Friday, July 31, 2009

Doctors reap benefits of doing own tests

By Shankar Vedantam
updated 5:24 p.m. ET, Fri., July 31, 2009

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the initial headline mischaracterized some tests as "useless" or "needless." The story does not characterize the tests that way.

In August 2005, doctors at Urological Associates, a medical practice on the Iowa-Illinois border, ordered nine CT scans for patients covered by Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. In September that year, they ordered eight. But then the numbers rose steeply. The urologists ordered 35 scans in October, 41 in November and 55 in December. Within seven months, they were ordering scans at a rate that had climbed more than 700 percent.

The increase came in the months after the urologists bought their own CT scanner, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post. Instead of referring patients to radiologists, the doctors started conducting their own imaging -- and drawing insurance reimbursements for each of those patients.


A host of studies and reports by academics and the federal government shows that physicians who own scanners order many more scans than those who do not. As a result, Americans pay billions of dollars in extra taxes and insurance premiums.

Creating a health risk
Government panels have found that, across several areas of medicine, ordering more procedures does not improve health outcomes. In the case of medical scans, unnecessary imaging also creates a health risk -- as many as 1 percent of all cancers in the United States appear to be caused by radiation from medical imaging, according to Amy Berrington de Gonzalez, a radiation epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute.


Who makes health care decisions

Dear Mr. President
by Hunter
Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 02:20:04 PM PDT

Dear Mr. President: I am writing you today because I am outraged at the notion of involving government in healthcare decisions like they do in other countries. I believe healthcare decisions should be between myself and my doctor.

Well, that is not strictly true. I believe healthcare decisions should be between myself, my doctor, and my insurance company, which provides me a list of which doctors I can see, which specialists I can see, and has a strict policy outlining when I can and can't see those specialists, for what symptoms, and what tests my doctors can or cannot perform for a given set of symptoms. That seems fair, because the insurance company needs to make a profit; they're not in the business of just keeping people alive for free.

Oh, and also my employer. My employer decides what health insurance company and plans will be available to me in the first place. If I quit that job and find another, my heath insurance will be different, and I may or may not be able to see the same doctor as I had been seeing before, or receive the same treatments, or obtain the same medicines. So I believe my healthcare decisions should be between myself, the company I work for, my insurance company, and my doctor. Assuming I'm employed, which is a tough go in the current economy.

Hmm, but that's still a little simplistic. I suppose we should clarify.

I also believe my healthcare should depend on the form I fill out when I apply for that health insurance, which stipulates that any medical problems I ever had previously in my life won't be covered by that insurance, and so I am not allowed to seek further care for them, at least not at my insurance company's expense. That seems fair; otherwise my insurance company might be cheated by me knowing I needed healthcare for something in advance.

And if I didn't know about an existing condition I had, but I could have known about it, had someone discovered it, I suppose it doesn't make much sense for my insurance to cover that either.

But let us assume that all hurdles have been cleared and I am allowed to see my doctor, chosen from a list of available doctors, about a health problem, except health problems I have previously been treated for. After that, I believe my healthcare decisions should be between myself, my insurance company, my insurance plan, my employer, and my doctor.

Oh -- and the doctors at the insurance company, of course.

They will never actually meet me, or even speak to me on the phone, and in fact I couldn't tell you the name of a single one of them, or what state they were in, or whether or not they've just all been outsourced to a computer program somewhere in Asia at this point -- but they're in charge of determining which treatments might be "effective" for me, and which will be a waste of money, er, time. They do this by looking not at my case, which is individualistic and piffling and minor, but at the statistical panoply of treatments on the insurance company spreadsheet and their statistical cost vs. effectiveness. My doctor may think one treatment or another might be effective for me in a particular instance -- but he may be a little too closely involved with my personal case, and unable to make these decisions nearly as well as my less involved, more dispassionate insurance company can.

And then there's the claims office. When my doctor sends a bill to my insurance company, it must travel through a phalanx of people and departments and procedures in order to determine whether or not it is, in fact, a valid medical complaint to be treated for, done the right way, at the right time, by a doctor on the right list. If the paperwork is not done on time, or not done completely, or not done to the satisfaction of the right people, or if I did not receive the proper prior approval for the medical treatment administered, or if that approval expired, or if the insurance company rescinded the approval months after the fact, my medical care will not be covered. While my doctor has had to sometimes forgo payments because the 30-day window for receiving "all requested documentation" somehow slipped by, I myself have received notes from the insurance company denying coverage for treatments from twelve full months beforehand. It can't be helped: sometimes it takes twelve months for their computers to process the paperwork and determine that I owe them more money. They like to be thorough.

So that's getting a bit more complete. I believe my healthcare decisions should be between me, my insurance company plan, my statement of preexisting conditions, the claims adjusters at my insurance company, my insurance company's doctors, my employer, and myself.

And the separate claims review team that will be looking over my treatment.

My health insurer might have flagged me as someone who needs a lot of healthcare, and who is therefore costing the company money. Needing to use the insurance you paid for is naturally a suspicious activity: that means that a special review team will look over my paperwork, seeing if there is any vaguely plausible reason for the company to be rid of me. They will look for loopholes in my application, irregularities in the paperwork my doctor filled out or any other situations which, like magic, mean that all the money I have paid for health insurance premiums was in fact irrelevant, null and void, and they don't have to pay a single cent of claims because I defrauded them by neglecting to remember that I had chicken pox in sixth grade, not fifth, or that what I presumed was a bad cold in 1997 was in fact maybe-possibly-bronchitis, and I can't possibly expect to be covered for any lung-related complaints since then. I suppose I cannot complain too much; after all, this is a crack squadron of employees whose pay is determined by how much they can reduce the healthcare costs incurred by the company. It would be irresponsible for them to not look for such loopholes.

And then there is the board of directors at the insurance company, of course. My personal healthcare is irrelevant, when considered in the abstract; a health insurance company exists to make a profit, and the pay of every executive in the company and every board member is dependent on squeezing out the maximal amount of profits from every dollar.

This is where "experimental" and/or "preventative" treatments come in. New-fangled treatments, things that have only been around for a decade or two, are usually the most expensive. For example, when I complained of chest pains I could have had an CT scan to determine the state of the arteries around my heart, and it would have shown exactly where the problems, if any, lie. This is what the specialist recommended -- but using a CT scan in this way is considered "preventative" treatment, not "diagnostic" treatment, so it is not covered, and I am not allowed to have one. Instead, less accurate tests were used to get a "feel" for what the arteries might look like; these tests are covered. Problem solved; as it turned out, my chest pains were probably a preexisting condition, most likely caused by me having bones. And if it's not, I suppose we'll find out in another ten years or so, when no doubt I am covered by another insurance company and not this one.

These may seem like arbitrary determinations, but they are not. They are based on a rigorous study of how well the treatment works, how much it costs, and how likely it is that the company will have its corporate ass sued off if they do not provide it. This is weighed against the desired profit announcements for the insurance company during that quarter in order to determine how much care must be denied to customers, in aggregate, in order to meet the appropriate financial goals.

Let us not forget the obligations to the stockholders, after all. Of every dollar paid in premiums, currently eighty cents it paid back out for actual medical claims; the rest is administration and profit-taking. Fifteen years ago the number was 95 cents: in other words, the insurance companies themselves have gone from taking five cents of every healthcare dollar to taking twenty cents of every dollar, all since the Clinton presidency.

The stockholders require healthy profits. The executives require personal profits for providing those profits. And since people for some reason aren't getting any healthier, those profits can only come from one place -- reducing what the company pays out when people do become sick.

I recently heard a radio interview with a health insurance company whistleblower; he was describing his trips on the company jet. Gourmet meals were served on china, and the forks were gold plated.

I was pondering this, while looking over the letter from my insurance company informing me that they were switching the coverage of my most expensive monthly medication -- those expensive allergy/asthma shots now count as a "procedure", not as "medicine", and so therefore those vials are not covered by my pharmaceutical plan anymore. It must be very difficult to balance all the tasks of an insurance company CEO. If the corporate jet has inferior place settings, imagine the corporate shame. If a new medication or treatment is no longer considered "experimental", or a treatment classified as actually useful, as opposed to "preventative" nonsense, consider how many millions of dollars the company would have to pay out to give people that treatment. It seems reasonable indeed for the president of my insurance company to have personally pocketed a few hundreds of millions here or there -- I cannot imagine the stress of keeping up with proper utensil etiquette during a time when those you insure are doing you the constant insult of actually getting sick.

So, Mr. President, I write to you with this demand: we are not a socialist country, one which believes the health of its citizens should come without the proper profit-loss determinations. I believe that my healthcare decisions should be between me, my insurance company plan, my insurance company's list of approved doctors I am allowed to see and treatments I am allowed to get, my insurance company's claims department, the insurance company doctors who have never met me, spoken to me or even personally looked at my files, my own preexisting conditions, my insurance company's crack cost-review and retroactive cancellation and denial squads, my insurance company's executives and board of directors, my insurance company's profit requirements, the shareholders, my employer, and my doctor.

Anything else would be insulting.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Overconfidence Among Teenage Students Can Stunt Crucial Reading Skills

ScienceDaily (July 30, 2009) — Too much confidence among teenage students can be harmful. In a study that reinforces the danger of indiscriminately bolstering a child's self esteem -- whether the child earns that distinction or not -- the results show a clear connection between overconfident students and low reading comprehension, and suggest recommendations for parents and teachers.

"While some self-confidence is helpful, overconfident 15-year-olds are often below-average readers in all 34 countries we studied," says Ming Ming Chiu, the lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Learning and Instruction in the University at Buffalo's Graduate School of Education. "In contrast, under-confident 15-year-olds are more likely to be above-average readers in all 34 countries."

The difference lies in a student's ability to accurately assess and evaluate his or her own reading level, according to Chiu. Those who can accurately gauge their strengths and weaknesses are usually in a better position to identify realistic goals and achieve them.

"If an overconfident student chooses a book that is too hard -- such as 'The Lord of the Rings' rather than 'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone' -- he or she might stop reading after a few pages and let it sit on a bookshelf," says Chiu. "In contrast, a more self-aware student is more likely to finish an easier book and continue reading more books."
In their study, Chiu and Klassen also found interesting cultural differences relevant to student achievement; countries that stressed individualism, such as the U.S. and Switzerland, tended to produce students whose overconfidence worked against their ability to assess their strengths and weaknesses accurately. In contrast, so-called collectivist countries that favored group interests (e.g., South Korea and Japan) had greater reading comprehension.

"As students in more collectivistic countries were more aware of peers' reading skills," says Chiu, "they assessed their own reading ability more accurately and were less likely to be overconfident."

Reading has long been considered essential to student learning. "Strong reading skills open doors to learning -- whether through books, Web pages or other media," says Chiu. The two researchers recommend parents and teachers help their children and students become suitably confident and strong readers by doing the following:

ƒÞ Cultivate the Idea of the Self-test. Have students ask themselves, "How can I apply the ideas I'e learned in today' class to my daily life?"This self-test gives students feedback on how well they understand the ideas and thereby helps develop a suitable level of self-confidence.

ƒÞ Review Past Performance. Reflecting on past performance on homework, tests and writing assignments anchors their confidence to a suitable level and prevents overconfidence.

ƒÞ Peer Evaluation. Using classmates as a ruler to evaluate one's own strengths and weaknesses can reduce overconfidence (for example by asking, "Do I understand the books as well as my classmates?").

ƒÞ Identify Achievable Goals. Encourage children to choose goals that they can successfully accomplish. Healthy confidence and self-assessment can help children set more realistic and achievable goals to ignite a virtuous cycle of high motivation and high achievement.

Moon landing tapes got erased, NASA admits

Mon Jul 20, 2009 6:15pm ED
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The original recordings of the first humans landing on the moon 40 years ago were erased and re-used, but newly restored copies of the original broadcast look even better, NASA officials said on Thursday.

NASA released the first glimpses of a complete digital make-over of the original landing footage that clarifies the blurry and grainy images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the surface of the moon.

The full set of recordings, being cleaned up by Burbank, California-based Lowry Digital, will be released in September. The preview is available at

NASA admitted in 2006 that no one could find the original video recordings of the July 20, 1969, landing.

Since then, Richard Nafzger, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who oversaw television processing at the ground-tracking sites during the Apollo 11 mission, has been looking for them.

The good news is he found where they went. The bad news is they were part of a batch of 200,000 tapes that were degaussed -- magnetically erased -- and re-used to save money.

"The goal was live TV," Nafzger told a news conference.

"We should have had a historian running around saying 'I don't care if you are ever going to use them -- we are going to keep them'," he said.

They found good copies in the archives of CBS news and some recordings called kinescopes found in film vaults at Johnson Space Center.

Lowry, best known for restoring old Hollywood films, has been digitizing these along with some other bits and pieces to make a new rendering of the original landing.

Some bailed-out banks paid bonuses bigger than income;_ylt=At1C7BeHlAJKvBlwN9Po35ms0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTMyYmRnOXE5BGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMDkwNzMwL3VzX2JvbnVzZXNfY3VvbW8EY3BvcwM2BHBvcwMzBHB0A2hvbWVfY29rZQRzZWMDeW5faGVhZGxpbmVfbGlzdARzbGsDbnlhZ3NvbWUwOGJh

By Grant McCool Grant Mccool – 1 hr 22 mins ago

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bonuses paid to executives at nine banks that received U.S. government bailout money in 2008 were greater than net income at some of the banks, the office of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday.

Cuomo, in a report on months of investigation into compensation paid by the banks, said employee pay "has become unmoored from the banks' financial performance."
Since nine banks received a total of $125 billion last October in taxpayer money under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help them survive the financial crisis, Cuomo has pressed them for details on billions of dollars paid to executives amid huge losses.

The report said bonuses for Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N), Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) were "substantially greater" than the banks' net income.

Goldman earned $2.3 billion, paid out $4.8 billion in bonuses and received $10 billion in TARP funding, the report said.

Morgan Stanley earned $1.7 billion, paid $4.475 billion in bonuses and received $10 billion in TARP funding, while JP Morgan Chase earned $5.6 billion, paid $8.69 billion in bonuses and received $25 billion in TARP funding.

Cuomo said his office studied historical financial filings and found that at many banks compensation increased in the 2003-2006 bull market years, but stayed at those levels as the mortgage crisis and recession hit.

"Thus, when the banks did well, their employees were paid well. When the banks did poorly, their employees were paid well. And when the banks did very poorly, they were bailed out by taxpayers and their employees were still paid well.

"Bonuses and overall compensation did not vary significantly as profits diminished."

While Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Merrill Lynch, bought by Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), lost more than $27 billion each, Citigroup paid $5.33 billion in bonuses and Merrill paid $3.6 billion, the report said. TARP paid the two banks a combined $55 billion.

A spokesman for Bank of America said bonuses were paid to 200,000 bank employees and 30,000 Merrill legacy employees.

"The repeated explanation from bank executives that bonuses are tied to performance in a manner designed to promote (national economic) growth does not appear to be accurate," Cuomo said.

Much of Cuomo's investigation and publicity had been focused on Merrill Lynch, but Thursday's report covered all nine banks that received initial TARP money. The office has also investigated bonuses paid by giant insurer American International Group Inc (AIG.N), but it was not included here.

Wells Fargo & Co (WFC.N) paid bonuses of $977,500, while losing $42.93 billion according to the report.

It said State Street Corp's (STT.N) State Street Bank and Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK.N) "paid bonuses that were more in line with their net income, which is certainly what one would expect in a difficult year like 2008."

State Street earned $1.8 billion, paid bonuses totaling about $470 million and received $2 billion in TARP funding. Bank of New York Mellon earned $1.4 billion, paid out $945,000 and received $3 billion from TARP.

(Reporting by Grant McCool; editing by Tim Dobbyn and Andre Grenon)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hurricane Katrina: Why Some People Stayed Behind

ScienceDaily (July 3, 2009) — Hurricane Katrina was the largest natural disaster in U.S. history, claiming the lives of more than 1,800 victims and causing well over $100 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast. The 2005 storm breached every levee in New Orleans, flooding almost the entire city as well as the neighboring parishes. Yet a surprising number of people stayed behind and rode out the storm.

The general public, members of the media and government officials made instant analyses and character judgments of the people of New Orleans. But few people asked the residents themselves until recently. Stanford University psychologist Nicole Stephens and her colleagues decided to compare the views of outside observers with the perspectives of the New Orleans residents who actually rode out Katrina.

The researchers conducted two surveys, one of observers and one of survivors. Observers were asked how they perceived survivors who left and those who did not, and survivors were asked to describe their own hurricane-related experiences. The study of observers—including a large group of relief workers, firefighters, and physicians—perceived those who evacuated their homes as more self-reliant and hardworking. Those who stayed, however, were described as careless, passive, depressed and hopeless even though the observers were well aware that these residents lacked the resources to leave (money, transportation, out-of-town relatives).

When the psychologists surveyed actual Katrina survivors, they found that those who stayed behind did not feel powerless or passive. On the contrary, they saw themselves as connected with their neighbors, more communitarian than independent from others. Their stories emphasized their faith in God and their feelings of caring for others.

The psychologists also took detailed measures of all the survivors' well-being—their mood, life satisfaction, mental health, drug and alcohol use. As they report in a recent issue of Psychological Science, there were no significant differences between those who stayed in New Orleans and those who left. It seems their different "choices" did not reflect differences in well-being.

Why We Learn More From Our Successes Than Our Failures

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2009) — If you've ever felt doomed to repeat your mistakes, researchers at MIT's Picower Institute for Learning and Memory may have explained why: Brain cells may only learn from experience when we do something right and not when we fail.
"We have shown that brain cells keep track of whether recent behaviors were successful or not," Miller said. Furthermore, when a behavior was successful, cells became more finely tuned to what the animal was learning. After a failure, there was little or no change in the brain — nor was there any improvement in behavior.

College Students Who Feel 'Invincible' Unlikely To Accept STD Vaccines

I am glad the article gave the researchers definition of feeling "invulnerable to psychological harm", because it was not what I would have expected. And it makes the results more understandable.

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2009) — Vaccines to protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and herpes, are being developed and may soon be available to college students. However, limited research has been conducted to determine if students will accept the vaccines once they are available. In a new study, a University of Missouri researcher has found that students who feel invulnerable, or invincible, to physical harm are unlikely to get an HIV vaccine.

Alternately, students who feel invulnerable to psychological harm are more likely to get the vaccine.
In the study, Ravert measured two invulnerability factors: danger and psychological. Students with increased danger invulnerability, those who viewed themselves as physically invincible, were more likely to decline the vaccine. One explanation is that strong feelings of danger invulnerability may be associated with decreased threat, which can diminish protective behaviors, Ravert said.

Students who felt psychological invulnerability, those who didn't care what others thought, were more likely to accept a vaccine. Students' psychological invulnerability may protect against the possible stigma associated with getting vaccinated for HIV, or other sexually transmitted diseases, Ravert said.
In the study, the strongest predictor of vaccine acceptance was students' perceived susceptibility to contracting HIV, followed by their number of sexual partners. Students' decisions also were influenced by the cost of the vaccine.

Weight Loss Improves Mood In Depressed People

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2009) — Research to be presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior (SSIB) finds that after a 6-month behavioral weight loss program, depressed patients not only lost 8% of their initial weight but also reported significant improvements in their symptoms of depression, as well as reductions in triglycerides, which are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Darkness Linked To 'Brain Drain' In Depressed People

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2009) — A lack of sunlight is associated with reduced cognitive function among depressed people. Researchers writing in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health used weather data from NASA satellites to measure sunlight exposure across the United States and linked this information to the prevalence of cognitive impairment in depressed people.
Kent and his colleagues speculate that the physiological mechanisms that give rise to seasonal depression may also be involved in sunlight's effect on cognitive function in the context of depressive symptoms. Cognitive function was assessed by measurement of short-term recall and temporal orientation. As well as regulating the hormones serotonin and melatonin, light has been shown to also affect brain blood flow, which has in turn been linked with cognitive functions.

If Bipolar Disorder Is Over-diagnosed, What Are The Actual Diagnoses?

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2009) — A year ago, a study by Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University researchers reported that fewer than half the patients previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder received an actual diagnosis of bipolar disorder after using a comprehensive, psychiatric diagnostic interview tool --the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID). In this follow-up study, the researchers have determined the actual diagnoses of those patients.
Under the direction of lead author Mark Zimmerman, MD, director of outpatient psychiatry at Rhode Island Hospital, the researchers' findings indicate that patients who received a previous diagnosis of bipolar disorder that was not confirmed by a SCID, they were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder as well as impulse control disorders.
The results of the study also indicate that patients who had been over-diagnosed with bipolar disorder were more frequently diagnosed with major depressive disorder, antisocial personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and eating and impulse disorders.

Zimmerman and colleagues note that "we hypothesize that in patients with mood instability, physicians are inclined to diagnose a potentially medication-responsive disorder such as bipolar disorder rather than a disorder such as borderline personality disorder that is less medication-responsive."
I expect that doctors feel better when they diagnose something they can help more easily and quickly. Also, health insurance is more likely to pay for medication than for psychotherapy.

In their previously published study that concluded bipolar disorder was over-diagnosed, they studied 700 patients. Of the 700 patients, 145 reported they had been previously diagnosed as having bipolar disorder; however, fewer than half of the 145 patients (43.4 percent) were diagnosed with bipolar disorder based on the SCID. The authors state that the over-diagnosis of bipolar disorder can have serious consequences, because while bipolar disorder is treated with mood stabilizers, no medications have been approved for the treatment of borderline personality disorder. As a result, over-diagnosing bipolar disorder can unnecessarily expose patients to serious medication side effects, including possible impact to renal, endocrine, hepatic, immunologic and metabolic functions.

Zimmerman concludes, "Because evidence continues to emerge establishing the efficacy of certain forms of psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder, over-diagnosing bipolar disorder in patients with borderline personality disorder can result in the failure to recommend the most appropriate forms of treatment."

Childhood Adversities Have Predictive Role In Peptic Ulcer

ScienceDaily (July 29, 2009) — Childhood adversities have a predictive role in peptic ulcer, according to new research. The most common adversities were long-lasting financial difficulties in the family, serious conflicts in the family, and a family member seriously or chronically ill. Age- and sex-adjusted odds ratios of childhood adversities varied between 1.45 and 2.01. Adjusting for smoking, heavy drinking, stress and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use had no further influence.

Helicobacter pylori, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use and smoking are the most important risk factors for peptic ulcer. Alcohol intake may also play a role in the development of gastric ulcers. Psychological stress may also have an impact on the onset and course of ulcer disease. However, very little is known as to whether childhood adversities involving financial problems, conflicts in the family, problems with alcohol, and matters of personal security are associated with peptic ulcer.
The most common childhood adversities to emerge were long-lasting financial difficulties in the family, serious conflicts in the family and someone in the family having been seriously or chronically ill. All adversities reported were more common among peptic ulcer patients than among other respondents. Alcohol problems in the family and fear of some member of the family were also more common among peptic ulcer patients than among other respondents. With regard to parental divorce there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups.
According to the findings there is reason to believe that stress factors during childhood maintain a connection with the development of peptic ulcers. Childhood adversities are not necessarily true risk factors for peptic ulcer, but may play a predictive role in the development of the disease. A more comprehensive understanding of peptic ulcer patients is worth aspiring to.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Higher U.S. speed limit linked to 12,500 more deaths;_ylt=Anwwx53rJ1nZ48kzVEgbCWas0NUE;_ylu=X3oDMTMwbjNkaXZrBGFzc2V0A25tLzIwMDkwNzI4L3VzX3NwZWVkX2xpbWl0BGNwb3MDOQRwb3MDNgRwdANob21lX2Nva2UEc2VjA3luX2hlYWRsaW5lX2xpc3QEc2xrA2hpZ2hlcnVzc3BlZQ--

By Anne Harding Anne Harding – Tue Jul 28, 1:35 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Higher speed limits led to about 12,500 more deaths on US roads between 1995 and 2005, a new study in the American Journal of Public Health shows.

Earlier studies had suggested that any effects of an act of Congress that eliminated all federal controls on speed limits would be temporary. The findings debunk those claims, Dr. Lee S. Friedman of the University of Illinois in Chicago, one of the study's authors, told Reuters Health.

To date, Friedman and his team note in their report, most studies of the effects of speed limit changes on highway fatalities and injuries have looked at only a couple of years' worth of data, in only a few states. In their analysis, the researchers looked at traffic fatalities in every US state except Massachusetts and Hawaii over the decade after the change in Federal law.

The National Maximum Speed Law, passed in 1974, put a 55 mph speed limit on all interstate roads. The law was intended to cut fuel consumption in the wake of the 1973 oil embargo, but it also led to a 16.4% reduction in car crash mortality from 1973 to 1974, Friedman and his colleagues note in their report.

In 1987, Congress passed the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act allowing states to lift the speed limit on rural interstates to 65 mph, which 41 states did. In 1995, Congress passed the National Highway Designation Act, which wiped out all federal speed limits.

Overall, Friedman and his team found that increased speed limits led to a 3.2% jump in road deaths. On rural interstates, car crash deaths increased 9.1%, while the increase for urban interstates was 4%.

The biggest increases in deaths due to increased speed limits were seen in states that had 55 mph speed limits before 1995 and raised them to 65 afterwards.
Hardly surprising.

In states that kept the same speed limits, the number of deaths and injuries in fatal car crashes actually declined.

Overall, Friedman and his colleagues estimate that the federal law change led to 12,545 more deaths on US highways, and 36,583 more injuries in fatal crashes.

Bringing back a federal speed limit could not only save lives, Friedman noted; it could also reduce carbon emissions and dependence on foreign oil. The Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act is coming up for renewal this November, which could offer an opportunity to put a new federal speed limit in place, he said.

U.S. Pays $2.5 Trillion for Care Costing $912 Billion

By Matthew Benjamin and Brian Faler
July 28 (Bloomberg) -- The last time a president tried to overhaul U.S. health care, Americans were spending $912 billion on the system and 40 million were uninsured. Today they’re spending $2.5 trillion and almost 50 million lack coverage.

President Barack Obama’s effort to revamp the system faces resistance from lawmakers of both parties who warn that the more than $1 trillion cost of the plan will break the budget at a time when the government already faces record deficits.

“Despite what President Obama claims, the bill he is promoting today will make health care even more expensive,” House Minority Leader John Boehner said last week when the president visited Boehner’s home state of Ohio.

The experience of the 15 years since Bill Clinton failed to win passage of legislation suggests that the price of inaction may be even higher than the cost of Obama’s plan.

Congress refused to touch the issue for a decade after the collapse of Clinton’s 1994 bid. A similar outcome this year would likely add millions to the ranks of the uninsured, boost costs for businesses and workers, and do nothing about what may be the top threat to the government’s long-term fiscal health, proponents of the plan argue.

“The budgetary implications of doing nothing are continued exponential growth in health-care costs, a steadily increasing health-care share of GNP, an eventual bankruptcy of the Medicare trust fund, and health-care costs becoming a prohibitive share of the federal budget,” Lawrence Summers, head of the National Economic Council, said in an interview.

Health-insurance premiums for families have risen 119 percent since 1999, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a Menlo Park, California-based policy-research firm. Inflation has risen 28.5 percent over that period, according to the Labor Department.

Premium costs are projected to rise another 9 percent next year, an increase that 42 percent of employers plan to pass on to their workers, according to a report last month by PricewaterhouseCoopers. That’s likely to further squeeze millions of Americans who find themselves in high-deductible insurance plans as wages stagnate because of the recession.

Earnings per hour climbed by a 0.7 percent pace on average over the last three months, the Labor Department said earlier this month, the smallest gain since the agency began keeping records in 1964. Meanwhile, the share of insured workers with at least a $1,000 deductible has almost doubled since 2006 to 18 percent, according to Kaiser.

Good times of the animal kind

The article includes a slide show of animals enjoying themselves.

By John Roach, contributor

Who knows what's causing this cohort of cubicle warriors to buckle over in laughter, but few humans would disagree that a good chuckle every now and again feels good. Monkeys, dogs and fish get a kick out of life as well, says Jonathan Balcombe, a senior research scientist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington, D.C. He has written several research papers and books on animal pleasure, including "Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasures," due out next year.

Blue food dye helps heal spinal cord injuries

updated 7:39 p.m. ET, Mon., July 27, 2009

WASHINGTON - A common and safe blue food dye might provide the best treatment available so far for spinal cord injuries, U.S. researchers reported on Monday.

Tests in rats showed the dye, called brilliant blue G, a close relative of the common food dye Blue no. 1, crossed into the spinal fluid and helped block inflammation, Maiken Nedergaard of the University of Rochester Medical Center and colleagues reported.

"We have no effective treatment now for patients who have an acute spinal cord injury," Dr. Steven Goldman, who worked on the study, said in a statement.
When nerve cells in the brain or spine are damaged, they often release a spurt of chemicals that causes nearby cells to die. No one is sure why, and stopping this process is key to preventing the damage that continues to build after a stroke or spinal cord injury.
Seems like poor design to me.

Tiny ovarian tumors can lurk for years

updated 8:30 p.m. ET, Mon., July 27, 2009

WASHINGTON - Tiny ovarian tumors lurk in the Fallopian tubes for an average of four years before they grow large enough to be detected, researchers reported on Monday in a study that explains why diagnosis usually comes too late to save a woman's life.

They said they were trying to find ways to improve testing for the cancer, one of the deadliest because it is so hard to detect before it has spread.

Medicaid falls short just as some need it most

By Tom Curry and JoNel Aleccia
updated 4:33 p.m. ET, Mon., July. 27, 2009

For weeks now, 2-year-old Ashley Soto's hair has been falling out in clumps and bunches.

Doctors at the Maple City Health Care Center, a neighborhood clinic where the toddler's family receives most care, couldn’t diagnose the problem. The child needed to see a specialist, but no local dermatologist would agree to accept Medicaid, the government’s safety net plan. Instead, Antonia Mejorado, 33, has to drive nearly two hours to see a dermatologist willing to treat her daughter's potentially serious illness.

“There is not a doctor around here that takes Medicaid,” said Mejorado, whose husband, Osvaldo Soto, 33, has recently seen his hours cut to almost nothing at a local mechanic shop.

When workers get laid off and lose their health insurance, the medical insurance plan that covers some 60 million poor, elderly and disabled people, is a critical safety net. At no time is Medicaid more needed than during an economic downturn. Yet it’s also precisely during a recession that Medicaid’s shortcomings are clearest.

Medicaid, the second-largest item in most state budgets, after education, is funded jointly by the states and the federal government, with the federal government matching state dollars by as much as 76 cents to every 24 cents of state money. Wealthier states bear a bigger share of their Medicaid costs than poorer states do.

But in a recession, state revenues sink at the very time that more unemployed people sign up for Medicaid.

Over the past year, enrollment in Arizona, for example, has increased by 13 percent. It has jumped by 100,000 in the last four months alone. Medicaid enrollment in Alabama has been increasing at 5,000 per month for the last six months. In Indiana, enrollment rose by more than 17,000 between January and April, up about 9 percent from the previous year. In the stimulus bill passed last January, Congress rushed $30 billion to the states to keep Medicaid afloat, with an increase in the normal federal matching fund formula.

The Recovery Act’s additional Medicaid money accounts for nearly two-thirds of all the stimulus funds going to the states in the current fiscal year, according to the Government Accountability Office.

But even as states get their Medicaid windfall, some needy people complain that they’re not getting care under the program, because they are not eligible due to their states’ restrictive rules, or because they can’t get to see a doctor even though they are signed up for Medicaid.

About one in five physicians say they are not accepting any new Medicaid patients, largely because of low payments or delays in reimbursements, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change in Washington, D.C.
The problem is that low reimbursements and complicated, time-consuming paperwork have left many physicians wary of the program, noted Cindy Hayes, director of physician services for Elkhart General Hospital in nearby Elkhart, Ind. Some clinics in the region have stopped accepting Medicaid completely, while others have waiting lists for appointments. At Elkhart General, hospital officials have worked hard to reopen Medicaid access to pregnant women who need prenatal care, plus labor and delivery services, she said.

“We rely on reimbursements from other payers to compensate for Medicaid,” said Hayes. “We’re taking our fair share.”

Some doctors who have stopped accepting Medicaid patients say that it’s not that they don’t want to see them, it’s that they can’t afford to anymore.

Medicaid reimbursement rates can be as much as 40 percent lower than those for private insurance, according to John Holohan, the director of the Health Policy Research Center at The Urban Institute, a Washington think tank.

Michigan, for example, recently announced a 4 percent cut in payments to doctors, dentists and hospitals who treat Medicaid patients. The move prompted a new exodus of doctors who’ve decided to limit care.

"I love what I do, but I can't keep getting cuts from Medicaid," Dr. John Pfenninger, a family physician in Midland, Mich., told the Associated Press. "It's time to say no.

Under current law, Medicaid eligibility varies from one state to another. In several states, eligibility is set at less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $22,050 for a family of four. Poor children are eligible for Medicaid; their parents often aren’t. And childless adults are usually ineligible.

Dwindling revenues have led more than a dozen states to cut payments to doctors and hospitals or to propose cutting eligibility or benefits. Only the injection of the stimulus money has kept the states from cutting even deeper.

But the states face a “cliff” when the Medicaid stimulus money ends on Dec. 31, 2010 – and state revenues may not have resumed growing by that time.

“You are now seeing in some states the loss of 40 percent of their tax revenue, and if we don’t see start to see an upturn pretty quickly, then you very well could see a devastating impact on Medicaid programs next year,” said Alabama Medicaid Commissioner Carol Steckel, who serves as the chair of the National Association of State Medicaid Directors.

Without a dramatic improvement in economic growth in the next 12 months, Steckel said, “You’re going to have the perfect storm of the loss of the stimulus money and an economy that hasn’t made its way out of the basement yet.”

One of that things that most worries state Medicaid directors, says Steckel, is the time lag between the unemployment rate and increase in Medicaid enrollment.

“For unemployed adults, it generally takes them about three to six months to work their way through COBRA (the law that allows unemployed people to temporarily take part in their ex-employer’s health plan) and unemployment insurance. And then they start popping up on our rolls. Then it takes another six to 18 months for them to get re-employed and to fall off our rolls after they get a job where they are getting employment-based insurance.”

Even though it has gotten relatively little attention, fixing Medicaid is at the heart of the health insurance bills that Congress is debating.

After all, whatever else “health care reform” might mean, insuring the uninsured has been the reformers’ perennial demand. And since most of the uninsured are low-income people, expanding Medicaid is the most efficient way to help the uninsured.

Congress seems likely to expand Medicaid eligibility nationwide, perhaps up to 150 percent of the federal poverty line, or $33,075, for a family of four.

Cancer in the Wild

By Daniel Heimpel | Newsweek Web Exclusive
Jul 27, 2009

In 1999, wildlife disease specialist Thierry Work looked over the bow of his small whaler as it cut through a lagoon on the south side of Molokai, an island in Hawaii. On an emergent rock he saw a listless sea turtle, waiting to die.

"This guy was so weak that he just let us pick him up," says Work, who runs the National Wildlife Health Center’sHonolulu field station. "He was so emaciated that his ventral was completely disked in. You could fill him up with water and use him as a bowl." Like more than quarter of the green turtles Work has plucked from the water or found stranded on Hawaii's beaches, this one was covered with tumors on its eyes and mouth, dying from a poorly understood form of cancer.

Work's turtle is one of a wide array of species afflicted by a range of cancers, according to a paper published in the July edition of Nature Reviews Cancer. "Wildlife Cancer: a conservation perspective," summarizes mounting evidence of human's contribution to carcinogenesis in wild-animal populations across the globe, thanks to man-made toxins dumped into wildlife's natural habitats.

"I am concerned that we as humans continue to impact the environment quite significantly," says Denise McAloose, the report's lead author and chief pathologist for the Wildlife Conservations Society's (WCS) Global Health Program. "As the human population continues to grow and utilize resources and damage the environment, I do believe that we will continue to see the emergence of disease, including cancer in wildlife."

On San Francisco's touristy Pier 39, the incessant barking of male sea lions and their harems of smaller females fills the air. Periodically Frances Gulland, the director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in neighboring Sausalito, receives calls from the pier reporting a sea lion crippled by tumors. Despite huge swelling on and around their hind flippers and anus, Gulland says the animals "mask their pain" in a last ditch effort to elude opportunistic predators. "You see that they have been struggling and struggling."

According to Gulland, 17 percent of the sea lions brought to the center die of renal failure or paralysis, caused when tumors linked to Otarine herpesvirus-1 travel up the genital tact and push against the kidney and spine. According to the Nature Reviews Cancer article, sea lions that died of genital carcinoma had an 85 percent higher concentration of toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in their system than other sea lions. (PCBs are toxic compounds used in coolants and electrical transformers.) Gulland points out that blubber samples of sea lions who died of cancer also show high concentrations of the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), in part because many are born near the Channel Islands where 1,700 tons of the toxin were dumped prior to its ban in 1972.

"The more we contaminate the environment, the more we will see problems," Gulland says. "If you dump a pollutant, it doesn't just go away."

In the icy waters of Canada's St. Lawrence Estuary, where researchers have been studying the local population of Beluga whales for decades, the connection between contamination and cancer is stark. The Saguenay River, which flows into the St. Lawrence Estuary, is lined with the smoking stacks of aluminum smelters, heavy producers of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are toxic compounds formed by the incomplete burning of anything carbon based, and are long-proven carcinogens in both man and beast. Not surprisingly, the humans working the smelters along the river have shown high rates of lung cancer, while those in the vicinity who drank from taps supplied with surface water developed stomach and intestinal cancer.

Out in the estuary, researchers note a similar trend among the dead Belugas found beached or drifting out to sea. Research published in a 2002 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives found that the second leading cause of death (in 18 percent of the Beluga carcasses) was cancer, largely of the gut. That fits with the animal's feeding patterns. Belugas run their wide mouths along the sandy estuary floor, eating invertebrates like the blue mussel. The concentration of the PAH benzo[a]pyrene was 200 times higher in blue mussels in the Sanguenay River portion of the Beluga habitat than in adjacent areas.

The Belugas of Quebec are considered an endangered species, brought down by environmental pollution. The devils of Tasmania are similarly at risk, but for much different reasons.
The good news for animals suffering from pollution-induced cancer is that when contaminants are taken out of the environment, some species have shown marked drops in carcinogenesis. For example, catfish living in Ohio's Black River had cancer rates ranging from 22 percent to 39 percent in the early 1980s. The disease killed virtually all fish before they reached five years of age. After a steel plant's coking facility closed in 1983, PAH levels dropped significantly; cancer rates dropped 75 percent and the amount of fish living past five years has tripled.

Monday, July 27, 2009

When is health care = "medical loss" ?

Beezer says...

Any organization that considers providing medical care a "loss" is not worthy of being anywhere near medical care delivery.

The health insurance industry calls the amount of money spent on actual care the "medical loss ratio."

The entire corporate effort is one aimed at reducing this "loss ratio." In 1990, the loss ratio was often 90% of total revenue. It's now more often below 80%.

The less medical care delivered the lower the "loss ratio" the greater the profits for the corporation.

If one doesn't undersand how vile that formulation is then one is hopelessly confused, or being paid to look the other way.

Posted by: Beezer | Link to comment | Jul 27, 2009 at 05:52 AM

Parasitic Worms Make Sex Worthwhile

The utility of sex in defending against parasites has a variety of evidence. But every time I read of a study like this, what I wonder is why there aren't more hermaphroditic species, with each individual being both male and female, instead of having separate genders. Many, I think most, plants, are hermaphrodites. Earthworms are hermaphrodites. Some fish change genders over their lifetimes. Some reptiles develop into male or female depending on the temperature during the incubation of their eggs. It would seem that hermaphrodism would have the benefits of both increased fertility and genetic variety.

ScienceDaily (July 27, 2009) — The coevolutionary struggle between a New Zealand snail and its worm parasite makes sex advantageous for the snail, whose females favor asexual reproduction in the absence of parasites, say Indiana University Bloomington and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology biologists in this week's Current Biology.
"Asexual females can have a very large reproductive advantage, as all the individuals in the clone can directly produce offspring," said IU evolutionary biologist and coauthor Curt Lively, who has been working on the system for 25 years. "So evolutionary biologists have long wondered why clonal reproduction does not replace sexual reproduction in natural populations. Our studies suggest that interactions with parasites might be part of the answer, because genetically variable sexual individuals might be more likely to escape infection."

Personal Values Color Understanding Of Sentences Within Milliseconds

Not very surprising. But worth studying because sometimes there are surprises.

ScienceDaily (July 28, 2009) — Moral-ethical and political beliefs colour the way people read opinion questions. This ‘colouring’ process takes place well before people become aware of their answers to such questions. This phenomenon was recently discovered through brain measurements conducted by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht. The results of their research will be published in the scientific journal Psychological Science (available online July 27).

Hubble Captures Rare Jupiter Collision

This reminds me of the late, great scientist Carl Sagan. When a project to develop defenses against a large asteroid or comet hitting the earth, he was originally opposed, considering it a waste of money, because of the small probability this would happen at any one time. I disagreed with him. We can depend that it will happen eventually. It might not be for 100,000, but it might be next year. We can't wait until we see one approaching to develop the technology. After comet Shoemaker Levy 9 hit Jupiter, and caused a very large crater and atmospheric disturbance, he switched to supporting such research. That is the mark of a scientific thinker, the ability to change one's opinion when there is sufficient evidence.

ScienceDaily (July 25, 2009) — The checkout and calibration of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been interrupted to aim the recently refurbished observatory at a new expanding spot on the giant planet Jupiter. The spot, caused by the impact of a comet or an asteroid, is changing from day to day in the planet’s cloud tops.
Discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley on Sunday, July 19, the spot was created when a small object plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere and disintegrated. The only other time in history such a feature has been seen on Jupiter was 15 years ago.

"This is strikingly similar to the comet Shoemaker Levy 9 that impacted Jupiter in July 1994", said team member Keith Noll of the Space Telescope Science Institute.
Simon-Miller estimated that the diameter of the object that slammed into Jupiter was at least twice the size of several football fields. The force of the explosion on Jupiter was thousands of times more powerful than the suspected comet or asteroid that exploded over the Tunguska River Valley in Siberia in June 1908.

Global Ocean Surface Temperature Warmest On Record For June

ScienceDaily (July 27, 2009) — The world’s ocean surface temperature was the warmest on record for June, breaking the previous high mark set in 2005, according to a preliminary analysis by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Additionally, the combined average global land and ocean surface temperature for June was second-warmest on record. The global records began in 1880.

Global Climate Statistics

* The combined global land and ocean surface temperature for June 2009 was the second warmest on record, behind 2005, 1.12 degrees F (0.62 degree C) above the 20th century average of 59.9 degrees F (15.5 degrees C).
* Separately, the global ocean surface temperature for June 2009 was the warmest on record, 1.06 degrees F (0.59 degree C) above the 20th century average of 61.5 degrees F (16.4 degrees C).
* Each hemisphere broke its June record for warmest ocean surface temperature. In the Northern Hemisphere, the warm anomaly of 1.17 degrees F (0.65 degree C) surpassed the previous record of 1.12 degrees F (0.62 degree C), set in 2005. The Southern Hemisphere’s increase of 0.99 degree F (0.55 degree C) exceeded the old record of 0.92 degree F (0.51 degree C), set in 1998.
* The global land surface temperature for June 2009 was 1.26 degrees F (0.70 degree C) above the 20th century average of 55.9 degrees F (13.3 degrees C), and ranked as the sixth-warmest June on record.

Notable Developments and Events

* El Niño is back after six straight months of increased sea-surface temperature anomalies. June sea surface temperatures in the region were more than 0.9 degree F (0.5 degree C) above average.
* Terrestrial warmth was most notable in Africa. Considerable warmth also occurred in Siberia and in the lands around the Black and Mediterranean Seas. Cooler-than-average land locations included the U.S. Northern Plains, the Canadian Prairie Provinces, and central Asia.
* Arctic sea ice covered an average of 4.4 million square miles (11.5 million square kilometers) during June, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. This is 5.6 percent below the 1979-2000 average extent. By contrast, the 2007 record for the least Arctic sea ice extent was 5.5 percent below average. Antarctic sea ice extent in June was 3.9 percent above the 1979-2000 average.
* Heavy rain fell over central Europe, triggering mudslides and floods. Thirteen fatalities were reported. According to reports, this was central Europe's worst natural disaster since the 2002 floods that claimed 17 lives and caused nearly $3 billion in damages.

Urban Panning: The 10 Meanest Cities In America?

July 15, 2009
by Linton Weeks

To some people, the Land of the Free doesn't always seem so free. And America the Beautiful doesn't look so pretty.

That's the viewpoint of two Washington-based groups — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and the National Coalition for the Homeless — that have targeted the country's mingiest municipalities.

Without further ado, the groups' Top 10 Meanest U.S. Cities are:

1. Los Angeles
2. St. Petersburg, Fla.
3. Orlando, Fla.
4. Atlanta
5. Gainesville, Fla.
6. Kalamazoo, Mich.
7. San Francisco
8. Honolulu
9. Bradenton, Fla.
10. Berkeley, Calif.

The list is part of the organizations' "Homes Not Handcuffs" report. Released on Monday, the survey shows "an increase in the trend in cities around the country to criminalize homelessness," says NLCHP Executive Director Maria Foscarinis. Her group has been monitoring the issue since the early '90s.

The report, covering 224 cities, is an updated version of a 2006 study. In the past three years, according to the groups' findings, there has been a rise in laws that directly affect homeless people — including an 11 percent increase in anti-loitering laws and a 7 percent rise in regulations that ban camping in certain public spaces.
The meanest cities, Foscarinis says, are cracking down on people for "living in public places and for begging and eating and for seeking assistance in public places. Some cities are also punishing organizations and some people who are trying to help by offering food to poor people in public places."

In other words: Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Just make sure they don't huddle and mass in public places.

Bank of America, bailout in hand, continues lobbying efforts

Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2009
By Barbara Barrett | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — As Bank of America faces intensifying congressional oversight during the nation's worst economy since the Great Depression, the company has spent more than $1.5 million lobbying on Capitol Hill.

Bank of America. the recipient of $45 billion in taxpayer bailout money from the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program, has worked to sway lawmakers on more than two dozen pieces of legislation in both the House and Senate.

The Charlotte, N.C., company wants flexibility on spending the bailout funds and also wants to fend off restrictions on executive compensation, home mortgage lending and credit card fees.

The bank also is lobbying on a consumer rights bill, on student lending issues, on a bill that would've allowed bankruptcy judges to alter mortgages and on a proposed federal regulatory oversight agency.

Bank of America's lobbying spending since January pales next to the $2.3 million it spent in the first half of 2008.

"We're cutting expenses across the company, including lobbying expenses," said Bank of America spokeswoman Shirley Norton.

It hasn't said when it plans to pay the TARP money back, though Chief Executive Ken Lewis told analysts last week that he hopes it would be "sooner rather than later."

The company spent $800,000 on lobbying from April to June, according to its own records filed with the U.S. Senate. That's up from $660,000 in the first three months of the year.

Norton said that number increased because the company did more internal analysis of the various issues in Washington.

According to Senate records, outside lobbying firms hired by Bank of America spent $60,000 in the second quarter, down from $90,000 in the first three months.

Critics say that until the bank and other financial institutions repay taxpayers' money from TARP funds, they should steer clear of spending money to spread influence.

"They should not be allowed to lobby," said Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy group that accepts neither public nor corporate dollars.

"As long as they hold on to a very substantial portion of public funds, and are publicly owned essentially, they should not be using any of their funds for lobbying purposes or campaign contributions," Holman said. "And you'll find Bank of America is doing both."

The bank and its employees have given $127,000 in campaign contributions in the first half of this year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington group that tracks political spending.

Other financial institutions receiving TARP funds also are lobbying federal lawmakers. Among them, Citigroup spent $3 million so far this year, and Goldman Sachs spent $1.3 million.

Norton, the spokeswoman, said the bank's accountants keep taxpayer funding separate from the private dollars it uses on lobbying expenses.

"We don't use TARP funds," Norton said. "We're very sensitive to the issue of using government funds."
If they didn't have the TARP money, they would have to use other money for what they are using the TARP money for, and they would have less for lobbying and big bonuses.

Bank of America and Lewis have come under repeated fire from Washington recently.

Senators questioned Lewis about executive compensation and whether he is doing enough to get loans out the door at Bank of America.

This spring, a House oversight panel began investigating the bank's $50 billion purchase of Merrill Lynch, which closed last winter, probing whether Lewis was wrongly threatened over the pending deal or whether he improperly withheld information from shareholders.

Last week, Bank of America reported second-quarter profits of $2.4 billion — its second straight profitable quarter — despite ongoing losses from failed loans.

America's poor are its most generous givers

Posted on Tuesday, May 19, 2009
By Frank Greve | McClatchy Newspapers

WASHINGTON — When Jody Richards saw a homeless man begging outside a downtown McDonald's recently, he bought the man a cheeseburger. There's nothing unusual about that, except that Richards is homeless, too, and the 99-cent cheeseburger was an outsized chunk of the $9.50 he'd earned that day from panhandling.

The generosity of poor people isn't so much rare as rarely noticed, however. In fact, America's poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show. What's more, their generosity declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does.

"The lowest-income fifth (of the population) always give at more than their capacity," said Virginia Hodgkinson, former vice president for research at Independent Sector, a Washington-based association of major nonprofit agencies. "The next two-fifths give at capacity, and those above that are capable of giving two or three times more than they give."

Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest survey of consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America's households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent.

The figures probably undercount remittances by legal and illegal immigrants to family and friends back home, a multibillion-dollar outlay to which the poor contribute disproportionally.

None of the middle fifths of America's households, in contrast, gave away as much as 3 percent of their incomes.

"As a rule, people who have money don't know people in need," saId Tanya Davis, 40, a laid-off security guard and single mother.

Certainly, better-off people aren't hit up by friends and kin as often as Davis said she was, having earned a reputation for generosity while she was working.

Now getting by on $110 a week in unemployment insurance and $314 a month in welfare, Davis still fields two or three appeals a week, she said, and lays out $5 or $10 weekly.

To explain her giving, Davis offered the two reasons most commonly heard in three days of conversations with low-income donors:

"I believe that the more I give, the more I receive, and that God loves a cheerful giver," Davis said. "Plus I've been in their position, and someday I might be again."

Herbert Smith, 31, a Seventh-day Adventist who said he tithed his $1,010 monthly disability check — giving away 10 percent of it — thought that poor people give more because, in some ways, they worry less about their money.

"We're not scared of poverty the way rich people are," he said. "We know how to get the lights back on when we can't pay the electric bill."

In terms of income, the poorest fifth seem unlikely benefactors. Their pretax household incomes averaged $10,531 in 2007, according to the BLS survey, compared with $158,388 for the top fifth.

In addition, its members are the least educated fifth of the U.S. population, the oldest, the most religious and the likeliest to rent their homes, according to demographers. They're also the most likely fifth to be on welfare, to drive used cars or rely on public transportation, to be students, minorities, women and recent immigrants.

However, many of these characteristics predict generosity. Women are more generous than men, studies have shown. Older people give more than younger donors with equal incomes. The working poor, disproportionate numbers of which are recent immigrants, are America's most generous group, according to Arthur Brooks, the author of the book "Who Really Cares," an analysis of U.S. generosity.

Faith probably matters most, Brooks — who's the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative Washington policy-research organization — said in an interview. That's partly because above-average numbers of poor people go to church, and church attenders give more money than non-attenders to secular and religious charities, Brooks found.

Moreover, disproportionate numbers of poor people belong to congregations that tithe.

Less-religious givers such as Emel Sweeney, 73, a retired bookkeeper, say that giving lights up their lives.

"Have you ever looked into the face of someone you're being generous to?" Sweeney asked with the trace of a Jamaican lilt.

That brought to mind her encounter with a young woman who was struggling to manage four small, tired children on a bus.

They staggered and straggled at a transfer stop, along with Sweeney, who urged the mother to take a nearby cab the rest of the way. When the mother said she had no money, Sweeney gave her $20, she said. The mother, as she piled her brood into the cab, waved and mouthed a thank-you.

"Those words just rested in my chest," Sweeney said, "and as I rode home I was so happy."

Pastor Coletta Jones, who ministers to a largely low-income tithing congregation in southeast Washington, The Rock Christian Church, thinks that poor people give more because they ask for less for themselves.

"When you have just a little, you're thankful for what you have," Jones said, "but with every step you take up the ladder of success, the money clouds your mind and gets you into a state of never being satisfied."

Brooks offered this statistic as supportive evidence: Fifty-eight percent of noncontributors with above-median incomes say they don't have enough money to give any away.

What makes poor people's generosity even more impressive is that their giving generally isn't tax-deductible, because they don't earn enough to justify itemizing their charitable tax deductions. In effect, giving a dollar to charity costs poor people a dollar while it costs deduction itemizers 65 cents.

In addition, measures of generosity typically exclude informal giving, such as that of Davis' late mother, Helen Coleman. Coleman, a Baltimore hotel housekeeper, provided child care, beds and meals for many of her eight children and 32 grandchildren, Davis said.

Federal surveys don't ask about remittances specifically, so it's hard to know how much the poorest fifth sends back home. Remittances from U.S. immigrants totaled more than $100 billion in 2007, according to Manuel Orozco, a senior researcher at Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington policy institute, who specializes in remittances.

By comparison, individual giving to tax-deductible U.S. charities totaled about $220 billion in 2007.

Much of the money remitted comes from struggling U.S. immigrants such as Zenaida Araviza, 42, a Macy's cosmetics clerk and single mother in suburban Arlington, Va.

Araviza, who earns $1,300 a month, goes carless, cable-less and cell phone-less in order to send an aunt in the Philippines $200 a month to care for Araviza's mother, who has Alzheimer's.

"What can I do?" asked Araviza, an attractive, somber woman. "It's my responsibility."

Carmen De Jesus, the chief financial officer and treasurer of Forex Inc., a remittance agency based in Springfield, Va., said low-income Filipino-Americans such as Araviza were her most generous customers.

"The domestic helpers send very, very frequently," she said. "The doctors, less so."

Why are they so generous? Christie Zerrudo, a cashier who handles Filipino remittances at Manila Oriental, a grocery/restaurant/remittance agency in Arlington, offered this explanation:

"It gives the heart comfort when you sit down at the end of the day, and you know that you did your part," Zerrudo said. "You took care of your family. If you eat here, they eat there, too. It would give you stress if they couldn't. But you love them, they are your family, and your love has had an expression."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sacramento's Tent Cities Still Bloom In Secret

What kind of country makes it illegal to be poor? Some people in this country say the poorest people here have it better than the poor in some countries, where they live in shacks. But in those countries, the poor have a place to live, even if it's a shack. They don't get put in jail for being homeless, or for begging. But then, we're a Christian nation, right?

by Ben Adler
Weekend Edition Sunday, July 26, 2009 · Three months ago the mayor of Sacramento shut down a massive tent city that had grown on the outskirts of the California capital. Now there are some people placed in long-term housing, but no short-term solutions beyond overcrowded shelters. Meanwhile, tent cities still exist, hidden away from authorities. Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio has the story.

Moms who were spanked more apt to spank their kids

Mon Jul 20, 2009 5:59pm EDT

By Megan Rauscher

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Moms who suffered physical abuse or other violent experiences in childhood are much more likely to spank their infants than moms who did not suffer these adverse childhood experiences, results of a new study indicate.

This study provides more evidence that a mother's past experiences in her own childhood have a "huge impact on how she approaches her own children," Dr. Esther K. Chung from Jefferson Pediatrics/duPont Children's Health Program in Philadelphia told Reuters Health.

Among a group of 1265 mostly black, single, low-income mothers of infants up to 11 months old, Chung and colleagues discovered that 19% said they "valued" corporal punishment as a means of discipline and 14% reported spanking their infants.

"We were pretty surprised, actually, to find the high prevalence of infant spanking because, on average, the children were about 9 months old and to think that children that young are being hit is disturbing," Chung said.

The findings are reported in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.

"What's hopeful," Chung noted, "is that not all the mothers who were exposed to this kind of adversity end up using infant spanking."

On the other hand, it is "striking," she and colleagues say, that even among mothers who were not physically abused in childhood, 1 in 10 reported spanking their infants.

They are concerned that parents may be unaware of the harm that can come from infant spanking, such as increased risk of behavior problems, low self-esteem, depression, drug abuse and physical abuse of their own children.

"Experts agree," Chung told Reuters Health, "that there are no benefits to infant spanking and there actually are harmful effects."

She encourages healthcare providers to ask pregnant women or new parents about their childhood experiences and their attitudes about spanking. "As healthcare professionals, we ask about the pregnancy and we often ask about the family structure but we probably don't do enough discussion about the mother's past," Chung said.

Microsoft reports drop in profit, revenue

Microsoft has outsourced many jobs to other countries which have very low pay levels. Another case of business people not understanding that such actions hurt themselves, because it decreases the number of people who can afford to buy their products. Henry Ford figured this out for himself in the early 1900's, but the power elite today is too dumb to understand it. A result of pre-natal exposure to pollution?

pdated 7:52 p.m. ET, Thurs., July 23, 2009

Microsoft Corp. said Thursday its profit in the last quarter plunged 29 percent because of weak computer sales, ending a fiscal year in which the software maker’s revenue fell for the first time since the company went public in 1986.

Microsoft’s revenue in the quarter was well short of analysts’ expectations, and its shares plummeted $2, or 7.8 percent, to $23.56 in after-hours trading. Before the earnings report the stock had gained 3.1 percent to close at $25.56.

The results reflected how Microsoft’s fortunes are tied to the PC industry, which is expected to sell fewer computers this year than last — the first such decline since 2001. Many buyers are holding on to their existing machines for longer than normal, partly to save money in the recession and partly because Microsoft is releasing a new operating system Oct. 22. Among consumers, the hottest segment of the PC market is in low-cost “netbooks,” which run Windows XP — a lower-profit product for Microsoft.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

China dust cloud circled globe in 13 days

Mon Jul 20, 2009 1:09pm EDT
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Dust clouds generated by a huge dust storm in China's Taklimakan desert in 2007 made more than one full circle around the globe in just 13 days, a Japanese study using a NASA satellite has found.

When the cloud reached the Pacific Ocean the second time, it descended and deposited some of its dust into the sea, showing how a natural phenomenon can impact the environment far away.

"Asian dust is usually deposited near the Yellow Sea, around the Japan area, while Sahara dust ends up around the Atlantic Ocean and coast of Africa," said Itsushi Uno of Kyushu University's Research Institute for Applied Mechanics.

"But this study shows that China dust can be deposited into the (Pacific Ocean)," he told Reuters by telephone. "Dust clouds contain 5 percent iron, that is important for the ocean."


The dust cloud measured about 3 km (1.9 miles) vertically and up to 2,000 km horizontally and it stayed that way even after one full trip around the globe.

"The reason why the cloud structure was very well maintained was because the dust was uplifted ... where the atmosphere is very stable," Uno said.

Waning Pacific Clouds Suggest Global Warming Feeds Upon Itself

This will probably not come as a surprise to climate scientists, since past models of the effects of the increasing CO2 we are producing have mostly underestimated how much warming actually occured. There are various feedback mechanisms such as this, and almost all of the ones that have been occurred have been positive feedback loops such as this.

By Jeremy van Loon
July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Fewer clouds dot the Pacific skies than a half-century ago, allowing the sun beat to down on the sea and raise temperatures, according to scientists who say the discovery means our planet may heat up more than forecast.

A self-perpetuating cycle, triggered by global warming, has appeared in weather data gathered from 1952 to 2007 over a 3 million-square-kilometer (740,000 square-mile) expanse of ocean off Mexico, Amy Clement of the University of Miami and colleagues wrote in this week’s edition of Science.

Clouds, like forest fires and Arctic permafrost, are studied for their potential to amplify warming. There is still enough mystery in how they function that scientists have said it’s difficult to produce a consensus forecast for temperatures, which in turn may determine the severity of future storms, droughts and Arctic ice melting.

“There’s a wide range of predicted warming for the 21st century,” Clement, a professor of meteorology and oceanography, said in a podcast on the Science Web site. “This study indicates that perhaps we should be giving serious consideration to the high range of future warming.”

Trying to stem climate change, a 17-member group of the Earth’s most polluting nations including the U.S. and China agreed this month to limit the global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times. They couldn´t agree on targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, leaving that for climate treaty talks that are set to conclude in December.

The average global temperature already has risen by about 0.8 degrees, and more than double that in the Arctic.

The researchers studied 18 models used by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Geneva- based clearinghouse for scientific studies were studied. The found only one model, developed by the U.K. Met Office, accurately predicted changes observed in low-level clouds.

The U.K. model projects a 4.4-degree Celsius warming in a scenario where the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere doubles. That forecast was the highest increase among the various models, Clement said.

The latest IPCC report estimated a range of 2 degrees to 4.5 degrees with a doubling of CO2.

Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere amounts to about 385 parts per million molecules of air, up from about 280 parts per million at the beginning of the industrial age.

Toucan’s ‘Sexual Ornamentation’ Moderates Body Temperature

By Jeremy van Loon and Alex Morales
July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Heating and cooling takes on a new meaning in the toucan’s world. That’s because the bird’s overly large beak, speculated by Charles Darwin to be a sexual ornament, actually regulates temperature, scientists have found.

The distinctive bill makes up a third of the toucan’s body length, surpassing elephant ears in the ability to rapidly radiate body heat, researchers said. The beak adjusts the bird’s temperature by as much as 15 degrees Celsius (27 degrees Fahrenheit), said Glenn Tattersall, a biologist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, and lead author of the study that appeared yesterday in the journal Science.

Animals in addition to toucans have a range of ways to stay cool or keep warm in harsh environments, including layers of fat in polar bears and large skin surfaces in elephants. Tattersall and colleagues discovered the toucan can lose up to four times as much heat from its colorful beak than it produces at rest -- the most reported for any animal.

“The bill can act like a thermal window or thermal radiator that allows it to release or conserve body heat,” Tattersall said in a podcast on Science’s Web site.

Various explanations have been posited for why the toucan’s bill is so large, including its use in peeling fruit, warding off enemies or, according to Darwin, renown for positing a theory of evolution in “On the Origin of Species,” as a way to attract a mate.

Darwin’s Assumption

“Toucans may owe the enormous size of their beaks to sexual selection, for the sake of displaying the diversified and vivid stripes of color with which these organs are ornamented,” Darwin wrote, the study said.

Tattersall worked with scientists at Brazil’s National Institute of Science and Technology in Comparative Physiology and at Sao Paulo State University. The researchers used thermal imaging to measure the surface temperature of the toco toucan’s bill in a range of air temperatures. The heat loss from the appendage was “highly variable,” ranging from 25 percent to 400 percent of resting heat production in adult birds, they wrote. The upper limit is more than four times as much elephant ears and duck beaks, according to the study.

As toucans fall asleep, an activity that requires lower body temperature, the beak releases the heat from the rest of the body via blood vessels, Tattersall said. During flight, the bird is able to release heat from flapping its wings through its bill as well, he said. The birds, however, are not known for their flying prowess.

I think that should be "the bird is able to release heat from flapping its wings as well as through its bill.

I've certainly made my share of typos after changing the wording of comments on other blogs, and not checking carefully, or overlooking, such errors.

The toco toucan, whose Latin name is Ramphastos toco, is found from Guyana and Suriname to Argentina and Paraguay in South America, according to Cambridge, England-based Birdlife International, an alliance of conservation groups worldwide.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Saying ‘sorry’ pays off for U.S. doctors

By David N. Goodman
updated 3:05 p.m. ET, Mon., July 20, 2009

DETROIT - When a treatment goes wrong at a U.S. hospital, fear of a lawsuit usually means “never daring to say you’re sorry.”

That’s not the way it works at the University of Michigan Health System, where lawyers and doctors say admitting mistakes up front and offering compensation before being sued have brought about remarkable savings in money, time and feelings.

“What we are doing is common decency,” said Richard Boothman, a veteran malpractice defense lawyer and chief risk officer for a health system with 18,000 employees and a $1.5 billion annual budget.


According to Boothman, malpractice claims against his health system fell from 121 in 2001 to 61 in 2006, while the backlog of open claims went from 262 in 2001 to 106 in 2006 and 83 in 2007. Between 2001 and 2007, the average time to process a claim fell from about 20 months to about eight months, costs per claim were halved and insurance reserves dropped by two-thirds.

Boothman said the health system learns of possible medical errors from doctors themselves, as well as from patients or their lawyers. In any case, the university conducts a peer review to see if there was an error and if changes are needed to prevent a recurrence.



Note another view, and counterexample, that someone left in a comment.

Airman, 20, loses both legs in botched gallbladder surgery

Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2009

By Carrie Peyton Dahlberg
Published: Tuesday, Jul. 21, 2009 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 21, 2009 - 2:54 pm

A 20-year-old airman was in critical condition at UC Davis Medical Center on Monday, after losing both legs in what his family described as complications of routine gallbladder surgery.

Neither the medical center nor Travis Air Force Base, where Airman 1st Class Colton Read underwent surgery earlier this month, would comment on specifics of his case.

Travis said only that a "serious medical incident" occurred at its David Grant Medical Center on July 9 and is being investigated by the base, a national hospital accrediting commission and the U.S. surgeon general.

Read, who was stationed at Beale Air Force Base east of Marysville, was supposed to get his gallbladder removed laparoscopically at the Travis hospital, said his wife, Jessica Read.

Instead, a device being threaded into his belly nicked or punctured the aorta, a large artery that carries blood from the heart throughout the body, she said.

Surgeons opened his abdomen and were able to repair the breach well enough to save his life, but in the process or afterward, something apparently disrupted the blood supply to his legs.

Jessica Read said she was told the aorta was sewn together incompletely and began leaking, and her husband was flown to UC Davis Medical Center late that afternoon for more specialized vascular surgery.

Her uncle, Dr. Michael Hines, a Texas surgeon, said he was told by the UC Davis surgeon who operated on Colton Read that two branching vessels from the aorta that carry blood to the legs were clotted and closed.

When the surgeon restored the blood supply to those iliac vessels, the legs were so badly swollen and damaged that blood circulated only down to the knees, leaving dead tissue below, Hines said.

Colton Read has undergone multiple surgeries that removed first the lower-right leg, then the lower-left and more of the right, his wife said. The latest surgery, which began Monday evening, was expected to take more tissue from his right thigh, perhaps up to his hip, she said.

The remaining portion of his left leg now appears to be healing well, but it, too, was amputated above the knee, Jessica Read said.

She has heard conflicting accounts of what happened to her husband at Travis – that the surgeon made the initial error, or that it was a mistake by a second-year surgical resident.

Hines, her uncle, said that as a surgeon who has been in practice for 30 years, "I understand how you can puncture something that you don't mean to. That's a recognized complication. The measure of a surgeon is how well they handle those complications."

Hines said he had "a hard time understanding how he ended up with no legs … how you leave an operation without assuring that there is blood flow."

For her part, Jessica Read anguishes over the nearly nine hours, by her count, that passed from the initial surgical error until her husband was flown to Sacramento. She wonders if his legs could have been saved had he been moved more quickly.

"They were wasting time doing a sonogram, doing an angiogram, wasting so much time," she said.

When she arrived at UC Davis Medical Center, the surgeon there told her there was "a very real chance" that her husband would not survive.

Since then, he has been doing a little better each day, gradually regaining kidney function and slipping in and out of consciousness, she said.

He knows he has lost his legs, but "I don't know how much of it sticks," she added.

Colton Read is an imagery analyst at Beale, interpreting photos and other data gathered by reconnaissance equipment, his wife said. The couple met in high school in Arlington, Texas, and have been in California a little more than a year, living first in Olivehurst and then Plumas Lake.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

How humans cooled the earth -- 500 years ago

Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009 16:05 PST

One of the tell-tale signs of a really thought-provoking book is that soon after reading it, you start seeing its thesis replicated everywhere you look. So it has been with one of the tomes I referred to in yesterday's post "Polynesian Chickens in Peru and other Mysteries," Charles Mann's "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus."

The massive depopulation of the Americas via smallpox, hepatitis and other diseases introduced by Westerners (perhaps as much as 95 percent of the existing population died in vast pandemics) and the large landscape-altering scale of agriculture practiced across the "New World" by pre-Columbian cultures are two of the big themes of "1491." Both popped up in a presentation made by two scientists at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union last December. (Thanks to MongaBay for the tip.)

The scientists contend that after the die-off, massive reforestation on abandoned agricultural land occurred on a large enough scale to contribute significantly to the period of global cooling between 1500 and 1750 known as the "Little Ice Age."

After examining soil samples and sediment cores from numerous locations in Central and South America, Richard Nevle, a visiting scholar at Stanford's Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Stanford, and Dennis Bird, also from Stanford, concluded that the reforestation sequestered as much as 10 to 50 percent of the carbon necessary to cool the earth. Up until 1500, the soil samples showed a steady increase in charcoal content, likely generated from human-caused fire used to clear forest. After 1500, the scientists discovered a drastic drop in charcoal content. No more burning.

The scientists acknowledge that reforestation was just one factor in contributing to global cooling. It may not even have been the most critical factor. But the research is sobering nonetheless, in its hint as to humanity's power to alter the fundamental characteristics of life on this planet, long before we were burning fossil fuels as if there were no tomorrow. We did it back then, we're doing it now, and maybe, just maybe, if we exert our collective will in the proper direction, we can fix our mistakes.

Let's just hope it doesn't require another vast die-off to set things to rights.
― Andrew Leonard

February 28, 2006
Did bubonic plague cause the Little Ice Age?

No one's sure what caused the Little Ice Age, when global temperatures dipped by about 1 degree Fahrenheit -- though it was much colder in Europe -- between about 1550 and 1850.

The Thames River regularly froze over and the British held "frost fairs" on the ice. In the winter of 1780, New York Harbor froze, allowing people to walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. And Eskimos landed their kayaks in Scotland as the Arctic ice extended so far.

Many theories have been proposed to explain the chill: a decrease in solar activity, an increase in volcanic activity that would have reduced sunshine heating or a change in ocean circulation that might have cut off warm water from reaching northern Europe.

Now there's a new theory from Dutch researchers:

The team found an increase in cereal pollen from 1200 onwards (reflecting agricultural expansion), followed by a sudden dive around 1347, linked to the agricultural crisis caused by the arrival of the Black Death, most probably a bacterial disease spread by rat fleas.

This bubonic plague is said to have wiped out over a third of Europe's population.

Counting stomata (pores) on ancient oak leaves provided van Hoof's team with a measure of the fluctuations in atmospheric carbon dioxide for the same period. This is because leaves absorb carbon dioxide through their stomata, and their density varies as carbon dioxide goes up and down.

"Between AD 1200 to 1300, we see a decrease in stomata and a sharp rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, due to deforestation we think," says Dr van Hoof, whose findings are published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology.

But after AD 1350, the team found the pattern reversed, suggesting that atmospheric carbon dioxide fell, perhaps due to reforestation following the plague.

What's Happening to the Sun?
Could its unusual behavior herald a new ice age?
By Laurie J. Schmidt Posted 01.27.2009 at 11:26 am

For about 50 years from roughly 1650 to 1700, the Sun took a break from its typical sunspot activity. That phase of solar rest coincided with what we now refer to as "The Little Ice Age" -- a period of cooling on the Earth that resulted in bitterly cold winters, particularly in Europe and North America. Scientists attribute the Little Ice Age to two main causes: increased volcanic activity and reduced solar activity.

According to Woods, even a smaller solar cycle could induce some cooling on Earth. "Not enough to offset the greenhouse gas global warming effect," he said, "but enough to potentially slow it down for a few years." The solar cycle's effect on global temperatures is only about 1/10 of a degree, whereas the greenhouse effect over the past 30 years has been about a full one degree change, Woods said.

Even so, Woods says it's unlikely that we're headed into a "Little Ice Age" scenario. "It's probably unlikely that we will go into a phase where we don't have any sunspot activity for 50 years. We can't eliminate the possibility, but I would say the probability is not high," he said.

"For that to happen, we would have to see no pickup in the Cycle 24 sunspots, but we're seeing a reasonable amount of new activity," said Biesecker. "There is no model we're aware of that can predict that we're going into an ice age -- it's an actual physical limitation of our current understanding."

During the summer of 1816, unexpected climate changes left countries in the Northern Hemisphere suffering from devastating famine and epidemic outbreaks. These weather patterns were the result of the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Sumbawa, Indonesia, on 10th April 1815.

Over the following year, heavy ash-fall filled the air across the globe, preventing sunrays from reaching the earth. The resulting frost and rains devastated crops and caused the “Year without Summer”.

The death toll outside Indonesia ran into hundreds of thousands. With the 117,000 victims who died in the original cataclysm in Indonesia, this was one of the deadliest disasters in history.


If part of the cause of the Little Ice Age was volcanic activity, there would be no reason to expect the same extreme effects now, unless we had similar volcanic activity.

It looks to me like there was a confluence of several things which may have interacted to cause the Little Ice Age.