Tuesday, June 30, 2009

medical costs


This link and its comments give some good information on medical costs that most people are not aware of.



Bruce Webb says...

"US employers who offer health insurance coverage could see a 9% cost increase between 2009 and 2010, and their workers may face an even larger increase."

A 9% increase in premiums does not mean that medical care costs increased by 9%. It may instead simply be a reflection of the hit to the insurance company investment portfolios.

After the tech crash of the late 1990s the insurance premiums for building contractors jumped dramatically, something I saw first hand from my perch at the permit counter in the Building Department, some of the smaller builders (guys who build one or two houses a year and have their wives do the bookkeeping) were forced to the wall. And in reading the newspapers it seems that medical malpractice insurance was jumping at the same time. Even though there didn't seem to be any reporting of a sudden boost in claims. Nope instead insurance companies were rebuilding reserves that had been smacked by the stock market meltdown on the backs of builders and doctors (and no doubt other categories) premiums.

I don't know exactly how you would track real increases in medical costs generally, but if there was ever a case where correlation does not equal causation it would be in the cost of private health insurance.

(A point only reinforced by the recent Congressional testimony that insurance company outlays on actual medical care were known as 'medical-loss' costs.)

Posted by: Bruce Webb | Link to comment | Jun 27, 2009 at 10:51 AM



September 6, 2004

Indicting the Drug Industry's Practices

How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It
By Marcia Angell, M.D.

Dr. Marcia Angell is a former editor in chief of The New England Journal of Medicine and spent two decades on the staff of that publication....

Arguing that in 1980 drug manufacturing changed from a good business into "a stupendous one," thanks to changes in government regulations. She adds, "Of the many events that contributed to their sudden great and good fortune, none had to do with the quality of the drugs the companies were selling."

In the past, drug discoveries made through government research remained in the public domain. Beginning in 1980 those breakthroughs could be patented, even if their research was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. As a consequence, Dr. Angell says, patent shenanigans have reshaped the drug business, as have the recent government regulations that expedite direct-to-consumer drug advertising. "Once upon a time, drug companies promoted drugs to treat diseases," Dr. Angell writes. "Now it is often the opposite. They promote diseases to fit their drugs."

Consider the consumer who exclaims, in Dr. Angell's words, "Omigosh, this Clarinex ad makes me realize I have hay fever!" According to her book, this individual is being snookered in several ways. First of all, there is the drug itself: she calls Schering-Plough's Clarinex a "me too" variant of the same company's popular allergy drug Claritin. But Claritin's patent expired in 2002, so the new version has been heavily marketed.

Dr. Angell maintains that while Claritin was approved as a hay fever remedy, Clarinex is an improvement only because it has been approved for the treatment of both indoor and outdoor allergies. "It was approved for the additional use only because the company decided to test it for that use," she says.

And why all the advertising? "If prescription drugs are so good, why do they need to be pushed so hard?" she asks, citing Nexium, Lipitor and Paxil as other me-too products with whopping ad campaigns. As for Nexium, the new purple heartburn pill meant to replace Prilosec (which went off patent in 2001), Dr. Angell proposes a "big bang theory of Mom's cooking." She invites the reader to imagine a single, protean meal that has spun off "a seemingly inexhaustible supply of leftovers" in the form of renamed and repackaged versions of established drugs. "It wouldn't have done to call it 'Half-o'-Prilosec,' but that is what it was," she says about Nexium.

"The big drug companies are competing not so much to find new drugs but for the limited number of drugs to license," she argues....

Posted by: anne | Link to comment | Jun 27, 2009 at 10:44 AM

More children of the World

Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tusken raiders repelled by 'bee fence'

Being a Star Wars fan, I had to include this, because of the title of the article.


June 4, 2009 12:41 PM
Rowan Hooper, online news editor

African farmers hope to stop "Genghis Khan" raiding their villages by enlisting the services of bees.

A notorious bull elephant named after the Mongolian warlord has been tracked by GPS leading crop raids in Kenya.

Since elephants are known to buzz off at the mere sound of bees, Lucy King of the University of Oxford designed a fence made of beehives to deter rampaging elephants. 'We designed the beehive fence as an affordable and practical way to create a barrier that the elephants would be afraid to cross,' she says.
A pilot study in the African Journal of Ecology showed that a farm protected by a beehive fence had 86% fewer successful crops raids than a 'control' farm without such a fence.

"Our beehive fence design has been shown to be robust enough to survive elephant raids and cheap enough for farmers to construct themselves," says King, "especially as it also gives protection against cattle rustlers and, when occupied by colonies of African honeybees, will give the farmers two or three honey harvests a year that they can sell to offset the cost of building the fence."

Ozone hole has unforeseen effect on ocean carbon sink

This reminds me of how some years ago, some physicists were declaring the science was over, that we understood everything. Of course, anybody interested in the biological sciences would know that that was just plain silly. And it soon came to shown not to be true even for physics. There is still much enjoyment and knowledge to be found in scientific exploration.


12:54 26 June 2009 by Kate Ravilious

The Southern Ocean has lost its appetite for carbon dioxide, and now it appears that the ozone hole could be to blame.

In theory, oceans should absorb more CO2 as levels of the gas in the atmosphere rise. Measurements show that this is happening in most ocean regions, but strangely not in the Southern Ocean, where carbon absorption has flattened off. Climate models fail to reproduce this puzzling pattern.

The Southern Ocean is a major carbon sink, guzzling around 15 per cent of CO2 emissions. However, between 1987 and 2004, carbon uptake in the region was reduced by nearly 2.5 billion tonnes – equivalent to the amount of carbon that all the world's oceans absorb in one year.

To figure out what is going on, Andrew Lenton, from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris, France, and his colleagues created a coupled ocean and atmosphere climate model, to investigate carbon absorption in oceans. Crucially, they included changes in the concentration of stratospheric ozone since 1975.

By running their model with and without the ozone depletion since 1975, Lenton and his colleagues were able to show that the ozone hole is responsible for the Southern Ocean's carbon saturation.

The effect could be down to the way decreasing stratospheric ozone and rising greenhouse gases are altering the radiation balance of the Earth's atmosphere. This has been predicted to alter and strengthen the westerly winds that blow over the Southern Ocean.

"We expected this transition to a windier regime, but it has occurred much earlier than we thought, seemingly because of the ozone hole," says Lenton.

Stronger surface winds enhance circulation of ocean waters, encouraging carbon-rich waters to rise from the deep, limiting the capability of surface water to absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Furthermore, the higher carbon levels in surface waters make them more acidic – bad news for many forms of ocean life, such as coral and squid.

"This result illustrates how complex the chain of cause and effect can be in the Earth system. No one would ever have predicted from first principles that increasing CFCs would have the effect of decreasing uptake of ocean carbon dioxide," says Andrew Watson, from the University of East Anglia, UK.

Journal reference: Geophysical Research Letters (DOI: 10.1029/2009GL038227)

Financial crisis may have been good for the climate

A slowing of the growth of greenhouse gas emissions is better than no slowing, but emissions need to fall.


16:19 26 June 2009 by Catherine Brahic

The financial crisis and high oil prices caused the growth of greenhouse gas emissions to drop by half in 2008. That is the conclusion of an analysis of preliminary data released yesterday by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA).

The data, from oil giant BP, also show that for the first time developing nations were responsible for pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than developed nations and international transport combined.

[Much of the energy used by developing nations goes to create stuff bought by developed nations. And transportation adds to the energy cost.]

But Jos Olivier of the NEAA warns that it is difficult to say whether the slowing trend of emissions will continue next year.

Emissions grew by 1.7 per cent in 2008, compared to 3.3 per cent in 2007. The agency's analysis suggests that this was mostly because fossil fuel consumption decreased globally for the first time since 1992.
Claims that the demonstrations are caused by outside forces, such as the CIA, are insulting to the Iranian people, implying that they don't have the strength to fight oppression on their own. When voiced by people in the U.S., it is itself a form of the low esteem toward other countries that they accuse the U.S. of.


24 June 2009 by Stephen Battersby Magazine issue 2714

ALLEGATIONS that Iran's presidential election on 12 June was rigged are being followed up by statisticians in the US and elsewhere who are studying published voting figures for signs of irregularities. They say they have found "moderately strong" evidence that the figures are not genuine, though all are careful to emphasise that maths alone can't prove fraud.

Opponents of the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was declared to have won by a landslide, have pointed to his wide margin of victory, the speed of the announcement and some unexpected results, such as Mehdi Karroubi's poor showing in his home state of Lorestan.

One suggested anomaly - that Ahmadinejad's proportion of the vote remained almost constant as the results were announced in six stages - was soon debunked by New York-based statistician and political pundit Nate Silver. He says this is not surprising when votes are reported in large slabs, and that the same effect would have occurred during last year's US presidential election if the results had been reported this way.

To dig deeper, Boudewijn Roukema of Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, used a mathematical tool called Benford's law. In many random sets of data, numbers are more likely to begin with 1 than any other digit. The next most frequent starting digit is 2, then 3 and so on, in a precise relationship. The law applies to any set of numbers scattered randomly on a logarithmic scale.

Any deviation from this pattern could suggest that figures have been manipulated. This has been used to uncover tax fraud and false expenses claims, and Roukema now says it points to fraud in the Iranian election. He analysed the vote counts reported for the four candidates in 366 districts. Votes for three of the candidates fit expected patterns, but Karroubi has an unexpectedly large number of counts beginning with the digit 7. The chance of such a large deviation from Benford's law happening without foul play is only 0.7 per cent, Roukema says. "The simplest interpretation would be that someone interfered in the overall counts per district."

Political scientist Walter Mebane of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, has found another anomaly. Based on figures from Iran's presidential election in 2005, when Karroubi was also among Ahmadinejad's rivals, he built a statistical model to predict how each would be expected to do in various districts in 2009.

The model assumes that the 2005 votes were based on regional differences in policy preferences, ethnicities and demographics that should still show up in 2009. Yet in around 200 of the 366 districts voting numbers were inconsistent with the model - and in two-thirds of these, Ahmadinejad's vote was higher than predicted. "It is moderately strong evidence in favour of the idea that there was fraud," says Mebane.

This is far from proof, however. "It is also compatible with the idea that the model is no good," Mebane admits. "I've never said that statistics alone can prove fraud." What it can do is identify places where there may be fraud, so that other investigations - such as studying the ballot papers themselves - can follow.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

More women in finance, a more sustainable economy


By Linda Basch Linda Basch – Wed Jun 24, 5:00 am ET

New York – The amount of taxpayer dollars that has gone into cleaning up our top financial institutions' collective mess is staggering. Bank of America received $15 billion as part of the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo each received $25 billion. But here's a cost-effective solution: Hire more women.

As has been pointed out with increasing frequency, a certain groupthink has been widely blamed for the economic crisis we find ourselves in today.

Barnard College president Deborah Spar dubbed our predicament a "one gender crash," and The New York Times's Nicholas Kristof wonders if we might all have been better off had it been "Lehman Brothers and Sisters."

Studies indicate that women are more comprehensive thinkers and less attracted to excessive risk than are their male peers. It seems we have reached a fairly broad consensus on the meltdown: Guys were the ones flying too close to the sun.

Now that we've landed back on earth with a mighty thud – a little humbler and a whole lot poorer – it's time to deal with the most important question of the day: How do we get more women into the good-old-boys network at the highest levels of the financial sector?

Recently, the Financial Times (not exactly a bastion of feminist ideology), called for a gender quota for corporate boards – sparking floods of outraged responses from readers.

Such recommendations usually unl­eash a swift and vigorous backlash against rocking the status quo. Arguments are made about how diversity somehow degrades the talent pool – irrelevant, of course, because women are just as talented as men and in abundant supply.

The Financial Times is spot on. It's time that the financial sector – at all levels, but especially at the top – institutes what we at the National Council for Research on Women are calling the "critical mass principle." Explicit quotas may be illegal, but research has found that to have significant impact on decisionmaking, women, or any other underrepresented group, need to attain a critical mass of 33.3 percent.

The bottom line is that, because of advances in women's education and careers, there are sufficient numbers of qualified women in every area of specialization and expertise. Research bears out the fact that if you get this mass of women and others from underrepresented groups in leadership positions, whether in the boardroom or the corner office, the decisionmaking dynamic changes for the better.

Examples from across the business sector show that applying a "critical mass principle" is a powerful force for positive change. Research shows that for corporate boards, a core of three or more women leads to greater collaboration and inclusivity. And companies with more gender-diverse boards outperform companies with nondiverse boards by 53 percent according to Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that tracks women in business.

Moreover, companies with the most gender diversity among employees bring in nearly $600 million more in sales revenue than companies that lack gender diversity.

Beyond the corporate sphere, a Stanford University study of women's suffrage demonstrated a national policy shift and improvements in public health and services in the wake of women's political participation.

Within one year of women gaining the right to vote, local public-health spending increased by 35 percent, averting what researchers estimated would have been some 20,000 child deaths per year.

Norway's law requiring listed companies to make sure 40 percent of directors are female has been called a tentative success. Instituting such quotas in the US might present legal challenges and resistance from management.

Voluntary campaigns to recruit and retain more women and people from underrepresented groups, on the other hand, would not only benefit businesses but the economy as a whole.

Shifting the lack of diversity in the top echelons of the financial sector is not just about finance, nor is it about boosting women for their own benefit. This is about men and women working together to create a more sustainable and stable financial system.

Women represent a scant 10 percent of all traditional mutual-fund managers and a mere 3 percent of the approximately $1.9 trillion invested in hedge funds, according to recent research. The needed shift in financial and other circles won't happen as long as we settle for a few token "skirts" at the nation's most entrenched boys' clubs.

Study after study confirms that men and women bring different and complementary sensibilities and leadership styles to the table.

A 2005 study from the Center for Financial Research at the University of Cologne in Germany documented differences between male and female fund managers: Women managers tended to take fewer extreme risks and to adopt more measured investment styles (which perform well over time).

And according to research published in 2002 in the International Journal of Bank Marketing, women tend to make investment-related decisions with a detailed, comprehensive approach, while men are more likely to simplify data and make decisions based on one overall strategy.

We have to work together – risk-averse and risk-prone, detail-oriented and big-picture thinkers – if we are going to participate in the global market strategically and wisely.

Nestle Refused Info To FDA

The benefits of libertarian self-regulation.


(AP) Inspection reports from a Nestle USA cookie dough factory show the company refused several times to provide Food and Drug Administration inspectors with complaint logs, pest-control records and other information.

Nestle voluntarily recalled all Toll House refrigerated cookie dough products made at the factory late last week after the FDA informed the company it suspected consumers may have been exposed to E. coli bacteria after eating the dough raw.

The Centers for Disease Control says 69 people have been sickened in 29 states.

The FDA's reports on the Virginia plant back to 2004.

FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said the Glendale, Calif.-based unit of Switzerland-based Nestle SA was not obligated to allow inspectors access.

Fingerprints do more than bust us

It never occurred to me to think that fingerprints might be useful for holding onto things with smooth surfaces. How often would this be useful in the pre-technological world? What would be useful would be to make it easier to hold onto rough-surfaced items. So these results are no surprise. When I do find interesting is the likelihood that we have finger ridges to protect the skin when it stretches.


Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2009 3:53 PM PT
By Bill Briggs

We are our fingerprints.

From the loops on our thumbs to the whorls on our pinky toes, no human shares the same delicate swoops on the skin of our palms and feet. But those inimitable wrinkles on our digits didn’t develop just to let us access keyless doors, or bust us for being at the scene of a crime. What is the biological purpose of those tiny, raised crinkles?

It’s long been thought that the distinct skin patterns reduce surface friction when we’re grasping or holding objects — that the the friction improves our grip. However, British researchers have found that fingerprints actually make it more difficult for people and primates to grip and hold flat, smooth things.

“Because the skin is ridged, a lot of the fingertip isn’t touching the surface,” explains lead researcher Dr. Roland Ennos, a biomechanics expert at the University of Manchester in England’s faculty of life sciences. “Think of the tires on a Formula 1 race car, or on an Indianapolis car. They want to have the best grip as possible, so they use flat tires. In just the same way, our fingertips – because they are ridged – don’t have the same grip they would if they were perfectly flat.”

To get a better grasp of the science, Ennos’ team built a contraption that looks a little like a guillotine. A sheet of Perspex (a plastic also known as Plexiglas) was hung from a cross beam. The beam was then lowered and raised while student Peter Warman held the strip between the fingers and thumb on his right hand. While measuring the force of his clasp on the Perspex, the machine pulled the strip down via a weighted plastic cup. The team tried three different widths of Perspex as well as three different grip angles to mathematically separate Warman’s own pressing force from the contact area, and to weed out any variables.
Their research, published in the June Journal of Experimental Biology, found the student’s fingerprints added slip, not grip.

Humans aren’t the only creatures with skin prints, either. Why do koalas have them? Why do monkeys in South America have similar prints on their tails? Ennos has a theory.

The padded sections of our hands and feet that do the toughest physical work – grabbing, twisting, pushing, pulling and thrusting – are laced with prints. The grooves and ridges give those swaths of our skin more elasticity. They allow the skin to stretch and distort as the labor takes place. The opposite is true of the smooth areas of our hands and feet. After withstanding excessive friction, they rip or collect fluid between the skin's various layers.

“When you do ‘DIY’ work or when you’re walking with ill-fitting boots, it’s the areas which haven’t got the ridges that tend to get blisters,” Ennos said. “My idea is that by having fingerprints, the skin is actually about twice as flexible. It struck me that having a fingerprint is part of a design package that strengthens the skin, allowing it to deform an awful long way without being damaged.”

Ennos believes that fingerprints also allow us to more easily grab rougher surfaces and wet objects while they also add sensitivity to our feel. But touch cannot be their main function, he theorized, because the heel is covered with skin ridges yet “isn’t used to discriminate anything” if, say, we’re trying navigate a dark room.

The British researcher has applied for additional funding to conduct extra tests on the friction-prevention qualities of our fingerprints. But here’s a warning to all interested student subjects: Blisters are part of the job.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Thought for the day

"We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn." Mary Catherine Bateson

Stoned wallabies make crop circles


Thu Jun 25, 1:30 pm ET

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The mystery of crop circles in poppy fields in Australia's southern island state of Tasmania has been solved -- stoned wallabies are eating the poppy heads and hopping around in circles.

"We have a problem with wallabies entering poppy fields, getting as high as a kite and going around in circles," the state's top lawmaker Lara Giddings told local media on Thursday.

"Then they crash. We see crop circles in the poppy industry from wallabies that are high," she said.

Many people believe crop circles that mysteriously appear in fields around the world are created by aliens.

Poppy producer Tasmanian Alkaloids said livestock which ate the poppies were known to "act weird" -- including deer and sheep in the state's highlands.

"There have been many stories about sheep that have eaten some of the poppies after harvesting and they all walk around in circles," said field operations manager Rick Rockliff.

Australia produces about 50 percent of the world's raw material for morphine and related opiates.

(Reporting by Michael Perry; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

Recession's toll: Most recent college grads working low-skill jobs


Posted on Thursday, June 25, 2009
By Tony Pugh | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — The tough economy and tight labor market have tarnished the luster of a bachelor's degree for young college graduates seeking employment.

New monthly survey data from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston finds that during the first four months of 2009, less than half of the nation's 4 million college graduates age 25 and under were working in jobs that required a college degree. That's down from 54 percent for same period last year.

''I've never seen it this low and we've been analyzing this stuff for over 20 years," said center director Andrew Sum.

The problem is most acute in the 25-and-under age group among Asian female graduates and black and Hispanic male graduates.

The survey, of 60,000 households, found less than 30 percent of Asian female grads, 32 percent of Hispanic male grads and just over 35 percent of young black male grads working in jobs that require a bachelor's degree.

Research has shown that college graduates who take jobs below their education level not only earn less, but also can take years to match the earnings of graduates who land career-track employment upon graduation.

These so called "mal-employed" workers also compound the unemployment problem by taking jobs that non-college graduates and even high school students are often qualified to hold.

The problem of "mal-employment" — working outside one's field of education, training and choice — has increased sharply for young college grads since the recession began and all signs suggest the trend will continue for the foreseeable future.

Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer graduating seniors for entry-level positions this year than in 2008, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. And 17 percent of surveyed firms said they'd trim college hiring even more this fall.

That's bad news for people like James Dillon, a political science major who will graduate from Western Michigan University later this year. With the economy in tatters, Dillon is putting his career search on hold and will return home to Adrian, Mich., to seek a job at a local bank where he once worked.

It doesn't have to be a career-track job, Dillon said. General office work, some teller and light finance duties would be just fine. He just wants a steady paycheck to help his family following the recent deaths of his father and grandfather. Michigan has the nation's highest unemployment rate, at more than 14 percent.

"I realize jobs are kind of tough to come by, especially in Michigan, but I really can't relocate for a job so I'm taking what I can get," Dillon said. "I'm not too particular. Just having a job is more important to me than having one that's tailored specifically for me."

Dillon's not alone in his job angst.

Sixty-four percent of college seniors surveyed by the association of colleges and employers worry about finding a job. Yet 52 percent think they'll find work within three months of graduation, said Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at NACE.

In fact, survey data found that only 45 percent of responding seniors who were offered jobs this year actually accepted them, Koc said.

"That tells me they haven't quite realized the extent of the market and that they're still waiting for the offer that matches their expectations," Koc said. "They know it's a bad economy, but they think, 'I've gone through college. I've gotten a degree.' They feel they've done well and that they should have a job."

The survey found that Asian males, at 58 percent, and white females, at 55 percent, had the highest employment rates for 25-and-under graduates working in jobs that require a bachelor's degree.

Sum of Northeastern University said college grads who begin their careers in lower-paying jobs below their education level often take seven to nine years to catch the earnings of fellow grads who start out at jobs that require a college degree.

"It's a long lag before you recover. It does not go away," Sum said. "The older you get, the bigger the losses become. It haunts you dramatically."

Lisa Kahn, a labor economist at the Yale School of Management, confirmed those disparate outcomes in an updated 2008 study of white male college graduates that suggests, "the labor market consequences of graduating from college in a bad economy are large, negative and persistent."

When coupled with heavy student loan obligations, it's no wonder that 40 percent of seniors surveyed by NACE said they expect to need financial help from their parents after college.

Childhood physical abuse linked to cancer


Public release date: 25-Jun-2009
Contact: Joyann Callender
University of Toronto

Childhood physical abuse is associated with elevated rates of cancer in adulthood, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

TORONTO, ON. – Childhood physical abuse is associated with elevated rates of cancer in adulthood, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

The study, to be published July 15 in the journal Cancer, shows those individuals physically abused in childhood are more likely to develop cancer than those who have not been abused. Childhood physical abuse is associated with 49 per cent higher odds of cancer in adulthood, says Esme Fuller-Thomson of U of T's Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and Department of Family and Community Medicine.

"Few talk about childhood physical abuse and cancer in the same breath," says Fuller-Thomson. "From a public health perspective, it's extremely important that clinicians be aware of the full range of risk factors for cancer. This research provides important new knowledge about a potential childhood abuse-cancer relationship."

The study's findings showed the association between childhood abuse and cancer remained significant even after controlling for three major potentially confounding factors: childhood stressors, adult health behaviors (i.e. smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption) and adult socioeconomic status.

Co-author Sarah Brennenstuhl, a doctoral student at Uof T, notes that various psychophysiological factors could help to explain the link between childhood physical abuse and cancer. "One important avenue for future research is to investigate dysfunctions in cortisol production – the hormone that prepares us for 'fight or flight' –as a possible mediator in the abuse-cancer relationship."

Jurors fail to understand rape victims


Thu, 25 Jun 2009 12:42:00 GMT

PA 176/09

Rape trial juries need better guidance in the courtroom — and a better understanding of rape victims — to help them reach their verdict.

Professor Vanessa Munro of The University of Nottingham and Dr Louise Ellison of the University of Leeds found jurors have a poor understanding of the various ways in which women might react when raped, the levels and types of injuries they might sustain and the different behaviours they might display in the witness box.

In particular, they found that many jurors expect rape victims to:

• Fight back against their attacker;
• Sustain serious physical injuries;
• Report the offence immediately;
• Appear tearful and distressed when recounting their experiences in court.

In reality, many rape victims offer no physical resistance, many suffer no injury, many delay reporting rapes for significant periods and many react to rape by exhibiting extreme calm — often as a strategy to help them cope. The research shows that each of these reactions, in challenging the assumptions of jurors, can work against rape complainants when they appear in court — and may be one factor which contributes to the low conviction rate of 6.5 per cent in reported rape cases.

The researchers also examined whether educational guidance given to jurors about these issues by a judge or expert witness would lead to a fairer, less prejudicial assessment of complainant credibility in rape cases. They found jurors who received this guidance were more likely to accept that a woman who had been raped might delay reporting the incident to police, and may appear calm and controlled under cross-examination.

Even so, jurors who received this guidance still expected complainants of rape to have resisted strenuously and be injured as a result.

Professor Munro said: “The research shows that misconceptions about ‘normal’ responses to rape influence jurors’ assessments of credibility — and this is a barrier to securing justice for the victim. Further work needs to be done to identify the most appropriate mechanisms by which to introduce this education. Care will be needed to ensure that the guidance is measured in tone, and avoids any suggestion of unfair prejudice to the accused, but we are optimistic that this can be achieved.”

Dr Ellison said: “There is a clear need for educational guidance in rape cases. Defence lawyers often seize upon any delay or lack of resistance to undermine the credibility of a rape complainant in court. Jurors need to be fully informed about the wide range of reactions and emotional responses rape can inspire.”


If a woman had a man holding a knife to you, or simply bigger and stronger so that you know they can beat you up, holding it against the woman for not fighting back and risking serious injury or death is unfair and warped.

The researchers, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, set up mock court cases to examine how jurors reacted to different pieces of evidence and how these were then discussed in the jury room.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Climate-change death toll put at 300,000 a year

Many of the victims are children and babies, like in the video of "We Are the World".


updated 11:07 a.m. ET, Fri., May 29, 2009

LONDON - Climate-change disasters kill around 300,000 people a year and cause about $125 billion in economic losses, mainly from agriculture, a think-tank led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan reported Friday.

The Global Humanitarian Forum also estimated that 325 million people are seriously affected by climate change — a number it says will double by 2030, as more people are hit by natural disasters or suffer environmental degradation caused by climate change.

"Climate change is a silent human crisis," Annan said in a statement. "Yet it is the greatest emerging humanitarian challenge of our time."

The report suggests that rising sea levels, desertification and changing rainfall patterns are reducing many people's access to safe drinking water and food. This in turn increases diarrhea, malaria and malnutrition.

The report said 99 percent of all people who die due to climate-change related causes live in developing countries, even though those countries generate less than 1 percent of total emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

The report used existing data on weather-related disasters, population trends and economic forecasts to draw its conclusions. It was released ahead of climate change talks in Bonn, Germany, next week, that are to lead to a possible new global treaty on cutting greenhouse gas emissions in Copenhagen in December.

Your Arteries on Wonder Bread


Thursday, June 25, 2009
Landmark study from TAU shows how high carb foods cause heart attacks

Doctors have known for decades that foods like white bread and corn flakes aren't good for cardiac health. In a landmark study, new research from Tel Aviv University now shows exactly how these high carb foods increase the risk for heart problems.

"Looking inside" the arteries of students eating a variety of foods, Dr. Michael Shechter of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine and the Heart Institute of Sheba Medical Center — with collaboration of the Endocrinology Institute — visualized exactly what happens inside the body when the wrong foods for a healthy heart are eaten. He found that foods with a high glycemic index distended brachial arteries for several hours.

Elasticity of arteries anywhere in the body can be a measure of heart health. But when aggravated over time, a sudden expansion of the artery wall can cause a number of negative health effects, including reduced elasticity, which can cause heart disease or sudden death.


"It's very hard to predict heart disease," says Dr. Shechter, a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. "But doctors know that high glycemic foods rapidly increase blood sugar. Those who binge on these foods have a greater chance of sudden death from heart attack. Our research connects the dots, showing the link between diet and what's happening in real time in the arteries."


Using 56 healthy volunteers, the researchers looked at four groups. One group ate a cornflake mush mixed with milk, a second a pure sugar mixture, the third bran flakes, while the last group was given a placebo (water). Over four weeks, Dr. Shechter applied his method of "brachial reactive testing" to each group. The test uses a cuff on the arm, like those used to measure blood pressure, which can visualize arterial function in real time.

The results were dramatic. Before any of the patients ate, arterial function was essentially the same. After eating, except for the placebo group, all had reduced functioning.

Enormous peaks indicating arterial stress were found in the high glycemic index groups: the cornflakes and sugar group. "We knew high glycemic foods were bad for the heart. Now we have a mechanism that shows how," says Dr. Shechter. "Foods like cornflakes, white bread, french fries, and sweetened soda all put undue stress on our arteries. We've explained for the first time how high glycemic carbs can affect the progression of heart disease." During the consumption of foods high in sugar, there appears to be a temporary and sudden dysfunction in the endothelial walls of the arteries.

Endothelial health can be traced back to almost every disorder and disease in the body. It is "the riskiest of the risk factors," says Dr. Shechter, who practices at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center — Tel Hashomer Hospital. There he offers a treatment that can show patients — in real time — if they have a high risk for heart attacks. "Medical tourists" from America regularly visit to take the heart test.

The take-away message? Dr. Shechter says to stick to foods like oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts, which have a low glycemic index. Exercising every day for at least 30 minutes, he adds, is an extra heart-smart action to take.

Selenium intake may worsen prostate cancer in some


Public release date: 25-Jun-2009
Contact: Robbin Ray
Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

BOSTON--Higher selenium levels in the blood may worsen prostate cancer in some men who already have the disease, according to a study by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute the University of California, San Francisco.

A higher risk of more-aggressive prostate cancer was seen in men with a certain genetic variant found in about 75 percent of the prostate cancer patients in the study. In those subjects, having a high level of selenium in the blood was associated with a two-fold greater risk of poorer outcomes than men with the lowest amounts of selenium. By contrast, the 25 percent of men with a different variant of the same gene and who had high selenium levels were at 40 percent lower risk of aggressive disease. The variants are slightly different forms of a gene that instructs cells to make manganese superoxide dismutase (SOD2), an enzyme that protects the body against harmful oxygen compounds.

The research findings suggest that "if you already have prostate cancer, it may be a bad thing to take selenium," says Philip Kantoff, MD, director of Dana-Farber's Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology and senior author of the study that is published by the Journal of Clinical Oncology on its website now and later will be in a print journal. The lead author is June Chan, ScD, of the University of California, San Francisco.

The unexpected results are the first to raise concern about this potentially harmful consequence of taking supplemental selenium. Kantoff says, "These findings are interesting particularly in light of the recent negative results from the SELECT prevention study, which asked if selenium could protect against prostate cancer."

The new study reveals the strong interaction between selenium and SOD2 to influence the biology of prostate cancer, a finding that these investigators had shown in a previous study. The authors say the current research demonstrated that variations in the make up of the SOD2 gene dramatically alter the effects of selenium on the risk of aggressive prostate cancer.

Selenium is a mineral found widely in rocks and dirt. Small amounts of selenium are essential for health: 40 to 70 micrograms is the recommended daily intake. In recent years, supplemental selenium has been sold and promoted as a means of preventing prostate cancer, largely based on observational studies that found higher risk of prostate cancer incidence and mortality in areas of the country that are naturally low in selenium.

However, research aimed at confirming the benefits of selenium supplementation have been mixed. Recently, the SELECT study, which involved 35,000 men, was halted early when, after more than five years, it showed that the supplements didn't affect the incidence of prostate cancer.


The results may seem counterintuitive to the public, who have been told for years that antioxidants can help people live longer, healthier lives with a lowered risk of cancer. However, Kantoff says, "There is some precedent to this – research has suggested that antioxidants could be protective if you don't have cancer, but once you do, then antioxidants may be a bad thing."


I think I remember that once you have cancer, antioxidants may be a bad thing because they protect the cancer cells from damage by the body, in the same way they protect the bodies cells from damage by things such as pollutants.

Another possibility is that increased levels of selenium in the blood is a sign that it is hampered from getting into cells. I think the first consideration will be shown to be the case, but this alternative might turn out to be a surprise factor.

In the warming West, climate most significant factor in fanning wildfires' flames

Public release date: 25-Jun-2009
Contact: Yasmeen Sands
USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station

Study finds that climate's influence on production, drying of fuels -- not higher temperatures or longer fire seasons alone -- critical determinant of Western wildfire burned area

The recent increase in area burned by wildfires in the Western United States is a product not of higher temperatures or longer fire seasons alone, but a complex relationship between climate and fuels that varies among different ecosystems, according to a study conducted by U.S. Forest Service and university scientists. The study is the most detailed examination of wildfire in the United States to date and appears in the current issue of the journal Ecological Applications.

"We found that what matters most in accounting for large wildfires in the Western United States is how climate influences the build up—or production—and drying of fuels," said Jeremy Littell, a research scientist with the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group and lead investigator of the study. "Climate affects fuels in different ecosystems differently, meaning that future wildfire size and, likely, severity depends on interactions between climate and fuel availability and production."

Why saints sin and sinners get saintly


Public release date: 26-Jun-2009
Contact: Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Northwestern University

EVANSTON, Ill. --- To many, New York Gov. Eliott Spitzer's fall from grace seemed to make no sense at all. But a new Northwestern University study offers provocative insights that possibly could relate to why the storm trooper of reform -- formerly known as the Sheriff of Wall Street -- seemingly went from saint to sinner overnight.

The study suggests that people with ample moral self-worth in one aspect of their lives can slip into immorality or opposite behavior in other areas -- their abundant self-esteem somehow pushing them to balance out all that goodness.

Think, for example, of that sugar- and fat-laden concoction that you wolf down after an especially vigorous run, said Douglas Medin, professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. "That pretty much eliminates the benefits of running an extra 20 minutes," he said.

Northwestern's Sonya Sachdeva, Rumen Iliev and Medin are co-authors of "Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners: The Paradox of Moral Self-Regulation," published by the journal Psychological Science.

Conversely, the study shows, people who engage in immoral behavior cleanse themselves with good work.

Other studies have shown the moral-cleansing effect, but this new Northwestern model shows that the cleansing also has to do with restoring an ideal level of moral self-worth. In other words, when people operate above or below a certain level of moral self-worth, they instinctively push back in the opposite direction to reach an internally regulated set point of goodness.

"If people feel too moral," Sachdeva said, "they might not have sufficient incentive to engage in moral action because of the costliness of being good."

An abundance of research shows that people are motivated both by the warm glow that results from good behavior and recognition of costly, long-term consequences of immoral behavior on kin and society at large.

But the Northwestern study for the first time shows that perhaps people whose glow is much warmer than average are more likely to regulate behavior by acting in an opposite manner or passing up opportunities to behave morally.

"Imagine a line on a plane," Sachdeva said. "If you go above the line, you feel pressure to come back down. The only way you can come back down is either by refraining from good social behavior or by actively engaging in immoral behavior."

"If you do extra good deeds, you're motivated to come back down on that internal barometer," Iliev added.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Starring the Children of the World

We Are the World

Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Computer Idle? Now You Can Donate Its Time To Find A Cure For Major Diseases


ScienceDaily (June 21, 2009) — Not using your computer at the moment? You can now donate your computer's idle time to cutting-edge biomedical research aimed at finding a cure for HIV, Parkinson's, arthritis, and breast cancer.

Through the University of Delaware's “Docking@Home” project, led by Michela Taufer, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, and supported by the National Science Foundation, more than 6,000 volunteers worldwide are donating their computer's idle time to perform scientific calculations that will aid in creating new and improved medicines to thwart these major diseases.

Before new drugs can be produced for laboratory testing, researchers must create molecular models and simulate their interactions to reveal possible candidates for effective drugs. This simulation is called “docking,” Taufer explains.

Since the combinations of molecules and their binding orientations are infinite, simulating as many combinations as possible requires tremendous computing power, Taufer notes, and supercomputers often have a long waiting line or are too expensive to use for extended periods. Thus, researchers have turned to citizen volunteers for help, which enables them to distribute the hundreds of thousands of computing tasks across a large number of computers.

The HIV-1 protease cuts the Human Immunodeficiency Virus like a scissors. If scientists could inhibit this effect, the virus could not reproduce, Taufer says.

“Basically, the protein is misbehaving, and we want to find out what small molecule can correct this behavior,” she notes.

Once a binding molecule called a ligand is dropped into a protein, effectively “docking,” it can switch that protein on or off, and the computer can simulate this interaction.

While right now, Taufer says, the research is in the validation stage, in time, the process is aimed at studying new drugs.

“We are transforming a process in nature into computer steps--an algorithm,” she explains.

Volunteering your computer's idle time to do scientific calculations takes only a few simple steps highlighted on the project Web page (http://docking.cis.udel.edu/). You install a free, open-source software program called BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing), developed at the University of California, and link up to the Docking Server at the University of Delaware to become part of the network. Your computer's idle cycles are accessed automatically when you are not using your system.

The BOINC software also is in use for such programs as IBM’s World Community Grid, which focuses on diseases caused by the mis-folding of proteins, and SETI@Home, which is searching for signs of intelligent life outside Earth.

Currently, the 6,000 volunteers worldwide who currently are involved in UD's Docking@Home project are contributing to the completion of some 30,000 docking tasks per day, Taufer says.

Kevin Kreiser, a third-year graduate student in Taufer’s group, is developing the software for ExSciTecH (an immersive volunteer computing system to Explore Science, Technology, and Health), which will allow volunteers to “throw” a molecule right into a protein using a Nintendo Wii.

“Other people do yoga with a Wii,” Taufer notes, smiling. “We are doing science.”

Mammoths Survived In Britain Until 14,000 Years Ago


ScienceDaily (June 18, 2009) — Research which finally proves that bones found in Shropshire, England provide the most geologically recent evidence of woolly mammoths in North Western Europe publishes June 17 in the Geological Journal. Analysis of both the bones and the surrounding environment suggests that some mammoths remained part of British wildlife long after they are conventionally believed to have become extinct.

Dad's Early Connection With Child 'Writes Script' For Later School Involvement


ScienceDaily (June 22, 2009) — When a dad changes diapers and makes pediatrician's appointments, he's more likely to stay interested and involved when his child makes the transition to school, said a new University of Illinois study that explores the role of parent involvement on student achievement.

"If we want fathers to be involved in school, we need to focus on men building close, loving relationships with their children in the preschool years. When fathers do this, they're writing a script that says they're involved in their child's life, and their expectation is that they'll go on being involved in that child's life," said Brent McBride, a U of I professor of human development.

McBride likes to use affection as an example of early parent involvement. "That can be as simple as a father winking at his three-year-old child," he said.

"If you, as a dad, develop an affectionate way of interacting with your preschooler, later when your child comes home and tells you what he's done in school that day, the warm, close relationship you've built will allow him to approach you with trust, and it will allow you to respond to your child's enthusiasm or frustration in a positive way," he said.

"If fathers wait to seek a closer relationship with their child until later in the child's life, the moment has passed," he said.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some Video Games Can Make Children Kinder And More Likely To Help


ScienceDaily (June 18, 2009) — Some video games can make children kinder and more likely to help—not hurt—other people.

That's the conclusion of new research published in the June 2009 issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The article presents the findings of three separate studies, conducted in different countries with different age groups, and using different scientific approaches. All the studies find that playing games with prosocial content causes players to be more helpful to others after the game is over.

The report is co-authored by a consortium of researchers from the United States, Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

"Dozens of studies have documented a relationship between violent video games and aggressive behaviors," said lead author Douglas Gentile, an Iowa State University psychologist. "But this is one of the first that has documented the positive effects of playing prosocial games."

Prosocial video games involve characters who help and support each other in nonviolent ways.

"These studies show the same kind of impact on three different age groups from three very different cultures," said Brad Bushman, a University of Michigan co-author of the report. "In addition, the studies use different analytic approaches—correlational, longitudinal and experimental. The resulting triangulation of evidence provides the strongest possible proof that the findings are both valid and generalizable."

"These studies document that children and adolescents learn from practicing behaviors in games," said Rowell Huesmann, a U-M co-author of the report.


Where are the rudest drivers? Atlanta in 4th place

I shudder at the thought that there are places with ruder drivers than in Atlanta.


Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Where are the rudest drivers? New York, Dallas and Detroit

By Lee Williams | Fort Worth Star-Telegram

A national survey has confirmed what most of us already knew: Drivers in the Dallas-Fort Worth are mean, rude and dangerous.

Only drivers in New York are worse, according to the AutoVantage In the Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey released Tuesday by the Affinion Group, a national marketing and consulting firm.

Detroit was No. 3, followed by Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

The survey included the top 25 metro areas in the United States.

"The thing that really drove Dallas-Fort Worth up the list was that they were number one for tailgating, cutting off people with no warning and people talking on their cell phones," said Michael Bush, public relations director for Affinion.

New York drivers were especially bad at making obscene gestures.

Windows XP life extended yet again to (possibly) 2011


Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:32PM EDT
Once again -- and I've now lost count on this one -- Microsoft is officially extending the life of the venerable Windows XP operating system. Based on the company's new rules, the OS can be pre-installed on machines for up to 18 months after the general availability of Windows 7 -- or until Windows 7 Service Pack 1 is released, whichever is sooner.

Assuming Windows 7 ships in October as planned, that means XP may be alive and well until April 2011. On the other hand, Microsoft has been releasing Service Packs more quickly of late, and 18 months would be an awfully long time for Windows to go without a patch.

The move was apparently a response to Gartner's Michael Silver, who lambasted the company's previous policy, which would create only six months of overlap between XP and Windows 7, and which he saw as not enough time for large enterprises to manage the transition from one OS to the other. (And let's get real: No one is going to upgrade to Vista in the meantime.)

In response, Silver called the new policy "good" but "still not great."

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cancer In Humans: Cost Of Being Smarter Than Chimps?


ScienceDaily (June 22, 2009) — Are the cognitively superior brains of humans, in part, responsible for our higher rates of cancer? That's a question that has nagged at John McDonald, chair of Georgia Tech's School of Biology and chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute, for a while. Now, after an initial study, it seems that McDonald is on to something. The new study is available online in the journal Medical Hypothesis and will appear in the forthcoming issue of the journal.

"I was always intrigued by the fact that chimpanzees appear to have lower rates of cancer than humans," said McDonald. "So we went back and reanalyzed some previously reported gene expression studies including data that were not used in the original analyses."

McDonald and his graduate students, Gaurav Arora and Nalini Polivarapu, compared chimp-human gene expression patterns in five tissues: brain, testes, liver, kidneys and heart. They found distinct differences in the way apoptosis — or programmed cell death — operates, suggesting that humans do not "self-destroy" cells as effectively as chimpanzees do. Apoptosis is one of the primary mechanisms by which our bodies destroy cancer cells.

"The results from our analysis suggest that humans aren't as efficient as chimpanzees in carrying out programmed cell death. We believe this difference may have evolved as a way to increase brain size and associated cognitive ability in humans, but the cost could be an increased propensity for cancer," said McDonald.

Like all evolutionary hypotheses, this can't be proven absolutely, according to McDonald. However, his lab has recently obtained additional direct experimental evidence consistent with the hypothesis that apoptotic function is more efficient in chimps than in humans.

Dinosaurs May Have Been Smaller Than Previously Thought


ScienceDaily (June 22, 2009) — The largest animals ever to have walked the face of the earth may not have been as big as previously thought, reveals a paper published June 21 in the Zoological Society of London’s Journal of Zoology.

Scientists have discovered that the original statistical model used to calculate dinosaur mass is flawed, suggesting dinosaurs have been oversized.

Widely cited estimates for the mass of Apatosaurus louisae, one of the largest of the dinosaurs, may be double that of its actual mass (38 tonnes vs. 18 tonnes).

"Paleontologists have for 25 years used a published statistical model to estimate body weight of giant dinosaurs and other extraordinarily large animals in extinct lineages. By re-examining data in the original reference sample, we show that the statistical model is seriously flawed and that the giant dinosaurs probably were only about half as heavy as is generally believed" says Gary Packard from Colorado State University.

The new predictions have implications for numerous theories about the biology of dinosaurs, ranging from their energy metabolism to their food requirements and to their modes of locomotion.

Prototype Nokia phone recharges without wires


Tue Jun 16, 2009 1:06PM EDT
Pardon the cliche, but it's one of the holiest of Holy Grails of technology: Wireless power. And while early lab experiments have been able to "beam" electricity a few feet to power a light bulb, the day when our laptops and cell phones can charge without having to plug them in to a wall socket still seems decades in the future.

Nokia, however, has taken another baby step in that direction with the invention of a cell phone that recharges itself using a unique system: It harvests ambient radio waves from the air, and turns that energy into usable power. Enough, at least, to keep a cell phone from running out of juice.

Neighborhood violence affects disadvantaged youth


Public release date: 16-Jun-2009
Contact: Jackie Cooper
American Sociological Association

Neighborhood violence affects disadvantaged youth and the influence of family and religion on youth delinquency

WASHINGTON, DC — Research published in the June issue of the American Sociological Review examines issues surrounding families, communities, youth and delinquency. The following briefs highlight selected sociological findings.

Older Peers Shape Teen Choices in Violent Neighborhoods

Teen boys living in disadvantaged areas face particular threats beyond their own neighborhoods and are therefore more likely to spend time with older peers than are their counterparts in more advantaged areas, reports David J. Harding of the University of Michigan.

Youths from other neighborhoods are potential enemies rather than potential friends, resulting in a restricted set of possible friends. For boys in these neighborhoods, Harding finds, older peers become a more attractive choice—in part because they provide a source of protection.


Family and Religious Environments Deter Delinquent Behaviors of Teens, Young Adults

Living with two parents deters youths from becoming delinquent, according to Ball State University sociologist Richard J. Petts' analysis of how family and religious characteristics influence delinquency trajectories from early adolescence through young adulthood.

Petts finds that supportive parenting practices reduce the likelihood of children becoming involved in delinquent behavior early in adolescence. His findings also suggest that family and religion interact to predict delinquency trajectories. Specifically, religion enhances the effect of parental affection in deterring delinquent behavior and lessens the risk of delinquent behavior among young people in single-parent families.

Petts' analysis links family transitions with increases in delinquency, but religious participation throughout adolescence and marriage are associated with declines in delinquent behavior.

Providing health insurance for US children would be cheaper than expected, study says


Extending health insurance coverage to all children in the U.S. would be relatively inexpensive and would yield economic benefits that are greater than the costs, according to new research conducted at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy.

"Providing health insurance to all children in America will yield substantial economic benefits," wrote Vivian Ho, chair in health economics at the Baker Institute and associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. She co-authored the report with Marah Short, senior staff researcher in health economics at the Baker Institute. They based their research on recent studies published in peer-reviewed journals to examine the evidence regarding the economic impact of failing to insure all children in the United States.

The children will receive better health care and enjoy better health, thereby improving their productivity as adults, the researchers said. The cost incurred by providing universal coverage to children "will be offset by the increased value of additional life years and improved health-related quality of life gained from improved health care. From a societal perspective, universal coverage for children appears to be cost-saving."

Ho and Short compared the children's health care in the United States to the care provided in other industrialized countries and found that despite higher per capita spending, "the United States ranks third-highest among 30 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in the percentage of the population lacking health insurance, with one in seven people uninsured." They estimate the number of uninsured children in the U.S. to be more than 8 million.

The literature clearly indicates this lack of coverage leads to "lower access to medical care and lower use of health care services," the authors wrote. It may even be reflected in relatively high child morbidity rates in the United States, they argued. Moreover, lack of health care for children has long-term effects as those children become adults.

Same-sex behavior seen in nearly all animal groups, review finds


Public release date: 16-Jun-2009
Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Riverside

UC Riverside evolutionary biologists find majority of studies focus on why same-sex behavior in animals exists, but not what its consequences are

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds, concludes a new review of existing research.

"It's clear that same-sex sexual behavior extends far beyond the well-known examples that dominate both the scientific and popular literature: for example, bonobos, dolphins, penguins and fruit flies," said Nathan Bailey, the first author of the review paper and a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology at UC Riverside.

There is a caveat, however. The review also reports that same-sex behaviors are not the same across species, and that researchers may be calling qualitatively different phenomena by the same name.

"For example, male fruit flies may court other males because they are lacking a gene that enables them to discriminate between the sexes," Bailey said. "But that is very different from male bottlenose dolphins, who engage in same-sex interactions to facilitate group bonding, or female Laysan Albatross that can remain pair-bonded for life and cooperatively rear young."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Newborn weights affected by environmental contaminants


Public release date: 15-Jun-2009
Contact: Nicole Saint-Pierre
University of Montreal

New study from Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, University of Montreal, McGill University and Public Health Agency of Canada

This release is available in French.

Montreal, June 15, 2009 – Recent epidemiological studies have revealed an increase in the frequency of genital malformations in male newborns (e.g., un-descended testes) and a decrease in male fertility.

The role played by the growing presence in our environment of contaminants that reduce male hormone action could explain this phenomenon.

It is known that the birth weight of males is higher than that of females due to the action of male hormones on the male fetus.If the exposure of pregnant women to environmental contaminants that diminish the action of male hormones has increased over the years, one would expect to see a decrease in the sex difference in birth weight.

This is exactly what a new study published in the July 2009 issue of Epidemiology shows. Investigators analyzed the Public Health Agency of Canada's database on the birth weights of more than five million children born in Canada between 1981 and 2003.

CO2 Levels Highest in Two Million Years

That 14 degree F sudden rise in sea temperatures is really scary. For one thing, it would surely cause large problems for many living beings in the ocean. Then, gas, including CO2 is less soluble in warmer water. And I would think it would melt the methane hydrates at the bottome of the sea.


Maggie Koerth-Baker
for National Geographic News
June 18, 2009

What happens when carbon dioxide levels skyrocket? Most climate scientists think they know the answer: global warming.

But to determine just how high temperatures may climb and how climate patterns may shift, researchers may need to pinpoint, for comparison, a time in our planet's past when a similar carbon dioxide jump happened.

Doing that may have just gotten a lot tougher—a new study says atmospheric carbon dioxide levels haven't been this high in more than two million years.


"We know from the geologic record that, around 55 million years ago, the deep-sea temperature suddenly rose by 8 degrees C [14 degrees F]," said Hönisch, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.

"It's a time that we would like to study, because it's probably the closest thing we'll find to what's happening today. And that's the best way to make estimates for our future."

Climate change is already having an impact in the Midwest and across the US


Public release date: 16-Jun-2009
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Contact: Diana Yates
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Climate change is already having an impact in the Midwest and across the US

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Extreme weather, drought, heavy rainfall and increasing temperatures are a fact of life in many parts of the U.S. as a result of human-induced climate change, researchers report today in a new assessment. These and other changes will continue and likely increase in intensity into the future, the scientists found.

Researchers representing 13 U.S. government science agencies, major universities and research institutes produced the study, "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States." Commissioned in 2007, it is the most comprehensive report to date on national climate change, offering the latest information on rising temperatures, heavy downpours, extreme weather, sea level changes and other results of climate change in the U.S.

The 190-page report is a product of the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is written in accessible language, intended to better inform members of the public and policymakers about the social, environmental and economic costs of climate change. It focuses on effects by region and details how the nation's transportation, agriculture, health, water and energy sectors will be affected in the future.

In a press conference today, University of Illinois Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Sciences Don Wuebbles, a contributor to the assessment, outlined the current and predicted effects of climate change in the Midwest U.S.

"We well recognize that the earth's climate varies naturally and has been warmer and cooler in the past," Wuebbles said. "But we also know that the climate changes we are experiencing today are largely the result of human activities."

Average temperatures have risen in the Midwest in recent decades, Wuebbles said, especially in winter. The growing season has been extended by one week. Heavy downpours are now twice as frequent as they were a century ago, he said, and the Midwest has experienced two, record-breaking floods in the past 15 years.

These trends are expected to continue into the future, Wuebbles said. Average annual temperatures are expected to increase by about two degrees Fahrenheit over the next few decades, and by as much as seven to 10 degrees by the end of the century, he said, with more warming projected for summer than winter.

Precipitation is expected to increase in the winter and spring, while summer precipitation will likely decline.

"More of the precipitation is likely to occur during heavier events," Wuebbles said.

As temperatures and humidity increases, heat waves, reduced air quality and insect-borne diseases are more likely to occur. Pollen production and the growth of fungi will also be stimulated, he said.

Heavy downpours can overload drainage systems and water treatment facilities, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases, he said.

The Great Lakes, which contain 20 percent of the planet's fresh surface water, will also be affected by the changing climate, Wuebbles said. Depending on the extent of climate change, average water levels in the Great Lakes could drop by as much as two feet in this century, he said. This would affect beaches, coastal ecosystems, fish populations, dredging requirements and shipping.

Some of the effects of the changing climate are inevitable and will require human and animal populations to adapt, Wuebbles said. Other effects can be mitigated by limiting future emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, he said.

Local food environments can lead to obesity


Public release date: 17-Jun-2009
Contact: Graeme Baldwin
BioMed Central

Living in an area with more fast food outlets and convenience stores than supermarkets and grocers has been associated with obesity in a Canadian study. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Public Health have shown that your local food environment can affect your weight.

John Spence from the University of Alberta, Canada, worked with a team of researchers to study associations between the 'Retail Food Environment Index' (RFEI) and levels of obesity. He said, "The RFEI is based upon a ratio of the number of fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to supermarkets and specialty food stores in a given radius around a person's house. We've shown that it correlates very well with the odds that that person may be obese".

The availability of fast food and scarcity of outlets for natural ingredients within 800m of a person's home was shown to be associated with weight, while the RFEI within a 1600m radius did not have the same effect. The researchers claim that this demonstrates that the proximity of the unhealthy environment is an important risk factor for obesity. According to Spence, "These findings may help explain the observation that geographic concentration of fast-food restaurants is associated with mortality and hospital admissions for acute coronary events in Canada".

Fast-food is cheaper and more energy-dense per measure of weight than other healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables that are purchased in a grocery store. If governments want to reduce people's intake of these energy-efficient, but ultimately unhealthy 'meals', the authors recommend that they intervene to limit the creation of areas where tempting junk-food outlets are so much more prevalent than other shops. They write, "A plausible policy option for decreasing the prevalence of obesity among adults is improving the retail food environment, possibly through zoning by-laws".

Saturday, June 20, 2009

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Study finds autistics better at problem-solving


Public release date: 16-Jun-2009
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Contact: Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins
University of Montreal
Study finds autistics better at problem-solving
University of Montreal and Harvard University research in Human Brain Mapping

This release is available in French.

Montreal, June 16, 2009 — Autistics are up to 40 percent faster at problem-solving than non-autistics, according to a new Université de Montréal and Harvard University study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. As part of the investigation, participants were asked to complete patterns in the Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices (RSPM) – test that measures hypothesis-testing, problem-solving and learning skills.

"While both groups performed RSPM test with equal accuracy, the autistic group responded more quickly and appeared to use perceptual regions of the brain to accelerate problem-solving," says lead author Isabelle Soulières, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University who completed the experiment at the Université de Montréal. "Some critics agued that autistics would be unable to complete the RSPM because of its complexity, yet our study shows autistics complete it as efficiently and have a more highly developed perception than non-autistics."

Fifteen autistics and 18 non-autistics were recruited for the study. Participants were 14 to 36 years old and matched according to their preliminary results on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.

Cannabis alters human DNA

This is no surprise. Any kind of smoke is damaging. And some will be more so than others.


Public release date: 16-Jun-2009
Contact: Rajinder Singh
University of Leicester

A new study published by University of Leicester researchers has found "convincing evidence" that cannabis smoke damages DNA in ways that could potentially increase the risk of cancer development in humans.


"There have been many studies on the toxicity of tobacco smoke. It is known that tobacco smoke contains 4000 chemicals of which 60 are classed as carcinogens. Cannabis in contrast has not been so well studied. It is less combustible than tobacco and is often mixed with tobacco in use. Cannabis smoke contains 400 compounds including 60 cannabinoids. However, because of its lower combustibility it contains 50% more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons including naphthalene, benzanthracene, and benzopyrene, than tobacco smoke."


The authors added: "It is well known that toxic substances in tobacco smoke can damage DNA and increase the risk of lung and other cancers. Scientists were unsure though whether cannabis smoke would have the same effect. Our research has focused on the toxicity of acetaldehyde, which is present in both tobacco and cannabis."

The researchers add that the ability of cannabis smoke to damage DNA has significant human health implications especially as users tend to inhale more deeply than cigarette smokers, which increases respiratory burden. "The smoking of 3-4 cannabis cigarettes a day is associated with the same degree of damage to bronchial mucus membranes as 20 or more tobacco cigarettes a day," the team adds.

"These results provide evidence for the DNA damaging potential of cannabis smoke," the researchers conclude, "implying that the consumption of cannabis cigarettes may be detrimental to human health with the possibility to initiate cancer development."

Not “unemployed” but not working


EPI’s latest jobs analysis shows that millions of people not counted as officially unemployed are either “involuntary part-time” workers who want to work full-time but can’t find the hours, or they are “marginally attached,” meaning that even though they want to work, they did not actively seek work in the past month.

There were 1.3 million marginally attached workers at the start of the recession in December 2007, but that number has since swelled by close to 1 million, underscoring how prolonged economic downturns can make it progressively harder to find work.

“When we see such a dramatic increase in such a short period of time, we know that it’s not caused by a major shift in attitudes toward working, but instead by the fact that many jobless workers have simply realized they have little chance of finding meaningful work in such a weak labor market,” says EPI economist Heidi Shierholz.

At the start of the recession there were 1.7 unemployed workers for every job opening; the most recent data show 5.4 unemployed workers competing for each available job.

City drops request for Internet passwords

I saw this earlier today, before the request for passwords was dropped, and I'm glad to see the policy was changed. There are times when the ACLU gets carried away, but this shows why they are needed.


By Matt Gouras
updated 8:42 p.m. ET, Fri., June 19, 2009

HELENA, Mont. - A flood of criticism has prompted a Montana city to drop its request that government job applicants turn over their user names and passwords to Internet social networking and Web groups.

The city of Bozeman abruptly suspended the practice Friday, saying it "appears to have exceeded that which is acceptable to our community."

"We appreciate the concern many citizens have expressed regarding this practice and apologize for the negative impact this issue is having on the City of Bozeman," City Manager Chris A. Kukulski said in a release.

Since KBZK-TV of Bozeman reported on the policy Wednesday, Web forums have been abuzz over the issue. The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana immediately questioned the legality of the policy.

"I liken it to them saying they want to look at your love letters and your family photos," said Amy Cannata of the Montana ACLU. "I think this policy certainly crosses the privacy line."

The city initially argued that it only used the information to verify application information. People who refused to provide the information wouldn't be penalized, the city said.

An excerpt from the city application form said, "Please list any and all current personal or business Web sites, Web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc."

The ACLU has not found another government body that asks for such information, Cannata said.

"It's one thing, and I think totally reasonable, if someone has a public profile to go check it out," she said.

But private groups and profile could reveal information employers could not legally base hiring decisions on, such as a person's religion, she added.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Don't Kill the Whales

These are lyrics to a song I started writing at a protest against a restaurant chain that was buying seafood from a country that allowed the killing of endangered whales.

Don't Kill the Whales
copyright Patricia M. Shannon 1989

Don't kill the whales, let them roam free
deep in their home in the sea.
We have no right to destroy a whole race,
what we've done to the earth is a bloody disgrace.
Open your eyes before it's too late,
what we do to the world will be our own fate.
Don't kill the whales, let them roam free
deep in their home in the sea.

Don't clearcut the woods, let them grow tall,
a home for creatures great and small.
A place for the birds, the frogs, and the bears,
where the fox and the bobcat make their lairs.
Creator of soil and cleanser of air,
if the woods were all gone, our souls would be bare.
Don't clear the woods, let them grow tall,
for the bears cannot live in a shopping mall!

Conserve energy, recycle that can,
the earth needs the help of each woman and man.
Don't drive the car when you can take the bus,
for pollution hurts everyone of us.
Don't let the earth become barren sands,
the fate of the earth is in our hands.
Conserve energy, recycle that can,
the earth needs the help of each woman and man.

Mass dolphin stranding linked to navy exercises


11:10 17 June 2009 by Linda Geddes
An investigation into the UK's largest ever mass stranding of common dolphins has identified military activity as the most probable cause – although no single activity can be definitively linked to the stranding.

Twenty-six common dolphins died after becoming stranded in the Fal Estuary in Cornwall, southwest England on 9 June, 2008, while a similar number were refloated by volunteers. An investigation into the cause of their deaths (pdf format) by Paul Jepson at the Zoological Society of London and his colleagues has ruled out a lengthy list of possible causes:

• Infectious disease

• Pollution

• Decompression sickness

• Attack by killer whales or bottlenose dolphins

• High-intensity acoustic inputs from seismic airgun arrays or natural sources

However, documents obtained under the UK Freedom of Information act have provided researchers with unprecedented access to military records of navy activity in the area. While there is no evidence of physical injury to the dolphins caused by sonar, "what we are left with is a mass stranding and a naval exercise – we have ruled out pretty much everything else," Jepson says.

The UK navy had been conducting exercises in the area several days before the stranding, and on the morning of the stranding itself. Jepson suspects that these may have driven the dolphins closer to shore than normal, and that something then caused them to panic and beach.

Military sonar has previously been linked to strandings of cetaceans elsewhere and is known to temporarily deafen dolphins.

However, the Ministry of Defence says that routine exercises including sonar activity had ceased 60 hours before the onset of the stranding and cannot therefore have directly triggered the event. It says it is prepared to work with researchers to further explore how its activities might affect cetacean behaviour.

Sarah Dolman of the UK's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society believes they should go even further.

"We are calling for the Ministry of Defence to conduct a full and transparent environmental assessment of all of its activities in this exercise area and in all exercise areas that it operates in," Dolman says. "The post mortem results have shown us that those dolphins that died were healthy animals prior to stranding. Something frightened them ashore, way up inside the river system, where this species is not generally known to go."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Giant sperm stretch back millions of years


19:00 18 June 2009 by Ewen Callaway
There's sperm and then there's super sperm – gigantic reproductive cells many times longer than the minute crustaceans that produce them. Now, scientists have discovered that ostracods, or seed shrimp, have been cranking out these giant sperm for at least 100 million years.
Matzke-Karasz says it's impossible to know just how long their sperm cells were, but closely related species that are still around produce sperm at least the length of their body. Such a long history for giant sperm points to intense sexual competition between males, she says. Females gather sperm from multiple males before fertilizing their eggs, but researchers don't have a clue what determines success.

Brain detects happiness more quickly than sadness


Public release date: 17-Jun-2009
Contact: SINC
FECYT - Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

People make value judgements about others based on their facial expressions. A new study, carried out be Spanish and Brazilian researchers, shows that – after looking at a face for only 100 milliseconds – we can detect expressions of happiness and surprise faster than those of sadness or fear.

Global sunscreen won't save corals


Public release date: 16-Jun-2009
Contact: Ken Caldeira
Carnegie Institution

Palo Alto, CA— Emergency plans to counteract global warming by artificially shading the Earth from incoming sunlight might lower the planet's temperature a few degrees, but such "geoengineering" solutions would do little to stop the acidification of the world oceans that threatens coral reefs and other marine life, report the authors of a new study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters*. The culprit is atmospheric carbon dioxide, which even in a cooler globe will continue to be absorbed by seawater, creating acidic conditions.

"There would be a slight reduction in this problem, because land plants would be expected to be able to grow more vigorously in a high CO2, but cool world," says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology, a co-author of the study with lead author Damon Matthews of Concordia University, Canada, and Carnegie geochemist Long Cao. Land plants and soils would hold onto more carbon in this scenario, so less would find its way into the oceans. "However this expansion of the land biosphere, while it's a slight help to ocean acidification is not enough to make a big difference."

A widely-discussed proposal for countering warming with geoengineering involves injecting small, reflective particles into the upper atmosphere. This would partially block incoming sunlight before it reached the Earth's surface, lowering global temperatures just as volcanic ash from the Mount Pinatubo did following its eruption in 1991. But critics have warned that such a scheme might also alter rainfall patterns, damage the planet's ozone layer, or have other unexpected effects.

Rising acidity levels could trigger shellfish revenue declines, job losses


Changes in ocean chemistry — a consequence of increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human industrial activity — could cause U.S. shellfish revenues to drop significantly in the next 50 years, according to a new study by researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

Intensive burning of fossil fuels and deforestation over the last two centuries have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by almost 40 percent. The oceans have absorbed about one-third of all human-generated carbon emissions, but the buildup of CO2 in the ocean is pushing surface waters toward more acidic conditions.

This “ocean acidification” creates a corrosive environment for marine organisms such as corals, marine plankton, and shellfish that build carbonate shells or skeletons. Mollusks — including mussels and oysters, which support valuable marine fisheries — are particularly sensitive to these changes.

In a case study of U.S. commercial fishery revenues published in the June issue of Environmental Research Letters, WHOI scientists Sarah Cooley and Scott Doney calculated the possible economic effects of ocean acidification over the next 50 years using atmospheric CO2 trajectories from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and laboratory studies of acidification’s effects on shell-forming marine organisms, focusing especially on mollusks.

Mollusk sales by fishermen currently generate about $750 million per year — nearly 20 percent of total U.S. fisheries revenue. The study assumed that mollusks harvests in the U.S. would drop 10 to 25 percent in 50 years’ time as a result of increasing acidity levels, which would decrease these mollusk sales by $75 to $187 million dollars annually.

“Losses in primary revenue from commercial mollusk harvests—or the money that fisherman receive for their catch—could add up to as much as $1.4 billion by 2060,” said Cooley.

Reduced harvests of mollusks, as well as losses of predatory fish and other species that depend on mollusks for food, could lead to economic hardships for fishing communities.

“Ocean acidification will impact the millions of people that depend on seafood and other ocean resources for their livelihoods,” said Doney. “Losses of crustaceans, bivalves, their predators, and their habitat — in the case of reef-associated fish communities — would particularly injure societies that depend heavily on consumption and export of marine resources.”

Because changes in seawater chemistry are already apparent and will grow over the next few decades, Cooley and Doney suggest measures that focus on adaptation to future CO2 increases to lessen the impact on marine ecosystems, such as flexible fishery management plans and support for fishing communities.

“Limiting nutrient runoff from land helps coastal ecosystems stay healthy,” said Cooley. “Also fishing rules can be adjusted to reduce pressure on valuable species; fisheries managers may set up more marine protected areas, or they may encourage development of new fisheries.”

This research was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment.

Last updated: June 17, 2009