, I'm filing this story under "Cocktail party factoids"...

EDIT: actually, it seems the paper mentioned is available online -- see RichardKennaway's comment. I'm reading it now - and notice the acute danger of confirmation bias to somehow not contradict my pre-EDIT comment... In short it seems there is indeed a real danger coming from wood smoke, however the examples all seem to be from bush fires etc., and the gasses that fireplaces put in the atmosphere, less so from people looking at a fireplace (but obviously inhaling the smoke won't do you much good).

Abstracting this a bit, I did not have the non-rational reactions that Harris predicted; instead (like many people here), my first reaction was skepticism. After reading the paper, I'm a bit less skeptical. But I'd still like to know specifically about the health effects of using a fireplace in one's house.

Comment author: beriukay 03 February 2012 11:37:13PM *  14 points [-]

I can attest to the main point of the article: the irrational ire that this issue invokes in people. This letter to the editor is in no way unique in my neck of the woods. Though that can also come from it being a highly religious, republican/libertarian sort of place. Amongst my friends, there is much less of this rage Harris speaks of. We readily admit the down sides, but up here, a blackout of sufficient duration (a couple hours, maybe?) could be lethal, and would certainly cost thousands of dollars in damage if water pipes freeze up.

Harris did seem to commit one of the gravest wikipedian sins: citation needed. Here's a little more info, for your edification.

A copy of Harris' cited source that isn't paywalled.

The EPA talks about health effects stemming from Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, structural damage resulting from particles abrading soft tissues, and cancer from deposited carcinogens that hitchhike on the small particles. One of the sources cited in that list is Zelikoff's The Toxicology Of Inhaled Woodsmoke in the Journal of Toxicology, which I think is a good place to start. There's also some downloadable articles on this site which might be of use as gateways to more info.

Edit: It occurs to me that since I'm enjoying reading the Zelikoff article that I should summarize some interesting points. -The WHO estimates that indoor air pollution (no clue if there were other major sources beyond wood and dung burning) accounts for 2.2 to 2.5 million annual deaths around the world. -Biomass fuel is not terribly good in terms of combustion efficiency, which is why they produce so much crap. -Emissions include -aldehydes, hydrocarbons, CO, NOx and SOx, volatile organics, chlorinated dioxins, and free radicals. -Cooking smoke increases risk of chronic obstructive lung disease, respiratory infections, and in children pulmonary tuberculosis. -Most woodburning in the United States is done by middle to upper-middle income, and use has risen dramatically since the 1980s. -Temperature inversions trap these particles, which is bad for places like British Columbia (and incidentally my town) -Upwards of 70% of outdoor woodsmoke reenters the house and neighboring houses (that is sourced to Pierson et al. 1989). -Fireplaces are about as bad as non-airtight stoves, but worse than airtight ones. Except that airtight ones have less oxygen, which apparently facilitates making more exotic organic chemicals.

-Now it starts talking specifics. CO levels in woodstove homes have been shown to make carboxyhemoglobin and increases angina in people with cardiac disease. Nitrogen oxides bind to hemoglobin to produce methemoglobin and hematologic aberrations, which messes up enzyme systems, injure vascular membranes, which leads to edema and bronchoconstriction in asthmatics. The hydrocarbons are immunosuppresants and obviously carcinogenic (both are known in animals and suspected in humans). Formaldehyde and acrolein are the primary aldehydes, and they are associated with upper airway irritation, headaches, exacerbating bronchial asthma, and cancer. -One of the most interesting thing about scientists is they can talk about horrible things like this, and start a paragraph with "One of the most interesting components of woodsmoke pollution is PM" (Particulate matter). -Short-term exposure to particles is linked with a lot of bad shit. Including death and reduced recovery rates from infectious diseases. -They've done animal studies and found direct links between woodsmoke and scary sounding names like necrotizing tracheobronchial epithelial cell injury, lung cancer, decreased ventilatory frequency and response to CO2. -Adults with prolonged exposure get: chronic bronchitis, chronic interstitial pneumonitis and fibrosis, cor pulmodale, interstitial lung disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and altered pulmonary immune defense mechanisms. -Children have it worse: decreased pulmonary lung function in asthmatics, increased rates of acute bronchitis (increased severity and frequency of wheezing and coughing), increased incidence, duration and severity of acute respiratory infections. - Then there's immune system issues, which are of a persistent and progressive nature. They talk about some rat studies and how particles <2.5 microns made pneumonia worse. Most of this section went right over my head. -"While the mechanisms by which woodsmoke may have acted to persistently suppress bacterial clearance are not yet clear, results from this part of the study demonstrated that short-term repeated inhalation of woodsmoke [...] compromised pulmonary host resistance against an infection, pneumonia-producing lung pathogen well after exposure ceased." -This study displayed that recovery rates were lessened in woodsmoke-exposed rodents in a time-dependent manner. A different study showed that decreased immune system starts about 4 days from exposure (not sure the exposure regimen) and lasted up to 25 days with repeated exposure. That study also showed that it was because particles release formaldehyde slowly over the course of being in the body, which is how it is a continuous progressive effect.

I always hate reading abstracts before reading an interesting paper. It should say Spoiler Alert, not Abstract... Also, I really like how a paper with good citations is several pages shorter than the size of the document. Hitting Summary before expected always gives me a slight endorphin rush.

Comment author: Grognor 03 February 2012 05:48:05AM *  8 points [-]

My complete non-reaction to this (aside from being convinced utterly and without counterargument) suggests to me that I have "achieved" the "break with the world" that Eliezer sometimes goes on about as a required first step to becoming a rationalist. That's kind of a relief but not really.

A huge part of having emotional convulsions when dealing with having your beliefs broken, I suspect, is identifying with your beliefs, something that is suggested piecemeal, in bits and pieces, again and again and again and again.

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2012 02:11:03PM 10 points [-]

I think that we may face the opposite danger though, of being too prepared to accept claims that are issued with challenges to show our rational impartiality. I think that's the sort of reaction I caught myself having when I read it.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 04 February 2012 09:49:29PM 2 points [-]

I would guess that it's more the case of people here having more flexible priors. I find that I'm generally less certain of the truth of my beliefs than most people. By my estimation, most people are damn sure of things that they have no way of knowing anything about. I'm probably a defense attorney's wet dream, because I always have doubt.

Comment author: Grognor 03 February 2012 07:28:32PM *  2 points [-]

I worry about this all the time, but honestly, we know rationality is hard, and we know you're never quite sure you're doing it right. Because humans tend to try to validate their own beliefs way harder than than conflicting ones, applying the virtue of evenness probably means closer to rejecting your own beliefs if possible than "searching equally hard for flaws in your own arguments as well as others". If you state the latter goal, you are likely to fall into one of the many, many traps that let you think you were right all along.

But I do worry about it all the time. What if, instead of being a leaf on the wind, I'm a rocket-propelled leaf trying to figure out the direction of the wind prematurely and flying off into space, never to be seen again? Then I'd be in space, and there's no oxygen there, and leaves can't survive without oxygen.

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2012 08:11:22PM 0 points [-]

I do think it's possible to overcome. If there's any rationalist skill I feel I've developed to a notable level, it's the ability to scrutinize my own internal monologue as it occurs rather than trying to work out after the fact what I was thinking, so while part of me was urging me to accept it to prove my impartiality to myself, I was able to notice this as I was reading it.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 February 2012 11:40:27PM 0 points [-]

it's the ability to scrutinize my own internal monologue as it occurs rather

Do you have any advise on how not to become internally polarized? I sometimes find myself wanting something to be true but then when I realize that (I want something to be true) some part of me try to compensate for my "emotional favoritism", and I end up with one side dismissing anything I would like to be true in a somewhat compulsive manner and another side inducing negative emotions every time it's candidate gets knocked down.

Comment author: Desrtopa 04 February 2012 11:59:52PM *  2 points [-]

I try to emulate the views of an impartial person in internal monologue. I think it helps to engage in a lot of debates and discussions and take pains to observe the differences between people who have incentives to engage in motivated reasoning and people who don't, so you can notice in yourself "That doesn't seem like a way I'd respond if I weren't engaging in motivated reasoning," or "that really does seem like what I'd expect from an unbiased person."

Comment author: michaelcurzi 03 February 2012 07:17:17PM 1 point [-]

My complete non-reaction to this (aside from being convinced utterly and without counterargument) suggests to me that I have "achieved" the "break with the world" that Eliezer sometimes goes on about as a required first step to becoming a rationalist.

Your comment here reminds me that I have much more work to do! My thought process usually takes several steps before I come to the right conclusion, like:

  1. "But I like fireplaces!"
  2. "But I like my safety and the safety of the people I care about more."
  3. "Holy shit, I can't believe I just put 1 before 2."
  4. Reminds self of desire to see reality, calms mind, focuses on processing the article.
Comment author: EphemeralNight 05 February 2012 06:39:35AM *  4 points [-]

This is making me feel a lot more vindication that it probably should. I've never liked fireplaces and was often scolded or mocked as a kid for complaining about it, but I can't actually recall having a reason more complicated that "I don't like it" at the time.

What are some of the Fireplace Delusions you've come across in your days?

How about "The tragedy of a person's death is inversely proportional to how long that person has lived."

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 04 February 2012 07:40:17AM 4 points [-]

My reaction to the article was something like "yes, this all sounds plausible, but fireplaces are so awesome that I think they might be worth it anyway. Can you give me data on exactly how bad fireplaces are, so I can weigh their awesomeness against my decreased expected health, especially if I enjoy them in moderation?"

Also, this is an unfair test, since Sam is priming us to be aware of our emotions and override them with rationality.

Comment author: Grognor 04 February 2012 10:33:03AM *  6 points [-]

Can you give me data on exactly how bad fireplaces are, so I can weigh their awesomeness against my decreased expected health

I have this niggling feeling that, were you to receive such unrealistic exact numbers, regardless of what they were you would say "Yup. Fireplaces are more awesome than that. I will continue to act exactly as before."

Comment author: roystgnr 05 February 2012 07:41:06PM 4 points [-]

I have a very strong feeling that, if the presence of a fireplace were shown to reduce John's life expectancy by 10 minutes he would indeed make no adjustments in his behavior, if the reduction in life expectancy were 10 years he would never go near a wood fire again, and intermediate values would result in monotonically decreasing levels of use.

Your feeling sounds needlessly insulting; perhaps that was triggered because it was poor form John to insist on exactitude? Exact numbers being impossible to come by, we do still all already reduce our life expectancies regularly when driving, flying, eating ice cream, spending time in higher-crime areas... Yet if you were to point out that "OMG, driving to the library can kill you!" it would be a technical truth drowning in connotational falsehood. When trying to balance rare dangers against common benefits, asking for the danger to be at least approximately quantified is the only rational thing to do.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 06 February 2012 05:01:36AM 1 point [-]

Do you still make that prediction about my behavior if the numbers I received suggested that 1 minute of fireplace use would decrease my expected lifespan by an hour? What if the numbers suggested that 1 min. of fireplace use would decrease my expected lifespan by a year?

I'm not asking for a precise number, just a rough order of magnitude. All I want to know is how much additional lifespan I am buying if I avoid fireplaces, the same way one might want to know roughly how much money one would save on gas by buying a hybrid car. I'm not upset with Sam Harris for not including this, but it would be a public service if he did, so his readers could weigh their utility for fireplaces against their decreased years of life, and individually decide whether they wanted to avoid them or not. If I were to guess, I'd say that most fireplace users end up dying from something other than fireplaces before fireplaces can kill them, so maybe Sam could say how many hours of fireplace use per week one can engage in before the probability of dying from fireplace use goes over .1%.

My behavior did not remain completely unchanged by the article. I don't sit in front of fireplaces on a regular basis, but after reading the article, I will attempt to estimate health hazards from fireplaces if I notice that this changes.

Comment author: dbaupp 06 February 2012 10:52:49AM 2 points [-]

his readers could weigh their utility for fireplaces against their decreased years of life, and individually decide whether they wanted to avoid them or not

Unfortunately, it's not an individual decision, as the wood smoke goes into the surrounding environment and affects others.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 February 2012 09:59:20PM *  4 points [-]

Oh, now I'm sad. My grandma's house has a wood-burning fireplace, and I just emailed her this link, because on Christmas when the whole family's in the house there's often a fire there. It makes the leather on the couches all warm and it crackles and it's pretty. If she reads the link and decides to not have that going on any more, then there goes a little piece of Christmas, but if she doesn't, then I'll feel obliged to not be in that room while the fire's burning for my health, and I'll anticipate bad outcomes for family members who don't do the same thing, and that will be sad.

Comment author: siodine 03 February 2012 10:07:30PM 6 points [-]

She could convert it to a gas fireplace with fake logs.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 February 2012 10:32:15PM 3 points [-]

Lol I mentally completed "She could convert... to Judaism"... cached thoughts die hard.

Comment author: Alicorn 03 February 2012 10:11:03PM 1 point [-]

She's hoping to sell the house. I'm not sure if that's the sort of renovation that would increase its sale price or the odds of its sale.

And I don't think a gas fireplace would be as pretty and crackly, anyway. It might be warm, but I rarely just want warm.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 03 February 2012 10:31:16PM 3 points [-]

My in-laws converted to the gas option, other than the smell it's hard to distinguish from the real thing, to the point of double-take.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 February 2012 11:39:32PM 2 points [-]

A quick googling reveals a number of ways to get that wood-fire smell. These include: a tin can of soaked wood chips with holes cut in placed next to the fire, cedar or pine incense on/near logs, and a nearby fire scented candle

There is even a product (seen here ) of a hollowed ceramic log and refillable granules that create both the wood burning smell AND the crackling sound.

Comment author: Emile 04 February 2012 11:14:48AM 10 points [-]

There is even a product (seen here ) of a hollowed ceramic log and refillable granules that create both the wood burning smell AND the crackling sound.

... and the cancer-provoking microscopic particles! For only ten times the price!

More seriously, I'll look up if incense has the same problems. I don't see why it wouldn't.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 February 2012 11:52:35PM 0 points [-]

Some thoughts- Even if incense also creates cancer-provoking particles, I would guess that it creates much fewer, since you are only burning say 2 grams of material, versus a couple of large logs .

Also, I would guess that oil-based incense and candles are likely to be safer (Oil-based incense is what I was thinking of when I wrote the grandparent)

Both of these thoughts though, are subject to change if/when provided any contrary research on the matter.

Comment author: Emile 05 February 2012 12:14:58PM 2 points [-]

I haven't dug too deep, it would be nice if someone would make a nice summary page of the different kinds of smoke (from cigarettes, exhaust pipes, wood fire, coal fire, incense, leaf and grass fires (as in wildfires), cooking, various kinds of factories, etc.) and summarize the potential health hazards of each. Green wood emits more smoke, but does that mean it's more of a hazard? etc.

Incense may be only 2 grams, but it's also 2 grams optimized for smoke emission, and it's also rarely burnt just under a chimney that absorbs most of the smoke. Though yeah, I agree incense is probably less of a hazard than a wood fire, it's probably mostly a problem in places like Buddhist temples.

Comment author: Nornagest 09 February 2012 08:02:16PM *  1 point [-]

Probably depends on what you're cueing off of. I recently stayed in a bed and breakfast with a gas fireplace, and while it was visually pretty close to the wood fires of my childhood (especially if you're using it as background scenery rather than actually looking at it) it smelled and sounded very different. I actually felt a bit of Uncanny Valley-style dissonance for the first couple of hours, although I got over it pretty quickly once I realized that it was my only option for heating.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 04 February 2012 12:05:20AM 3 points [-]

You should be ecstatic! This article probably just saved you an expected month of life!

Comment author: Alicorn 04 February 2012 12:42:56AM 13 points [-]

If I liked sacrificing things I like in order to spend longer not doing them, I would be a rare bird.

Comment author: faul_sname 10 February 2012 10:24:54PM 2 points [-]

You're sacrificing things you like to spend longer doing other things you like, like having one more Christmas with your family.

Comment author: saturn 04 February 2012 10:48:11PM *  0 points [-]

if she doesn't, then I'll feel obliged to not be in that room while the fire's burning for my health

The smoke goes out the chimney, then back inside through any openings. There's not much reason to assume that the room with the fireplace has a higher concentration of smoke than anywhere else in the house while the fire is hot. However, if the fire is left to burn down to embers, there may not be enough heat to force all of the smoke through the chimney.

So if you're going there anyway, you might as well enjoy the fire, at least until it starts to die down.

Comment author: Alicorn 05 February 2012 01:44:37AM 1 point [-]

Ah. So I want to avoid rooms with drafts, when fires are aglow. Noted.

Comment author: TrE 05 February 2012 09:22:26PM 2 points [-]

I figured out that smoking is bad (but not because of the nicotine, because of the smoke), and that brown coal power plants near populated areas increase deaths by lung damage and the like in these areas, I even concluded that smoke appears to be bad for health in general, (almost) regardless of amount and type.

Still, there is a wood fire burning in my family's flat right now, and it will have been the last one I didn't advise against.

The article, meanwhile, did produce the intended effect, although much less than what it felt like on earlier occasions. I blame the setup which primes the reader for having a cached belief destroyed.

Comment author: JonathanLivengood 03 February 2012 06:03:01AM 3 points [-]

If you care about your family’s health and that of your neighbors, the sight of a glowing hearth should be about as comforting as the sight of a diesel engine idling in your living room.

Wait, what? This doesn't follow unless you place about the same utility on cozying up to your fireplace as you do on cozying up to a diesel engine. (Assuming that the two are equally damaging to your health.) Even the weaker claim that if you care about your family's health, you should stop burning wood in your fireplace doesn't follow from the facts as he's laid them out. In order to get that claim, you have to think the health effects of your fireplace have greater negative utility than the positive utility derived from your fireplace. Why think that everyone shares utilities that make Harris' argument work or that they ought to do so?

I also don't buy Harris' legal solution. (I am not a libertarian, but libertarians especially shouldn't buy his legal solution.) Why not find an alternative way to internalize the negative externalities involved in burning stuff in your fireplace? Here are some alternatives: Require scrubbers on chimneys or some sort of capture system. Require an expensive permit in order to burn anything in a fireplace. Or require an annual permit just to own a fireplace, whether you burn anything or not. Put heavy sales taxes on wood, especially in urban areas, where it is not so easy to collect and burn your own. Add a fireplace tax to regular property taxes. And so forth.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 03 February 2012 08:40:05AM *  2 points [-]

Why not find an alternative way to internalize the negative externalities involved in burning stuff in your fireplace?

Already happens. (This is the website where I found a copy of the woodburning review that Harris cited and I linked to in my other comment.)

Comment author: buybuydandavis 04 February 2012 10:08:22PM 1 point [-]

Sam's isn't the most reliable analyst on libertarian theory. After reporting that he considers himself in large part a libertarian, in the very next paragraph he shares his view of government:

"Why do we have laws in the first place? To prevent adults from behaving like dangerous children. All laws are coercive and take the following form: do this, and don’t do that, or else. Or else what? Or else men with guns will arrive at your door and take you away to prison. Yes, it would be wonderful if we did not need to be corralled and threatened in this way. And many uses of State power are both silly and harmful (the “war on drugs” being, perhaps, the ultimate instance). But the moment certain strictures are relaxed, people reliably go berserk. "

Whether you agree or disagree with the quote, most of us would recognize this as the opposite of libertarianism.

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/how-to-lose-readers-without-even-trying/

Comment author: Nornagest 09 February 2012 08:11:29PM 3 points [-]

Reading between the lines, I suspect Harris self-identifies as the "guns and dope" breed of small-L libertarian (possibly modulo guns). His stated motivations aren't necessarily inconsistent with that label, although they are inconsistent with libertarian theory.

Which is not to say that he doesn't have some badly confused views about that general ideological space. Describing Objectivism as "autism rebranded", for example, is seriously unfair to both Objectivists and autistic folks.

Comment author: taelor 09 February 2012 10:19:55PM *  1 point [-]

"All laws are coercive and take the following form: do this, and don’t do that, or else. Or else what? Or else men with guns will arrive at your door and take you away to prison. Yes, it would be wonderful if we did not need to be corralled and threatened in this way. And many uses of State power are both silly and harmful (the “war on drugs” being, perhaps, the ultimate instance). But the moment certain strictures are relaxed, people reliably go berserk. "

While the rest of the quote does make it pretty clear that Harris isn't a libertarian, the first part -- where in he acknowledges that laws ultimately derive their authority from men with guns say they do, and only from "the consent of the governed" (as in Lockean social contract theory) to the extent that "the will of the people" is capable of influencing the guys with guns -- wouldn't sound too out of place in a libertarian argument. Of course, most libertarians go on to add that this state of affairs is suboptimal, and could be improved upon, which Harris explicitly doesn't believe. Still, he probably has more in common with libertarians than your average politically interested person does.

Comment author: Incorrect 03 February 2012 04:36:08AM *  2 points [-]

Wow that's new to me. The only real doubts I felt were that 1. considering the nature of the article this may be a trick that will be revealed at the end and 2. if this is true then how is burning wood fires possibly still legal?

I wish I wasn't primed beforehand with meta-stuff so I could know whether I would have accepted it under normal circumstances but I really can't imagine why I wouldn't.

Although, I remember questioning this in the past. It seemed unusual that only tobacco smoke would be especially unhealthy (even when smoked naturally); I had guessed that this probably implies the unhealthiness of other types of smoke but never bothered to research it.

Comment author: juliawise 04 February 2012 08:38:28PM 5 points [-]

if this is true then how is burning wood fires possibly still legal?

For the same reason alcohol is legal: we've been using it so long it's unthinkable to ban it.

Comment author: Desrtopa 03 February 2012 05:13:54AM 10 points [-]

if this is true then how is burning wood fires possibly still legal?

Given Sam Harris's testimony on how hard it is to get people to buy into the research, I don't think this should be a source of confusion.

Comment author: brilee 09 February 2012 06:29:37PM 1 point [-]

My family has burned wood in the fireplace almost every day in the winter for a decade now, so I would say I have more of an attachment to fireplaces than most. I still didn't feel any jerk reaction to being told that fireplaces are bad, though.

I have to say that "Smoke is dangerous" is only true if you're inhaling it. As anyone who's actually burned something in a fireplace knows, there's a strong airflow generated, that sucks in air from the room, and sends it up the chimney with all/most of the smoke. That is, our homes don't fill up with smoke when the fireplace is lit. Our family uses a heat exchanger to bring heat into the room without bringing smoke into the room.

On the other hand, I read this passage from the article: "These findings imply that even woodstoves and fireplaces operating well that vent most smoke outside may produce sub- stantial exposures through penetration back into the house, a characteristic of “neighborhood pollution.”

So fireplaces might not hurt me very much, but they have a tragedy-of-the-commons effect. Since my family lives in a remote area, perhaps we can go on burning wood in our fireplace to our pleasure.

Comment author: army1987 03 February 2012 11:11:05PM 0 points [-]

I kind-of suspected that all along.