Sunday, August 31, 2014

Patient Zero Believed to Be Sole Source of Ebola Outbreak

Aug 28, 2014 |By Dina Fine Maron

One glaring fact from the latest report on the Ebola outbreak is that five of the many study authors are dead, killed by the disease that is roiling west Africa. The new analysis, published in the August 29 issue of Science, reveals that the current Ebola outbreak stemmed from an earlier initial leap from the wild into humans, rather than the virus repeatedly jumping from a natural reservoir—perhaps infected animals—to humans. By essentially sketching out a high-tech molecular family tree, researchers concluded that the virus spreading in Sierra Leone and nearby countries is the descendent of an original Ebola viral jump, and not new versions of the pathogen that are being repeatedly introduced into the human population. That means the public health response to this outbreak—which focuses on tracking and treating those who have been exposed to people with Ebola, rather than attempting to keep people away from potential animal carriers—has been the right strategy.


The Last Passenger Pigeon Went Extinct 100 Years Ago

By Michele Berger
Published: August 31, 2014

Tomorrow marks exactly 100 years since the last passenger pigeon, a female named Martha, died in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo. (She’s pictured above.) It was the end of era for a species once so abundant its flocks were said to darken the sun from midday until the sun went down.

Some scientists are working hard trying to bring back this storied bird. Conservationists are using the centennial as a reminder of our impact on other species. But have Martha and her brethren taught us anything?

At their peak, millions — some argue billions — of passenger pigeons flew together, creating such a ruckus as to make normal conversation a challenge. Yet their numbers diminished rapidly, plunging perilously close to extinction within just a few decades thanks to our voracious appetite for the birds. Then they flamed out completely, the last wild one shot in 1900 and Martha dying 14 years later. “The bird was hunted out of existence,” wrote journalist Barry Yeoman in Audubon magazine, “victimized by the fallacy that no amount of exploitation could endanger a creature so abundant.”

That the species went extinct still shocks the system. Consider their abundance. As Yeoman puts it, nests so weighed down some boughs that they buckled and broke under the strain. Yet technology — namely the railroad and telegraph — meant hunters could hunt the birds not just for their own food, but could also move with the flocks and sell their meat for commercial gain.


“Martha is receiving plenty of eulogies this year,” he wrote. “I suggest that our most important eulogy would be to reflect on her species’ once great numbers, on the century that has passed since her death and on the century that begins today. We need to imagine Martha asking us, ‘Have you learned anything from my passing?’”
“Martha is receiving plenty of eulogies this year,” he wrote. “I suggest that our most important eulogy would be to reflect on her species’ once great numbers, on the century that has passed since her death and on the century that begins today. We need to imagine Martha asking us, ‘Have you learned anything from my passing?’”

Friday, August 29, 2014

High dietary salt may worsen multiple sclerosis


Contact: Caroline White
BMJ-British Medical Journal
High dietary salt may worsen multiple sclerosis symptoms
And is linked to greater risk of further neurological deterioration

Previous research has indicated that salt may alter the autoimmune response, which is implicated in the development of multiple sclerosis (MS), but it is not clear if it has any direct effect on the course of the disease itself.

The researchers assessed the blood and urine samples of 70 people with the relapsing-remitting form of MS to check for levels of salt; a marker of inflammatory activity called creatinine; and vitamin D, low levels of which have been linked to the disease.


After taking account of influential factors, such as smoking, age, gender, length of time after diagnosis, weight, treatment and circulating vitamin D, the analysis indicated a link between levels of dietary salt and worsening symptoms.

Compared with those consuming the least salt every day, those on moderate to high intake in the first group had around three more episodes of worsening symptoms, and were almost four times as likely to have these episodes.

The researchers then looked at x-rays and scans to find out if the disease had progressed further, and once again found a link between dietary salt intake and radiological evidence of further deterioration.

Those whose dietary salt intake was high were almost 3.5 times as likely to have radiological signs of further progression.

Similar results were obtained for the comparison group.

This is an observational study, so no definitive conclusions about cause and effect can be drawn. And higher levels of salt in the urine may reflect greater disease activity rather than the other way round, the authors point out.

But high salt intake is implicated in various aspects of poor health, they say. And their findings suggest further research into whether dietary salt reduction could ease MS symptoms or slow the progression of the disease might now be warranted, they add.

Deadly remedy: warning issued about Chinese herbal medicine

Aug. 28, 2014

A herbal preparation prescribed by a Chinese herbal medication practitioner in Melbourne for back pain resulted in life-threatening heart changes, prompting a team of intensive care and emergency physicians to call for appropriate patient education by practitioners who prescribe complementary medications.

Writing in Emergency Medicine Australasia, the journal of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, emergency medicine trainees Dr Angelly Martinez and Dr Nicky Dobos from the Intensive Care Unit at the Royal Melbourne Hospital and emergency medicine trainee Dr Joe-Anthony Rotella and emergency physician Dr Shaun Greene from Austin Health, described the case of a woman who began experiencing facial tingling and numbness within minutes of ingesting a preparation containing aconite.

These symptoms were followed by nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain 30 minutes later.

Aconite is a class of plant that is also known as wolfsbane or devil’s helmet.

The patient was given verbal instructions by the Chinese herbal medicine practitioner to boil the mixture of plant and animal material for 45 minutes prior to ingestion, although she boiled it for only 30 minutes.

By the time she was admitted to the emergency department, she had developed severe cardiovascular toxicity, which required admission to the intensive care unit.

“Aconite poisoning is not a toxicological condition that many Australian doctors would be aware of and has not been described in Australian peer reviewed medical literature for over 20 years,” said Dr Shaun Greene.


Meaningful relationships can help you thrive


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Contact: Jennifer Santisi
Society for Personality and Social Psychology
Meaningful relationships can help you thrive

In brief:
The definition of thriving involves 5 components of well-being
Relationships provide 2 types of support: source of strength (SOS) support, and relational catalyst (RC) support
Support-providers must be sensitive and responsive—there are characteristics in a support-provider that can lead to doing more harm than good
Future research should focus more on social support in non-adverse life circumstances

Deep and meaningful relationships play a vital role in overall well-being. Past research has shown that individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health, higher levels of subjective well-being and lower rates of morbidity and mortality. A paper published in Personality and Social Psychology Review provides an important perspective on thriving through relationships, emphasizes two types of support that relationships provide, and illuminates aspects where further study is necessary.


According to the researchers, thriving involves 5 components of well-being; hedonic well-being (happiness, life satisfaction), eudaimonic well-being (having purpose and meaning in life, progressing toward meaningful life goals), psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders), social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies), and physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).


The researchers emphasize that there are certain characteristics of support-providers that enhance their capacity to provide meaningful support. "It is not just whether someone provides support, but it is how he or she does it that determines the outcome of that support. Any behaviors in the service of providing SOS and RC support must be enacted both responsively and sensitively to promote thriving," explains Feeney. "Being responsive involves providing the type and amount of support that is dictated by the situation and by the partner's needs, and being sensitive involves responding to needs in such a way that the support-recipient feels understood, validated, and cared for."

Support-providers may inadvertently do more harm than good if they make the person feel weak, needy, or inadequate; induce guilt or indebtedness; make the recipient feel like a burden; minimize or discount the recipient's problem, goal, or accomplishment; blame the recipient for his or her misfortunes or setbacks; or restrict autonomy or self-determination. Support-providers might also be neglectful or disengaged, over-involved, controlling, or otherwise out of sync with the recipient's needs. Responsive support requires the knowledge of how to support others and take their perspective, the resources (i.e., cognitive, emotional, and/or tangible) needed to provide effective support, and the motivation to accept the responsibility to support another.

Support-recipients also play an important role in this process by facilitating or hindering the receipt of responsive support. Support-recipients can cultivate effective support by reaching out to others (vs. withdrawing), expressing needs in a clear and direct manner, being receptive to others' support efforts, regulating demands on others (not taxing their social network), expressing gratitude, engaging in healthy dependence and independence, building a dense relationship network, and providing reciprocal support. The researchers emphasize that accepting support when needed, and being willing and able to provide support in return, should cultivate the types of mutually caring relationships that enable people to thrive.


Evidence mounting that older adults who volunteer are happier, healthier


Contact: Kelly Connelly
Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care
Evidence mounting that older adults who volunteer are happier, healthier
Health benefits appear to peak at 100 volunteer hours annually, or 2-3 hours per week

Toronto, Canada – Older adults who stay active by volunteering are getting more out of it than just an altruistic feeling – they are receiving a health boost!

A new study, led by the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences and published online this week in Psychological Bulletin, is the first to take a broad-brush look at all the available peer-reviewed evidence regarding the psychosocial health benefits of formal volunteering for older adults.


Among the key findings:

Volunteering is associated with reductions in symptoms of depression, better overall health, fewer functional limitations, and greater longevity.

Health benefits may depend on a moderate level of volunteering. There appears to be a tipping point after which greater benefits no longer accrue. The "sweet spot" appears to be at about 100 annual hours, or 2-3 hours per week.

More vulnerable seniors (i.e. those with chronic health conditions) may benefit the most from volunteering.

Feeling appreciated or needed as a volunteer appears to amplify the relationship between volunteering and psychosocial wellbeing.

"Taken together, these results suggest that volunteering is associated with health improvements and increased physical activity – changes that one would expect to offer protection against a variety of health conditions," said Dr. Anderson. Indeed, a moderate amount of volunteering has been shown to be related to less hypertension and fewer hip fractures among seniors who volunteer compared to their matched non-volunteering peers.


What To Do if You See a Dog in a Hot Car

Sometimes it's hard to act in a situation we are not prepared for.

A few weeks ago, we shared an Urgent Alert about the dangers of leaving dogs in parked cars on hot days. What we didn’t know at the time, though, was just how urgent the situation truly is.

According to a new poll conducted by the ASPCA, an overwhelming majority of adults—93 percent—who have never encountered a dog in a car on a hot day said they would do something to help, but of those adults who actually faced such a situation, only 63 percent took action.


Please take the pledge today.

If I see an animal alone in a hot car, I will:

Immediately call animal control or 911. Local law officials have the ability to enter the vehicle and rescue the pet.

Notify the mangers of nearby businesses so they can make an urgent announcement.

Stay with the pet until help has arrived.

Sex not diminished by sharing housework, study says

Aug. 26, 2014

Georgia State University News Service via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Does sharing housework cut into couples’ sex lives? The authors of a 2013 study would say yes, but new research done by Georgia State University sociologists suggests otherwise.

Assistant professor of sociology Daniel Carlson and colleagues Amanda Miller, Sarah Hanson and Sharon Sassler revisit this idea of housework and couples’ intimacy in their new study, “The Gender Division of Housework and Couples’ Sexual Relationships: A Re-Examination.” Earlier research failed to accurately depict the current state of American relationships, the team said.

The previous study examined data from the late '80s and early '90s, Carlson said. But he and his colleagues used data from a 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey (MARS) that sampled low- to moderate-income couples with a child.

Their results show an equal division of labor in the home does not lead to a decrease in sexual frequency and satisfaction. Egalitarian couples have similar and sometimes better sex lives than their conventional counterparts.

“Both arrangements are sexy for people,” Carlson said. “You can find high quality relationships in both types of relationships. Neither are detrimental.”

Carlson believes this new research proves Americans have grown to favor flexibility not only professionally but also personally.

“Attitudes are a big difference,” he said. “Couples today have role models to look at to make this work. In the '80s, egalitarian couples were at the forefront of change. Today’s couples have those examples to look to. It makes it a lot easier, resulting in higher quality relationships. I think we’ve moved to a place where a very stark division of labor is not something people want nor is it something couples want.”

While American views of shared housework have changed, women still do most of the housework in most households. Only 30 percent of the couples represented in the MARS survey admitted to sharing household duties.

Carlson is not surprised.

“It is clear what the vast majority of people want,” he said. “It’s just that right now our social institutions are lagging behind our cultural values. Eventually, as people continue to argue and fight for policies that promote gender equality at home and at work, people will be able to achieve their desires.”


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Antarctic Riddle: How Much Will the South Pole Melt?

By John Upton
Aug. 25, 2014

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the fate of the planet’s coastlines is dangling from its underbelly.

The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet has long been a relatively minor factor in the steady ascent of high-water marks, responsible for about an eighth of the 3 millimeters of annual sea-level rise. But when it comes to climate change, Antarctica is the elephantine ice sculpture in the boiler room. The ice sheet is so massive that its decline is, according to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, “the largest potential source” of future sea level rise. Accurately forecasting how much of it will be unleashed as seawater, and when that will happen, could help coastal communities plan for surging flood risks.

A study published Aug. 14 in Earth System Dynamics — one that took more than 2 years and 50,000 computer simulations to complete, combining information from 26 atmospheric, oceanic, and ice sheet models from four polar regions — has helped scientists hone their forecasts for this century’s Antarctic thaw. And the results of the global research effort were more sobering than the findings of most of the more limited studies that came before it.

The world’s seas could rise anywhere from less than half an inch up to more than a foot by the end of this century solely because of the effects of balmier waters fanning Antarctica’s underside, causing ice to melt, icebergs to calve, and ice and snowpack to slough into the sea, the scientists calculated. The upper limit of that projection is more than double earlier estimates, with scientists attributing the change to advances in models.


Those figures do not include additional sea level rise caused by melting glaciers, by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, by the expansion of warming water, or from the effects of groundwater pumping, which shifts water from aquifers to the seas. If the most recent IPCC projections for those sources of rising seas were combined with the new Antarctic figures, the U.N. group’s upper limit for overall sea level rise by century’s end would increase to 119 cm, or nearly 4 feet. That’s up by more than a fifth compared with the figure included in last year’s assessment.


That’s a lot of water. For comparison, seas have risen about 8 inches since the turn of the 20th Century, as temperatures have risen by 1.5°F, due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels. That has increased rates of flooding across coastal U.S. and driven some Pacific Islanders to seek asylum in foreign lands. The hastening pace of sea level rise threatens to reshape the lives of more than a billion coastal dwellers and imperils potentially tens of trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure.

Of course, upper limits are just that — they represent the highest levels of sea-level rise for which science currently says coastal planning departments should brace. “It’s this upper limit that’s important for coastal planners,” said Levermann.

But rising upper limits come with rising median projections, which, by definition, have a 50 percent likelihood of being surpassed. Median projections produced through the new study suggest a rise of several inches is likely due to Antarctic melt alone.

The vast range of lower and upper limits for sea level rise caused by Antarctic ice-sheet melting that were included in the new paper — more than a foot — were partly the result of uncertainty over how much greenhouse gas pollution the world will churn out during the coming decades. The upper limit assumes that annual greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. But it also reflects the vast uncertainty in ice sheet and other models that were combined to simulate Antarctic melting.


U.N. Draft Report Lists Unchecked Emissions’ Risks


Runaway growth in the emission of greenhouse gases is swamping all political efforts to deal with the problem, raising the risk of “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” over the coming decades, according to a draft of a major new United Nations report.

Global warming is already cutting grain production by several percentage points, the report found, and that could grow much worse if emissions continue unchecked. Higher seas, devastating heat waves, torrential rain and other climate extremes are also being felt around the world as a result of human-produced emissions, the draft report said, and those problems are likely to intensify unless the gases are brought under control.

The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.


The report found that companies and governments had identified reserves of these fuels at least four times larger than could safely be burned if global warming is to be kept to a tolerable level.

That means if society wants to limit the risks to future generations, it must find the discipline to leave a vast majority of these valuable fuels in the ground, the report said.


From 1970 to 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent a year. But from 2000 to 2010, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year, the report found, and the pace seems to be accelerating further in this decade.

A major part of the jump was caused by industrialization in China, which now accounts for half the world’s coal use. Those emissions are being incurred in large part to produce goods for consumption in the West.


President Obama, using his executive authority under the Clean Air Act, is seeking to impose national limits on emissions of greenhouse gases, but he faces profound legal and political challenges as he seeks to put his policy into effect before leaving office in early 2017.

The draft report found that past emissions, and the failure to heed scientific warnings about the risks, have made large-scale climatic shifts inevitable. But lowering emissions would still slow the expected pace of change, the report said, providing critical decades for human society and the natural world to adapt.

Trash burning worldwide significantly worsens air pollution

August 26, 2014

BOULDER -- Unregulated trash burning around the globe is pumping far more pollution into the atmosphere than shown by official records. A new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that more than 40 percent of the world’s garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change.


“Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash,” said NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, lead author of the new study. “The uncontrolled burning of trash is a major source of pollutants, and it’s one that should receive more attention.”


The study concluded that as much as 29 percent of human-related global emissions of small particulates (less than 2.5 microns in diameter) come from the fires, as well as 10 percent of mercury and 40 percent of a group of gases known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These pollutants have been linked to such significant health impacts as decreased lung function, neurological disorders, cancer, and heart attacks.

Trash burning in some countries accounts for particularly high quantities of certain types of pollutants. In China, for example, 22 percent of larger particles (those up to 10 microns in diameter) come from burning garbage.


Study calls into question link between prenatal antidepressant exposure and autism risk


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Contact: Noah Brown
Massachusetts General Hospital
Study calls into question link between prenatal antidepressant exposure and autism risk
Previously reported autism risk appears to be attributable to mother's illness, not medication

Previous studies that have suggested an increased risk of autism among children of women who took antidepressants during pregnancy may actually reflect the known increased risk associated with severe maternal depression. In a study receiving advance online publication in Molecular Psychiatry, investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) report that – while a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder was more common in the children of mothers prescribed antidepressants during pregnancy than in those with no prenatal exposure – when the severity of the mother's depression was accounted for, that increased risk was no longer statistically significant. An increased risk for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), however, persisted even after controlling for factors relating to a mother's mental health.

"We know that untreated depression can pose serious health risks to both a mother and child, so it's important that women being treated with antidepressants who become pregnant, or who are thinking about becoming pregnant, know that these medications will not increase their child's risk of autism," says Roy Perlis, MD, MSc, MGH Department of Psychiatry, senior author of the report.

The authors note that, while genetic factors are known to play a substantial role in autism, exactly how that risk may be exacerbated by environmental factors is not well understood. While animal studies and investigations based on health records have suggested an increased risk associated with prenatal antidepressant exposure, others found no such association. And since discontinuing antidepressant treatment significantly increases the risk of relapse – including an increased risk of postpartum depression – the current study was designed to clarify whether or not any increased autism risk could actually be attributed to the medication.


While prenatal exposure to antidepressants did increase the risk for either condition, in the autism-focused comparison, adjusting for factors indicating more severe maternal depression reduced the strength of that association to an insignificant level. Taking antidepressants with stronger action in the serotonin pathway, which has been suspected of contributing to a possible autism risk, did not increase the incidence of the disorder. In addition, the children of mothers who took a serotonin-targeting non-antidepressant drug for severe morning sickness had no increased autism incidence. Prescriptions for antipsychotic drugs sometimes used to treat severe, treatment-resistant depression, as well as psychotic disorders, did appear to increase the risk for autism. For ADHD, however, the increased risk associated with prenatal antidepressant exposure remained significant, although reduced, even after adjustment for the severity of maternal depression.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Orphaned children can do just as well in institutions


Contact: Kyle Hamilton
Duke University
Orphaned children can do just as well in institutions
Drive to eliminate institutional care not supported by evidence

DURHAM, N.C. -- The removal of institutions or group homes will not lead to better child well-being and could even worsen outcomes for some orphaned and separated children, according to new findings from a three-year study across five low- and middle-income countries.

Children in institutions are as healthy and, in some ways, healthier than those in family-based care, according to the study, which was led by Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR).

In the largest and most geographically and culturally diverse study of its kind, Duke researchers found there is great variation in how much children's well-being improves over time. The type of residential setting, either institution- or family-dwelling, was a poor predictor of change.

The study found that stronger predictors of child well-being were country, neighborhood or community, and differences in psychosocial characteristics such as age, gender, baseline emotional and nutritional status, and life course events.

Researchers also found that children in group homes were more likely to have their basic needs met.


Self-deceived individuals deceive others better


Contact: Eleanor Gaskarth
University of Exeter
Self-deceived individuals deceive others better

Over confident people can fool others into believing they are more talented than they actually are, a study has found.

These 'self-deceived' individuals could be more likely to get promotions and reach influential positions in banks and other organizations. And these people are more likely to overestimate other people's abilities and take greater risks, possibly creating problems for their organizations.

The study by researchers from Newcastle University and the University of Exeter, has also found that those who are under confident in their own abilities are viewed as less able by their colleagues.

The findings, which will be published in the journal PLOS ONE today, are the first time a link has been found between a person's view of their own ability and how others see their abilities, and could partially explain financial collapses and other disasters.


Better health care as important as controlling risk factors for heart health


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Contact: Veronica McGuire
McMaster University
Better health care as important as controlling risk factors for heart health

Hamilton, ON (August 27, 2014) – Keeping a healthy heart may have as much to do with the quality of health care you have available as it does you avoiding risk factors such as smoking, bad diet and little exercise.

A large international study led by researchers at the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences has found a that low-income countries which have people with the lowest risk factors for cardiovascular problems have the highest rates of cardiovascular events and death, while the high-income countries of people with the highest risk factors for heart conditions have a lower rate of severe heart problems and deaths.

The paper, published today in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, involved more than 156,000 people in 17 countries world-wide who took part in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiologic (PURE) Study.

"There is a real paradox. We have found that richer countries with higher risk factors have less heart disease and once people have a heart attack or stroke, the risk of dying is substantially less compared to poor countries," said Dr. Salim Yusuf, principal investigator for the study. But 80% of the deaths each year from cardiovascular disease happen in low and middle income countries.

Yusuf said the difference is the quality of health care. "We have found that health care is as important, if not more important, than avoiding the risk factors in reducing cardiovascular disease."

Yusuf added that for better heart health, "the rich countries should continue to deliver high quality health care while trying to reduce risk factors, while poor countries need to avoid the rise of risk factors but also substantially improve their health care."

Risk factors for cardiovascular problems include smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stress and not enough fruits and vegetables or exercise.


The roots of human altruism and cognition


Contact: Judith Burkart
University of Zurich
The roots of human altruism

Scientists have long been searching for the factor that determines why humans often behave so selflessly. It was known that humans share this tendency with species of small Latin American primates of the family Callitrichidae (tamarins and marmosets), leading some to suggest that cooperative care for the young, which is ubiquitous in this family, was responsible for spontaneous helping behavior. But it was not so clear what other primate species do in this regard, because most studies were not comparable.

A group of researchers from Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Great Britain, headed by anthropologist Judith Burkart from the University of Zurich, therefore developed a novel approach they systematically applied to a great number of primate species. The results of the study have now been published in Nature Communications.


Until now, many researchers assumed that spontaneous altruistic behavior in primates could be attributed to factors they would share with humans: advanced cognitive skills, large brains, high social tolerance, collective foraging or the presence of pair bonds or other strong social bonds. As Burkart's new data now reveal, however, none of these factors reliably predicts whether a primate species will be spontaneously altruistic or not. Instead, another factor that sets us humans apart from the great apes appears to be responsible. Says Burkart: "Spontaneous, altruistic behavior is exclusively found among species where the young are not only cared for by the mother, but also other group members such as siblings, fathers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles." This behavior is referred to technically as the "cooperative breeding" or "allomaternal care."

The significance of this study goes beyond identifying the roots of our altruism. Cooperative behavior also favored the evolution of our exceptional cognitive abilities. During development, human children gradually construct their cognitive skills based on extensive selfless social inputs from caring parents and other helpers, and the researchers believe that it is this new mode of caring that also put our ancestors on the road to our cognitive excellence. This study may, therefore, have just identified the foundation for the process that made us human. As Burkart suggests: "When our hominin ancestors began to raise their offspring cooperatively, they laid the foundation for both our altruism and our exceptional cognition."

Fighting prostate cancer with a tomato-rich diet


Contact: Philippa Walker
University of Bristol
Fighting prostate cancer with a tomato-rich diet

Men who eat over 10 portions a week of tomatoes have an 18 per cent lower risk of developing prostate cancer, new research suggests.

With 35,000 new cases every year in the UK, and around 10,000 deaths, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men worldwide.

Rates are higher in developed countries, which some experts believe is linked to a Westernised diet and lifestyle.


The NIHR-funded study, published in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, is the first study of its kind to develop a prostate cancer 'dietary index' which consists of dietary components – selenium, calcium and foods rich in lycopene – that have been linked to prostate cancer.

Men who had optimal intake of these three dietary components had a lower risk of prostate cancer.

Tomatoes and its products – such as tomato juice and baked beans - were shown to be most beneficial, with an 18 per cent reduction in risk found in men eating over 10 portions a week.

This is thought to be due to lycopene, an antioxidant which fights off toxins that can cause DNA and cell damage. Vanessa Er, from the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol and Bristol Nutrition BRU, led the research.

She said: "Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention. However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human trials. Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active."

The researchers also looked at the recommendations on physical activity, diet and body weight for cancer prevention published by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) and the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR).

Only the recommendation on plant foods – high intake of fruits, vegetables and dietary fibre - was found to be associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. As these recommendations are not targeted at prostate cancer prevention, researchers concluded that adhering to these recommendations is not sufficient and that additional dietary recommendations should be developed.

Parents, listen next time your baby babbles

Sara Agnew | 2014.08.27

Pay attention, mom and dad, especially when your infant looks at you and babbles.

Parents may not understand a baby’s prattling, but by listening and responding, they let their infants know they can communicate which leads to children forming complex sounds and using language more quickly.

That’s according to a new study by the University of Iowa and Indiana University that found how parents respond to their children’s babbling can actually shape the way infants communicate and use vocalizations.

The findings challenge the belief that human communication is innate and can’t be influenced by parental feedback. Instead, the researchers argue, parents who consciously engage with their babbling infants can accelerate their children’s vocalizing and language learning.


What researchers discovered is infants whose mothers responded to what they thought their babies were saying, showed an increase in developmentally advanced, consonant-vowel vocalizations, which means the babbling has become sophisticated enough to sound more like words. The babies also began directing more of their babbling over time toward their mothers.

On the other hand, infants whose mothers did not try as much to understand them and instead directed their infants' attention at times to something else did not show the same rate of growth in their language and communication skills.

Gros-Louis says the difference was mothers who engaged with their infants when they babbled let their children know they could communicate. Consequently, those babies turned more often to their mothers and babbled.

“The infants were using vocalizations in a communicative way, in a sense, because they learned they are communicative,” Gros-Louis says.

In a survey a month after the study ended, mothers who were most attentive to their infants’ babbling reported their children produced more words and gestures at age 15 months.


Study shows social class makes a difference in how children tackle classroom problems

Aug. 27, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An Indiana University study has found that social class can account for differences in how parents coach their children to manage classroom challenges. Such differences can affect a child's education by reproducing inequalities in the classroom.

"Parents have different beliefs on how to deal with challenges in the classroom," said Jessica McCrory Calarco, assistant professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Sociology in the College of Arts and Sciences. "Middle-class parents tell their children to reach out to the teacher and ask questions. Working-class parents see asking for help as disrespectful to teachers, so they teach their children to work out problems themselves."


In general, middle-class children get more attention from their instructors because they actively seek it, while working-class children tend to stay silent through any of their educational struggles so as not to be a bother. Calarco said the differences in how parents teach their children to deal with problems in school stem primarily from parents' level of involvement in their children's schooling.

"Middle-class parents are more plugged into the school, so they know what teachers expect in the classroom. Working-class parents don't think it's their place to be involved, so they tend to be less aware of what teachers expect today," Calarco said.

With the widening gaps in educational outcomes between social classes, Calarco suggested that this study could help schools become more aware of these differences and make moves to reduce the inequalities.


JPMorgan and Other Banks Struck by Cyberattack


A number of United States banks, including JPMorgan Chase and at least four other firms, were struck by hackers in a series of coordinated attacks this month, according to four people familiar with a developing investigation into the incidents.

The hackers infiltrated the networks of the banks, siphoning off gigabytes of data, including checking and savings account information, in what security experts described as a sophisticated cyberattack.


Russian hackers began a month long online assault on Estonia in 2007 that nearly crippled the Baltic nation, after Estonian government workers moved a Soviet-era war memorial from the Estonian capital.

Still, security experts say that the stealthy nature of the recent attacks suggests that the motivation was not political.

The American banking sector has been a frequent target for hackers over the past few years, with the vast majority of attacks motivated by financial theft.

But not all of them. Over the past two years, banks have been targeted in a series of politically motivated attacks from Iran, in which a group of Iranian hackers flooded U.S. banking sites with so much online traffic — a method called a distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack — that the websites slowed or intermittently collapsed under the load.

Hackers who took credit for those attacks said they went after the banks in retaliation for an anti-Islam video that mocked the Prophet Muhammad , and pledged to continue the attacks until the video was pulled from the Internet.

American intelligence officials said the group was actually a cover for the Iranian government. Officials claimed Iran was waging the attacks in retaliation for Western economic sanctions and for a series of cyberattacks on its own systems.


FBI investigates alleged Russian cyber attack on Wall Street

By Philip Sherwell, New York
10:40PM BST 27 Aug 2014

The FBI is investigating whether Russian hackers staged a cyber-attack on major Wall Street businesses this month in retaliation for US sanctions imposed over Ukraine, Bloomberg News reported last night.

The Russian hackers allegedly stole large amounts of sensitive data from JP Morgan Chase and at least one other bank, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The FBI is also reportedly looking into possible links to recent hacking of large European financial institutions.

The sophistication of the attacks appeared to be beyond the capability of normal criminal hackers, according to Bloomberg. That has fuelled suspicion that the operations may have been launched in retaliation for the US imposition of tougher sanctions on Russian banks and companies for Moscow’s aggression over Ukraine.


There has been a rise in the number of cyber attacks US financial institutions this year from Russia and eastern Europe as relations have deteriorated between Washington and Moscow during the Ukraine crisis.


JP Morgan Chase was singled out for criticism by the foreign Moscow ministry for blocking a payment from a Russian embassy to the affiliate of a US sanctioned bank.

Russian hackers have previously launched wide-ranging attacks against targets in Georgia and Estonia during crises between those countries and Moscow.

UK sex abuse report prompts outrage, reflection

Aug 27, 4:47 PM (ET)

ROTHERHAM, England (AP) — Rotherham is a working-class town that is remarkable in its ordinariness — a collection of charmless discount stores, betting shops and kebab counters, surrounded by sleepy residential streets lined with brick houses that have seen better days.

But below the drab surface, shock was evident Wednesday as the people of this northern English town learned that for 16 years, girls as young as 11 in their community had been subjected to sexual exploitation on a vast scale.

The number of victims — 1,400 — was terrifying enough for a community of just 250,000. But that wasn't all: despite repeated warnings over the years, only a handful of men have ever been convicted and an independent report found that local leaders had dismissed reports of child rape, exploitation and violence for years. Part of the reason, they said, was that they feared they would be branded as racist for pursuing the perpetrators — the majority of whom were men of Pakistani origin.

Yet, many say it's time for police and social workers to come up with a better response than to blame prickly race issues. Muhbeen Hussain, who founded the British Muslim Youth group, said the Pakistani community also needs to step up and face the problem.


"We need to acknowledge there was a large number of Pakistani men said to be involved. As a Pakistani Muslim I don't find anything within our religion to condone this," the 20-year-old said.


Jay said Rotherham is not the only place struggling with this issue. She told the BBC that "demand for this kind of sexual activity with children is on the increase and that is validated across not just the UK but Europe and worldwide."

"We can't say that Rotherham is any better or worse than other places because the information simply doesn't exist at a national level to tell us that," she said.

But in Rotherham, where the shock is still sinking in, people are wondering about how things have changed, how times have changed. Claire Hizelhorst, a school dinner lady, said kids used to be able to play outside. Now, she'd be afraid to let them.

"How can anyone do this?" she said. "It's beyond me."

Why Homeless People Don’t Use Shelters


Please, keep in mind that not all shelters have all or even any of these down sides. Some have none of them. These are the things many homeless people who don't use them anymore have experienced at some facilities in the U.S. which may have caused them to later avoid using shelters. There are good ones out there, too. They can just be hard to find sometimes.


Fear of Contracting Parasites

No matter how clean a facility is kept, the danger of getting parasites by using it is still very high. Mind you, this is not the fault of staff or organizations running shelters it is simply a hazard of having sleeping arrangements that hundreds of people cycle through; bedbugs are now even fairly common in high end hotels. Homeless people tend to carry a lot of parasites, likely because they tend to sleep in lots of different places. So if you sleep every night in a different bed that a long string of other people have slept in or sleep too close to an ever-changing assortmenty of people , eventually you are bound to get head lice, pubic lice or scabies. It’s hard as heck to get rid of parasites when you have no home.


Becky Blanton, a writer who was homeless from March 2006 to August 2007, says she had a lot of reasons to not enter shelters when she lost her housing. “Disease, violence, mental illness, and addiction,” she said simply before going on to explain that, in her experience, staying in many emergency shelters leads to scabies, lice, bed bugs, the transmission of hepatitis and tuberculosis, athlete’s foot from the showers, the common cold and lots of other things that “are no big deal if you can stay home in bed, but can kill you if you’re homeless.”


She worked the entire time she was homeless—at a newspaper for awhile and then at odd jobs. The restrictive schedule of shelters would have made it impossible for her to work, she said, since once a person checks in sometime in the afternoon, she can’t check out again until early morning. Blanton’s not alone in this, says Eckstine. “A lot of shelters don’t let you use your own alarm clock or provide an early enough wakeup call.” For people working day labor, from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., or overnight shifts, they’re generally out of luck. Eckstine knows some who sleep in their cars just outside shelters, so they can get showers and meals without the curfews.

The restraints can also interfere with recovery programs. “I’ve talked to people who literally had to choose between going to their 12-Step meetings and going to the shelter,” Eckstine says.


More than 1,000 U.S. retailers could be infected with malicious software

A sad thing is that Target has been severely punished by shoppers not going there because they were diligent enough to catch this problem earlier and report it earlier than most stores.

Aug. 22, 2014

More than 1,000 U.S. retailers could be infected with malicious software lurking in their cash register computers, allowing hackers to steal customer financial data, the Homeland Security Department said Friday.

The government urged businesses of all sizes to scan their point-of-sale systems for software known as "Backoff," discovered last October. It previously explained in detail how the software operates and how retailers could find and remove it.


Earlier this month, United Parcel Service said it found infected computers in 51 stores. UPS said it was not aware of any fraud that resulted from the infection but said hackers may have taken customers' names, addresses, email addresses and payment card information.

The company apologized to customers and offered free identity protection and credit monitoring services to those who had shopped in those 51 stores.

Backoff was discovered in October, but according to the Homeland Security Department the software wasn't flagged by antivirus programs until this month.


Climate Scientists Spell Out Stark Danger And Immorality Of Inaction In New Leaked Report

by Joe Romm Posted on August 27, 2014

One word in the latest draft report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sums up why climate inaction is so uniquely immoral: “Irreversible.”

The message from climate scientists about our ongoing failure to cut carbon pollution: The catastrophic changes in climate that we are voluntarily choosing to impose on our children and grandchildren — and countless generations after them — cannot plausibly be undone for hundreds of years or more.

Yes, we can still stop the worst — with virtually no impact on growth, as an earlier IPCC report from April made clear — but future generations will not be able reverse whatever we are too greedy and shortsighted to prevent through immediate action.

The world’s top scientists have finalized their “synthesis” report (of their fifth full scientific Assessment since 1990). It integrates the analysis from their three previous Fifth Assessment reports — ones on climate science, climate impacts, and climate solutions. They have sent a draft of this report to the world’s leading governments, who must sign off on it line by line and will no doubt water it down.

This report was leaked to the AP and others. That means we can see the unvarnished language.


How bad can it get? The IPCC already explained that in the science report (see “Alarming IPCC Prognosis: 9°F Warming For U.S., Faster Sea Rise, More Extreme Weather, Permafrost Collapse”). And they expanded on that in the impacts report (see “Conservative Climate Panel Warns World Faces ‘Breakdown Of Food Systems’ And More Violent Conflict”).


It is always important to remember — as RealClimate wrote of the 2009 study — “Irreversible Does Not Mean Unstoppable.” This latest draft synthesis report makes clear we can still stop the worst from happening, at a very low cost, but we have to start slashing emissions ASAP.

More Evidence That State Income Taxes Have Little Impact on Interstate Migration

See link below for chart.

Posted by: Michael Mazerov
Aug. 26, 2014

The New York Times’ Upshot blog has published a fascinating set of graphs of Census Bureau data on interstate migration patterns since 1900, bolstering our argument that state income taxes don’t have a significant impact on people’s decisions about where to live.

We plotted the same Census data, which shows which states do the best job of retaining their native-born populations, on the chart below, also noting which states have (or don’t have) a state income tax. Our chart shows that taxes have little to do with the extent to which native-born people leave their states of origin.

Three of the nine no-income-tax states perform very poorly in holding on to native-born residents. Wyoming, Alaska, and South Dakota have three of the nation’s four highest shares of native-born residents who left the state.

Four other no-income-tax states are closer to the middle of the pack. Nevada is almost exactly in the middle of the state rankings, while New Hampshire and Tennessee fall almost equally below and above Nevada; Washington falls within that interval as well. New Hampshire does no better in retaining its native born than its high-tax neighbor, Vermont. Tennessee’s neighbor, North Carolina, has had the highest income tax rates among southern states for the past 20 years but outperformed nearly all of them in retaining its native born, tying for second nationally.

Only two of the nine no-income-tax states are top performers in retaining their native born. Threeof the five states that retain the largest shares of their natives — California, Georgia, and North Carolina — have income taxes, and California and North Carolina in particular have had higher income taxes than their neighbors. Texas and Florida are the only no-income-tax states that rank highly for retention.


What Global Warming Might Mean for Extreme Snowfalls

Also, because of global warming, the air contains more moisture, on average, resulting in the possibility of heavier snowfalls when the temperature is conducive to snow.

By Andrea Thompson
Aug. 27, 2014

So if the world is warming, that means winters should be less snowy, right? Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that. OK, it’s a lot more complicated.

While the average annual snowfall in most parts of the world is indeed expected to decline, the extreme snowfalls — those that hit a place once every 10 or 20 years and can cause major headaches and economic impacts — may decline at a slower rate, and could even increase in particularly cold places, a new study detailed in the Aug. 28 issue of the journal Nature finds.

Essentially, in a warming world, there are “more muted changes in [the intensity of] snowfall extremes than in average snowfall,” said study author Paul O’Gorman, a climate researcher at MIT.

The definition of extreme snowfall of course depends on where you are: For Boston, where O’Gorman lives and works, an extreme snow event might dump a couple feet of snow on the city, but “what’s extreme for Atlanta would be quite different,” he told Climate Central. “It really depends on where you are.”

Because the amount of feet in an extreme snowfall would be so dependent on the place, O’Gorman defined extremes by return times, so storms that happen only once every decade or two, which takes subjective snow depths out of the equation.


The reason the change in intensity of extreme snowfalls seems to behave differently than the overall snowfall picture has to do with the physics that govern the formation of extreme snows. It seems that intense snows develop in a very narrow band of temperatures — it has to be cold enough that the precipitation won’t fall as rain, but can’t be so cold that the air doesn’t have enough moisture in it to fuel a blizzard.

In contrast, the snow that combines to give the annual total encompasses a much broader range of snow types that form under a wider swath of temperatures and so are more affected by warming. Essentially, in some places, less warming is needed to eat away at the temperature range that produces all snow than just the small range that accounts for extreme snows.


One caveat is that in particularly mild regions that already don’t see much snowfall, a sufficient amount of warming could knock out both the extremes and the average, O’Gorman said. (On the opposite end, places that are cold enough could actually see an increase in extreme snowfalls.)


A Reason to Question the Official Unemployment Rate

August 26, 2014

David Leonhardt:

A New Reason to Question the Official Unemployment Rate: ...A new academic paper suggests that the unemployment rate appears to have become less accurate over the last two decades, in part because of this rise in nonresponse. In particular, there seems to have been an increase in the number of people who once would have qualified as officially unemployed and today are considered out of the labor force, neither working nor looking for work.

The trend obviously matters for its own sake: It suggests that the official unemployment rate – 6.2 percent in July – understates the extent of economic pain in the country today. ... The new paper is a reminder that the unemployment rate deserves less attention than it often receives.

Yet the research also relates to a larger phenomenon. The declining response rate to surveys of almost all kinds is among the biggest problems in the social sciences. ...

Why are people less willing to respond? The rise of caller ID and the decline of landlines play a role. But they’re not the only reasons. Americans’ trust in institutions – including government, the media, churches, banks, labor unions and schools – has fallen in recent decades. People seem more dubious of a survey’s purpose and more worried about intrusions into their privacy than in the past.

“People are skeptical – Is this a real survey? What they are asking me?” Francis Horvath, of the Labor Department, says. ...


Cutting the Corporate Tax Would Make Other Problems Grow

Jared Bernstein
AUG. 25, 2014


But as imperfect as the corporate tax may be, the end of it would create all kinds of problems and disadvantages. Here is a breakdown of those drawbacks:

The corporate tax is an important balancing mechanism in an era of great inequality. According to the Congressional Budget Office, about 80 percent of corporate income is held by households in the top fifth of the income scale, and about 50 percent is held by the top 1 percent. Unless we could replace it with higher taxes on those same households — a daunting proposition, as I’ll show in a moment — scrapping or even just lowering the corporate tax rate would increase after-tax income inequality.

When corporate profits as a share of national income are the highest on record, with data going back to the late 1920s, it suggests that the current corporate tax system, with all its shortcomings, is hardly killing the competitiveness of American companies.

Another reason abolishment is a bad idea: If you think we’ve got tax avoidance problems now — and if you don’t, you’re not paying attention — we’d have a much bigger problem with a zero tax rate on incorporated businesses. Most of us don’t manage our taxes. We just pay them. But as your tax bill goes up, you will aggressively look for ways to shelter your income. (More precisely, you hire people to do that for you.)


Here’s another element to understand why abolishing the corporate rate would go badly: In order to avoid corporate taxes, more than a third of business income is now “passed through” to the owners to be taxed at the individual level. That’s up from 13 percent a few decades ago, and it’s one reason corporate taxes as a share of G.D.P. and a share of federal revenue have fallen from about 4 percent and 20 percent in the 1960s to less than 2 percent and 10 percent today.

Those who would get rid of the corporate tax basically argue that the smart move is to go with this flow: As long as so many more businesses are setting themselves up to avoid the corporate tax, don’t fight ′em, join ′em.

The problem is that to do so risks turning the corporate structure itself into a big tax shelter: If income generated and retained by incorporated businesses should become tax-free, then guess what type of income everybody will suddenly start making? Taxes delayed are taxes saved, and with no corporate tax, anyone who could do so would structure their earnings and investments to be “corporate earnings,” untaxed until they’re distributed.


One study found that the tax gap — the share of taxes owed but not collected — was 17 percent for corporations and 43 percent for business income reported by individuals. That research is over a decade old, but more recent tax gap research found that business income taxed at the individual level was the single largest source of the gap, and that sole proprietors report less than half of their income to the I.R.S.


Corporate Taxes, Theory vs Reality

Jared Bernstein
February 22nd, 2012


Today, the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent is one of the highest in the world, but an abundance of loopholes and deductions means that many companies pay far less than that — or nothing at all. Companies in the United States pay almost half the taxes than companies do in other rich countries, compared to the size of the economy, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Last I checked, we were collecting around 1.3% of GDP in revenue from the corporate sector. That’s low both in our own historical terms (the average has been about 2% over the past few decades) and especially in international terms, despite the fact that we have a higher statutory rate. And it’s not just the recession depressing corp revenues, though that’s part of it, because corporate profitability is once again soaring.

This tells you two things. First, a lot of companies take advantage of the breaks in the code and second, getting to a revenue-neutral 28% will mean taking away a lot of those goodies.

Some of the biggies are accelerated depreciation, interest deductibility, the ability to pass corporate capital gains over to the individual side of the code (where it gets favorable treatment), and a bunch of international loopholes, like deferral—the ability to avoid US taxation by holding multinational profits overseas.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Historic Wildfires Burn Through Canada As Sub-Arctic Forests Heat Up


Wildfires are taking off in Canada as the country goes through one of its hottest and driest summers in decades.

Wildfire activity in the Northwest Territories is more than six times higher than its 25-year average, and as of August 23 a total of 162 wildfires were burning in British Columbia. The latter province has seen 1,269 wildfires so far this year, along with 314,895 hectares of land burned — almost equivalent to 2010, when the province lost 337,149 hectares to various blazes.

The fires have cut through the boreal forests that lie just outside the Arctic Circle throughout Canada, aided by the hottest and driest summer the Northwest Territories have seen in 50 years.


A recent study of the nearby Yukon Flats in Alaska concluded that the boreal forests in the area are experiencing wildfires at a frequency that outstrips any prior period in the last 10,000 years — and that’s twice as high as it was 500 to 1,000 years ago.
Covering 10 percent of the Earth’s land surface, the boreal forests around the globe account for nearly a third of all the carbon stored in soils and biomass. A large part of this is the fact that, being sub-Arctic, the forests sit atop permafrost which can release huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere when warmed.

In other words, wildfires in the boreal forest could be one example of a climactic feedback loop: changes wrought by global warming that physically alter the Earth’s ecosystem in such a way that even more carbon is released to begin moving through the planet’s natural cycles, thus increasing global warming even further beyond what’s being caused by human emissions.

Meanwhile, climate change has also assisted the spread of the Mountain Pine beetle in Canada, allowing it to eat through an unprecedented amount of the boreal forests in Canada’s western half. This again introduces the possibility of a feedback loop: as the trees are killed off, fewer of them are available to store carbon from the atmosphere, while the dead trees release the carbon they’ve stored up.
Heat waves and wildfires this year have also extended farther south along the West Coast, into Oregon and Washington State.

As of Saturday, August 23, 360 firefighters from outside British Columbia had been sent to the province to help contain the blazes, including 75 from Australia. An additional 90 firefighters from Ontario and Alberta reportedly joined them over the weekend.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Train your heart to protect your mind


Contact: William Raillant-Clark
University of Montreal
Train your heart to protect your mind

New study links cardiovascular health to cognitive changes as we age

Exercising to improve our cardiovascular strength may protect us from cognitive impairment as we age, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated Institut universitaire de gératrie de Montréal Research Centre. "Our body's arteries stiffen with age, and the vessel hardening is believed to begin in the aorta, the main vessel coming out of the heart, before reaching the brain. Indeed, the hardening may contribute to cognitive changes that occur during a similar time frame," explained Claudine Gauthier, first author of the study. "We found that older adults whose aortas were in a better condition and who had greater aerobic fitness performed better on a cognitive test. We therefore think that the preservation of vessel elasticity may be one of the mechanisms that enables exercise to slow cognitive aging."


Black carbon -- a major climate pollutant -- also linked to cardiovascular health


Contact: Cynthia Lee
McGill University
Black carbon -- a major climate pollutant -- also linked to cardiovascular health

Pollutants in wood smoke and traffic have major effects on women's cardiovascular health and climate

Black carbon pollutants from wood smoke are known to trap heat near the earth's surface and warm the climate. A new study led by McGill Professor Jill Baumgartner suggests that black carbon may also increase women's risk of cardiovascular disease.

To investigate the effects of black carbon pollutants on the health of women cooking with traditional wood stoves, Baumgartner, a researcher at McGill's Institute for the Health and Social Policy, measured the daily exposure to different types of air pollutants, including black carbon, in 280 women in China's rural Yunnan province.


"We found that exposure to black carbon pollutants had the largest impact on women's blood pressure, which directly impacts cardiovascular risk. In fact, black carbon's effect was twice that of particulate matter, the pollutant measured most often in health studies or evaluating cleaner cookstoves," says Baumgartner. "Black carbon from wood burning is considered very important for climate warming. Our research shows that it may also be an important pollutant for health."

In addition, the researchers found that women living closer to highways and exposed to both wood smoke and traffic emissions had three times higher blood pressure than women who lived away from highways.

Adds Baumgartner, "We found that black carbon from wood smoke negatively affects cardiovascular health, and that the health effects off wood smoke are exacerbated by co-exposure to motor vehicle emissions. Policies that decrease combustion pollution by replacing inefficient wood stoves and reducing traffic pollution will likely benefit both climate and public health".

The NFL Is Making Musicians Pay to Play the Super Bowl

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
by Paul Resnikoff

Superbowl salaries:
$46,000 per losing player
$92,000 per winning player

Earlier this year, we found out that artists weren’t getting paid at all to perform the Super Bowl halftime. Now, the National Football League (NFL) is requiring artists to pay for the privilege. “The NFL has narrowed down the list of potential performers for the 2015 Super Bowl to three candidates: Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Coldplay,” the Wall Street Journal just reported.

“While notifying the artists’ camps of their candidacy, league representatives also asked at least some of the acts if they would be willing to contribute a portion of their post-Super Bowl tour income to the league, or if they would make some other type of financial contribution, in exchange for the halftime gig.”


Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hundreds Of Californians Have No Tap Water Due To Drought, Receiving Bottled Water Rations

by Katie Valentine Posted on August 24, 2014

California’s extreme drought has dried up tap water supplies for hundreds of people living in rural San Joaquin Valley homes.

At least 182 of the 1,400 homes in East Porterville, California have no water or are having “some kind of water issue,” the Porterville Recorder reports. The state’s drought, which is in its third year, has dried up some of these residents’ wells, forcing the county to deliver emergency supplies of water. The wells rely on the Tule River for water, but due to the drought, river flows have plummeted this year.

Tulare County Office of Emergency Services delivered 12-gallon-per person rations of bottled water to affected residents Friday, and the county has also provided a 5,000-gallon, non-potable water tank for people to use for bathing and flushing.

But the bottled water rations are only supposed to last three weeks, Emergency services manager Andrew Lockman told the AP — after that, low-income residents will need to sign up for a grant program in order to keep receiving water, and the county is asking local companies to make bottled water donations.


Having a private well — which is the norm in East Porterville — means that homeowners are often responsible for the costs of fixing or drilling a new well if water problems emerge. That’s difficult for many residents in Tulare County, a place dubbed California’s “welfare capital” by the LA Times in 2011, due to its high poverty rates. One couple in the county was told in July that re-drilling their dry well would cost them about $15,000 — a price the couple, who are both retired, can’t afford.

Tulare County has also struggled with water contamination in the past. Earlier this week, Tulare County received approval for a $1 million grant that will provide free bottled water to children in schools and childcare facilities that have reported water contamination issues, including contamination by nitrates and arsenic. The Visalia Times-Delta reports that residents have been speaking to county and state officials about their water contamination problems for more than 20 years.


Tulare County is among the 58 percent of California that’s in the U.S. Drought monitor’s most extreme category of drought. Right now, 100 percent of the state is experiencing “severe” to “exceptional” drought, dry weather that has driven reservoirs to “seriously low” levels and has taken its toll on multiple industries in the state, including farming and honey production.

California’s Drought Is Making Life Harder For Honeybees

by Katie Valentine Posted on August 22, 2014

California’s extreme drought is taking its toll on honeybees and honey producers in the state.

Lack of rainfall has made the state’s native flowering plants less abundant, and it’s also taken its toll on the state’s farmers, forcing some of them to decrease the amount of land they keep productive as water prices soar. That means that honeybees in California — a state that’s one of the largest in terms of honey production — don’t have as much to forage on as they usually do.

That’s made it harder than usual for California’s honey producers to keep up with production. Since the drought began three years ago, California’s honey crop has fallen from 27.5 million pounds in 2010 to 10.9 million pounds in 2013, the AP reports. The drought is also contributing to rising honey prices — a pound of honey has increased from $3.83 to $6.32 over the last eight years.

The lack of foraging plants in California has prompted some beekeepers to take their bees to other states to forage. Others are feeding their bees more sugar syrup than they typically would in order to keep them fed — but that practice is expensive, as one beekeeper told the AP.

“Not only are you feeding as an expense, but you aren’t gaining any income.” beekeeper Mike Brandi said. “If this would persist, you’d see higher food costs, higher pollination fees and unfortunately higher prices for the commodity of honey.”


But honeybees and honey producers aren’t the only ones suffering in the midst of California’s extreme drought. The dry weather has been hard on wild salmon: as NPR reports, thousands of Chinook salmon in northern California’s Klamath River are struggling to survive in shallow, warm waters. The river’s flows have been diverted so that it can better serve California’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley, but that means the water left for the salmon has grown dangerously warm. Gill rot, a fatal disease in salmon, thrives in warm waters, so people in California — especially the local tribes who depend heavily on the salmon — are worried that if cool water isn’t let into the river soon, many of the salmon could die.

Salmon and steelhead are already dying in California’s Salmon River, due to warm water and low water flows. In July, a population assessment found 300 to 600 juvenile fish — mainly Chinook — died before they got a chance to spawn. As of July, the Salmon River is running at 181 cubic feet per second — far below the average flow of 438 cubic feet per second, a low flow that’s been fueled by the drought and decreased snowpack. The drought also forced California to ship about 50 percent more young Chinook salmon by truck to the Pacific Ocean than it usually does, due to worries that the young fish wouldn’t make it to the ocean if they swam through warm, depleted rivers.

Cutting emissions pays for itself in health savings


Contact: Andrew Carleen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Study: Cutting emissions pays for itself
Savings from healthier air can make up for some or all of the cost of carbon-reduction policies

CAMBRIDGE, Mass-- Lower rates of asthma and other health problems are frequently cited as benefits of policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions from sources like power plants and vehicles, because these policies also lead to reductions in other harmful types of air pollution.

But just how large are the health benefits of cleaner air in comparison to the costs of reducing carbon emissions? MIT researchers looked at three policies achieving the same reductions in the U.S., and found that the savings on health care spending and other costs related to illness can be big — in some cases, more than 10 times the cost of policy implementation.

"Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality," says Noelle Selin, an assistant professor of engineering systems and atmospheric chemistry at MIT, and co-author of a study published today in Nature Climate Change. "In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution."

Selin and colleagues compared the health benefits to the economic costs of three climate policies: a clean-energy standard, a transportation policy, and a cap-and-trade program. The three were designed to resemble proposed U.S. climate policies, with the clean-energy standard requiring emissions reductions from power plants similar to those proposed in the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan.

Health savings constant across policies

The researchers found that savings from avoided health problems could recoup 26 percent of the cost to implement a transportation policy, but up to to 10.5 times the cost of implementing a cap-and-trade program. The difference depended largely on the costs of the policies, as the savings — in the form of avoided medical care and saved sick days — remained roughly constant: Policies aimed at specific sources of air pollution, like power plants and vehicles, did not lead to substantially larger benefits than cheaper policies, like a cap-and-trade approach.

Savings from health benefits dwarf the estimated $14 billion cost of a cap-and-trade program. At the other end of the spectrum, a transportation policy with rigid fuel-economy requirements is the most expensive policy, costing more than $1 trillion in 2006 dollars, with health benefits recouping only a quarter of those costs. The price tag of a clean energy standard fell between the costs of the two other policies, with associated health benefits just edging out costs, at $247 billion versus $208 billion.

"If cost-benefit analyses of climate policies don't include the significant health benefits from healthier air, they dramatically underestimate the benefits of these policies," says lead author Tammy Thompson, now at Colorado State University, who conducted the research as a postdoc in Selin's group.


Rising CO2 poses significant threat to human nutrition

By Todd Datz, Harvard School of Public Health Communications
Other HSPH authors include Antonella Zanobetti, Itai Kloog, and Joel Schwartz.
May 7, 2014

At the elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 anticipated by around 2050, crops that provide a large share of the global population with most of their dietary zinc and iron will have significantly reduced concentrations of those nutrients, according to a new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Given that an estimated 2 billion people suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies, resulting in a loss of 63 million life years annually from malnutrition, the reduction in these nutrients represents the most significant health threat ever shown to be associated with climate change.


The researchers analyzed data involving 41 cultivars (genotypes) of grains and legumes from the C3 and C4 functional groups (plants that use C3 and C4 carbon fixation) from seven different FACE locations in Japan, Australia, and the United States. The level of CO2 across all seven sites was in the range of 546 to 586 parts per million (ppm). The researchers tested the nutrient concentrations of the edible portions of wheat and rice (C3 grains), maize and sorghum (C4 grains), and soybeans and field peas (C3 legumes).

The results showed a significant decrease in the concentrations of zinc, iron, and protein in C3 grains. For example, zinc, iron, and protein concentrations in wheat grains grown at the FACE sites were reduced by 9.3 percent, 5.1 percent, and 6.3 percent, respectively, compared with wheat grown at ambient CO2. Zinc and iron were also significantly reduced in legumes; protein was not.

The finding that C3 grains and legumes lost iron and zinc at elevated CO2 is significant. Myers and his colleagues estimate that 2 billion–3 billion people around the world receive 70 percent or more of their dietary zinc and/or iron from C3 crops, particularly in the developing world, where deficiency of zinc and iron is already a major health concern.


“Humanity is conducting a global experiment by rapidly altering the environmental conditions on the only habitable planet we know. As this experiment unfolds, there will undoubtedly be many surprises. Finding out that rising CO2 threatens human nutrition is one such surprise,” he said.

Heavy Rainfall Trends

By: Christopher C. Burt , 7:46 PM GMT on August 22, 2014

Yet another phenomenally intense rainfall event has occurred in the U.S. this morning (August 22nd) when 3.95” of rain in one hour was measured by a COOP observer at a site 3 miles southwest of Chicago’s Midway Airport. The return period for such at Midway Airport (according to NOAA’s ‘Precipitation Frequency Data Server’) is once in 500 years. This is similar to the Baltimore, Detroit, and Islip, New York events last week (although the Islip event was probably more in the range of once in a 1000 years). Brian Brettschneider of Borealis Scientific LLC has kindly offered this guest blog today featuring research he has done on heavy rainfall trends for 207 sites across the U.S. for a homogenous POR of 1949-2013.

Significant research has been conducted in recent years regarding changes in precipitation amounts and patterns in a warming climate. From a theoretical perspective, warmer air holds more moisture so increases in temperature should lead to increases in precipitation. On the flip side, increased temperatures may dry out soils and lakes (sources of moisture), cause air currents to change, or lead to other situations that counter-balance the increase in atmospheric moisture.

A chapter from the recently released National Climate Assessment discusses the trends in long-term heavy precipitation events for the entire U.S. during the last century. In particular, they note how the proportion of annual precipitation from extreme events has increased since the 1950's. The map below shows Figure 2.18 from that report. The map shows that large increases in very heavy precipitation events have been observed in the eastern half of the country.


Using a threshold of 0.50", patterns begin to emerge. Many stations from northern Texas to the Dakotas and then eastward to include the entirely of New England saw a statistically significant increase in the number of days with at least 0.50" of precipitation. Much of the West consistently recorded a decrease in the number of days with 0.50" of precipitation but only a few stations were statistically significant.

The statistical significance pattern is even more apparent when looking at days with at least 1.00" of precipitation. Nearly 90% of stations east of the Rocky Mountains saw an increase in the number of 1.00" precipitation days and approximately half of those stations met the 95% statistical significance threshold.


At the 2.00" threshold, the trend direction (positive or negative) and the significance levels are not nearly as distinct as they were for the 0.50" and 1.00" events. Nevertheless, a clear pattern exists in the northeastern portion of the country and a strong majority of stations east of the Rocky Mountains saw an increase in the number of days with at least 2.00" of precipitation


We showed that the rate of small precipitation events has not changed much in the last 64 years (see Figure 5). However, when the precipitation intensity rises, so does the strength of the statistical significance. Most of the eastern half of the U.S. has experienced an increase in the number of days with at least 0.50", 1.00", and 2.00" of precipitation. The western half of the country has, on average, seen a slight decline in the rate of those precipitation thresholds when enough observations are available for analysis– but not at a statistically significant level.


Friday, August 22, 2014

McConnell Vows Tough Action Next Year – Even If it Means Another Shutdown

By Eric Pianin, The Fiscal Times
August 21, 2014

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) famously told National Journal in November 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

McConnell and the Republicans failed to deliver on that threat but not before the country was treated to repeated budget crises, a near default on U.S. debt, 54 failed efforts in the House to derail Obamacare, and a 16-day government shutdown in late 2013.


Just when Republicans appear to be edging toward victories in the 2014 mid-term election that could give them control of the Senate, McConnell is at it again, brashly vowing to use a new majority to pummel Obama with poison-pill legislation – even if that strategy could lead to another government shutdown.

In a revealing interview with Politico, McConnell said that a new Republican majority with him at the helm would attach riders to appropriations bills “that would limit Obama policies on everything from the environment to health care.” At the same time, the new GOP overlords would utilize arcane budget tactics like reconciliation to thwart Democratic filibusters and jam their amendments through.

“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell told Politico’s Manu Raju during an interview aboard his campaign bus in Kentucky, where he is facing a tougher than expected re-election fight. “That’s something [Obama] won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”

McConnell said that a good example of that would be adding restrictions to Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Adding riders to spending bills would change the “behavior of the bureaucracy, which I think has been the single biggest reason this recovery has been so tepid.”

It is a strategy that would present Obama with the “stark choice” of either accepting bills that rein in or undercut administration policies “or veto them and risk a government shutdown,” Raju wrote.


The Democrats currently hold a 55 to 45 seat majority. The Republicans need to pick up at least six seats to claim control. Polls suggest they are on track to do that, but Republicans have blown previous chances to regain the majority.

Even if the GOP squeaks by and wins a narrow majority, Democrats could turn the tables on Republicans and filibuster anti-Obama administration measures. And the president could wield his veto pen –- something he has been unwilling to do until now.


How the last decade created a brutal wealth divide

The recession/depression increased

ByAimee PicchiMoneyWatchAugust 21, 2014

Many Americans are skeptical when it comes to hearing that the U.S. economy is on the mend, and new federal data helps explain why.

A look at the country's financial health finds many ended 2011 in worse shape than they were in 2000, thanks to a nearly 7 percent decline in median household wealth, or a loss of $5,056, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday. But not everyone suffered equally: The richest Americans actually gained assets, while the poorest Americans suffered losses.

"The result was a widening wealth gap between those at the top and those in the middle and bottom of the net worth distribution," the Census said in a statement.

Household net worth is a closely watch measure of economic well-being, and a decline in wealth goes a long way toward explaining why so many middle- and working-class Americans feel generally gloomy about their prospects. The median American household held assets -- including financial investments, real estate and retirement accounts -- of $68,828 in 2011, down from $73,874 in 2000.