Thursday, December 31, 2015

Martin Luther King III takes on National Black Chamber over carbon pollution

Jim Galloway
Dec. 30, 2015

Martin Luther King III has penned an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, calling out the National Black Chamber of Commerce for its opposition to the Obama administration’s first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants:

As it turns out, the money behind the chamber’s campaign comes from polluters who stand to gain if the Clean Power Plan is blocked. According to The Post, the chamber received more than $800,000 over the past decade from ExxonMobil, and among the sponsors of the group’s national conference in August were other companies that oppose strong action to combat climate change.

The former Fulton County commissioner includes this note about who gets hit by extreme weather:

Look at who suffered first and suffered the most after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans.

It was the communities — largely African American — in low-lying areas that got hit worst when the levees broke.

In Georgia, Attorney General Sam Olens has filed a federal lawsuit, joining several other states in attempting to block the new regulations.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Donald Trump changed political parties at least five times

He has at various times gone back and forth between the Republican and Democratic parties, was in the Independence party for awhile, at least one time he marked a box marked “I do not wish to enroll in a party” (I would guess when he was voting.)

By Jessica Chasmar - The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump switched political party affiliations at least five times since the late ‘80s, according to voting records obtained by The Smoking Gun.

Mr. Trump, who after years of teasing the idea announced on Tuesday his GOP bid for the White House, may soon have to answer for why he left the party as recently as 2011.

Mr. Trump registered for the first time in New York as a Republican in July 1987, only to dump the GOP more than a decade later for the Independence Party in October 1999, according to the New York City Board of Elections.

In August 2001, the billionaire enrolled as a Democrat. Eight years later, he returned to the Republican Party, The Smoking Gun reported.

After only two years as a registered Republican, Mr. Trump left the party again, and in December 2011 marked a box that indicated, “I do not wish to enroll in a party.”

Mr. Trump returned to the GOP in April 2012, The Smoking Gun reported.


Ted Cruz Demands Federal Money For Texas Floods After Blocking Hurricane Sandy Relief

From earlier in the year, but still apropos.
See below for report on federal disaster relief approved for the current flooding and other weather disasters in Texas.

Typical Republican. Usually I would specify "Republican politician", but my observation is that this kind of thing is typical of Republican voters, too. Eg., older ones say we should have Social Security and Medicare for the elderly, but not food stamps for children.

By: Jason Easley more from Jason Easley
Wednesday, May, 27th, 2015

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called federal disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims wasteful is now hypocritically demanding that the federal government fulfill its obligation and provide disaster relief to Texas.

During a press conference on the deadly flooding in Texas, Cruz said, “The federal government’s role, once the Governor declares a disaster area and makes a request, I am confident that the Texas congressional delegation, Sen. Cornyn and I, and the members of Congress both Republicans and Democrats will stand united as Texans in support of the federal government fulfilling its statutory obligations, and stepping in to respond to this natural disaster.

Sen. Cruz sang a completely different tune in 2013 when he called federal aid for the victims of Hurricane Sandy wasteful:


Cruz’s claim that the Sandy relief bill was wasteful was debunked by PolitiFact, “A big portion of the $17 billion in “immediate” assistance, more than $5 billion, went to replenish FEMA’s disaster relief fund, which may fund relief from future disasters.”


The great irony of the whole Sandy bill fiasco was that the pork came from Republicans like Cruz, who demanded to be paid off to support disaster relief. According to Forbes, “However, as it turns out, the pork portions of the Senate bill were not earmarked to benefit Democratic members of the upper chamber of Congress… The answer can be found in a quick review of the states that are set to benefit from the Senate’s extra-special benevolence—states including Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana.”

That would be the same group of Texas Republicans who are now demanding federal disaster relief be immediately sent to their state.


Ted Cruz’s position is clear. Disaster relief is only vital when it is for his state. Red state need is the only real need that counts. Sen. Cruz is demanding disaster relief for Texas. If there were any justice, he would be forced to wait just like he made the people impacted by Hurricane Sandy suffer, but since Democrats have compassion for all Americans in need, Texas will be given a luxury that wasn’t offered to the victims of Sandy.

Federal authorities approve disaster relief funds for Texas counties

Dec. 24, 2015

Federal authorities on Thursday approved Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s request for disaster relief funds for 16 counties affected by severe weather earlier this year.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency granted public assistance for these 11 counties that received individual assistance in a disaster declaration on Nov. 24: Bastrop, Caldwell, Comal, Guadalupe, Hays, Hidalgo, Liberty, Navarro, Travis, Willacy and Wilson. Public assistance was also granted for five more counties: Bosque, Hill, Jasper, Newton and Walker.

“I want to thank FEMA for their prompt response to Texas’ request for public assistance,” Abbott said in a statement. “Texas is working with our partners at FEMA to ensure that all Texans receive the assistance they need to continue to rebuild their lives following the devastating floods earlier this year.”

Empathy with strangers can be learned

Empathy with strangers can be learned

Date: December 21, 2015
Source: University of Zurich
We can learn to empathize with strangers. Surprisingly, positive experiences with people from another group trigger a learning effect in the brain, which increases empathy, researchers reveal. They add that only a handful of positive learning experiences already suffice for a person to become more empathic.

Conflicts between people from different nationalities and cultures often stem from a lack of empathy or compassion for 'the stranger'. More empathy for members of other groups could thus encourage peaceful coexistence.


Monday, December 28, 2015

Atlanta No. 2 largest population in need

Note that Georgia is rated very friendly to business.

Looking at the charts in the full report, the rankings are based on the percent of people in need in a city, not the total number, so it is a meaningful comparison of cities of different sizes.

Phil W. Hudson, Staff Writer, Atlanta Business Chronicle
Dec. 28, 2015

Two Georgia cities are among the top cities in the United States with the largest populations of economically-disadvantaged citizens.

According to a new report from WalletHub, Atlanta has the No. 2 largest population in need and Augusta, Ga., has the No. 7 largest population in need.

About 580,000 people — with children representing nearly half — were homeless on any given night in 2014, according to the consumer finance website citing data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And according to the Junior Leagues of Georgia, the Peach State has one of the highest poverty rates for children in the United States.


The top 10 cities with the largest population in need:

Memphis, Tenn.
New Orleans
Jackson, Miss.
Augusta, Ga.
Brownsville, Texas
Birmingham, Ala.
Richmond, Va.



According to Feeding America, food insecurity plagues every U.S. county. In 2014, 48.1 million individuals lacked access to adequate food and 46.7 million lived in poverty. The National Low Income Housing Coalition classifies 10.3 million of those in poverty as “extremely low-income renter households” whose income is “at or below 30% of the area median income.” Three-quarters of that group have insufficient resources to cover other basic necessities —including utilities, food and health care — after allocating half of their income to housing.

As a result, those who cannot afford a roof over their heads must take to the streets or shelters. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 580,000 people — children comprising almost half — were homeless on any given night in 2014.


With regard to our sample, please note that “city” refers to city proper and excludes surrounding metro areas.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

Naturally occurring 'GM' butterflies produced by gene transfer of wasp-associated viruses

I read about this in New Scientist magazine for Sept. 26, 2015.

Date: September 17, 2015
Source: PLOS
Research teams have discovered that genes originating from parasitic wasps are present in the genomes of many butterflies. These genes were acquired through a wasp-associated virus that integrates into DNA. Wasp genes have now been domesticated and likely play a role in in protecting butterflies against other pathogenic viruses.


To reproduce, braconid wasps lay their eggs inside caterpillars and inject a 'giant virus' named bracovirus to circumvent the caterpillars' immune response. Bracoviruses can integrate into the DNA of parasitized caterpillars and control caterpillar development, enabling wasp larvae to colonize their host.


The integrated genes that have been identified are not only remnants: results obtained suggest that they play a protective role against other viruses present in nature, baculoviruses. Strikingly the domestication of genes harboured by bracoviruses is not limited to " viral " genes, some of them originated from the wasp


Given that tens of thousands of parasitic wasp species, each associated with a unique bracovirus, parasitize virtually all lepidopteran species, it is likely that the described phenomenon is general and that different gene transfers occur regularly in nature. Beyond the interest these lateral gene transfers evoke in evolutionary biology, these results highlight the risk gene transfers could cause, in case GM-parasitoid wasps are produced, as genes artificially introduced into wasp species used for biological control could be transferred into the genomes of the targeted pests. Production of GM wasps expressing insecticide resistance for biological control of pests, for example, could lead to involuntary transmission of this resistance to the herbivorous insects.

Cameron government rejected flood risk warnings from climate advisers

Damian Carrington and Patrick Wintour
Dec. 9, 2015

The UK government was warned by its official climate change advisers in October that it needed to take action on the increasing number of homes at high risk of flooding but rejected the advice.

The decision not to develop a strategy to address increase flooding risk came just a few weeks before Storm Desmond brought about severe flooding in Cumbria, Lancashire and other parts of the north west causing an estimated £500m of damage.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) also told the Guardian that, despite David Cameron’s promise to do so, the government had failed to learn lessons from the widespread flooding in the winter of 2013-14. Those floods led to emergency financial bailouts to flood defence funds which had previously been cut under the coalition government.


UK floods and extreme global weather linked to El Niño and climate change

John Vidal
Dec. 27, 2015

From some of the worst floods ever known in Britain, to record-breaking temperatures over the Christmas holiday in the US and and forest fires in Australia, the link between the tumultuous weather events experienced around the world in the last few weeks is likely to be down to the natural phenomenon known as El Niño making the effects of man-made climate change worse, say atmospheric scientists.

El Niño occurs every seven to eight years and is caused by unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean. This year’s event is now peaking and is one of the strongest on record, leading to record temperatures, rainfall and weather extremes.

“What we are experiencing is typical of an early winter El Niño effect,” said Adam Scaife, the head of Met Office long-range forecasting.

“We expect 2016 to be the warmest year ever, primarily because of climate change but around 25% because of El Niño,” said Scaife, who added that the phenomenon was not linked directly to climate change but made its effects worse.

Scientists have warned for years that extreme weather would become more common as a result of climate change, but have until recently fought shy of attributing single events to global warming.

But researchers at Oxford University and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) calculated earlier this month that man-made climate change was partly responsible for Storm Desmond’s torrential rain, which devastated parts of Scotland, the Lake District and Northern Ireland. The scientists ran tens of thousands of simulations of the flooding event and found it 40% more likely with climate change.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) also expects 2015 to be the hottest year on record worldwide, with Europe experiencing its second hottest year. It was marked by heatwaves in India, Pakistan and elsewhere.

The latest floods, droughts and extreme weather are what might be expected of a strong El Niño, according to the WMO. “Severe droughts and devastating flooding are being experienced throughout the tropics, and subtropical zones bear the hallmarks of this El Niño,” said the organisation’s chief, Michel Jarraud.


“Much of eastern Europe has been exceptionally warm, with temperatures higher than in 2014. ... The widespread El Niño effects are are now being felt in Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, the WMO said. In Central America, one of the most severe droughts on record has left 3.5 million people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in need of food aid. The UN says that more than 2 million people have been affected in Peru and Ecuador.

In Ethiopia, the government estimates that 10.2 million people will need help in 2016 at a cost of $1.4bn (£944m). Elsewhere in Africa, staple crops have been devastated in Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. Food shortages are expected to peak in southern Africa in February.


The warm Pacific temperatures have also led to a record number of hurricanes and cyclones. According to the US government’s national oceanic and atmospheric administration, there were 18 named storms in 2015, including 13 hurricanes, nine of which were category three or higher. This is the highest number recorded since reliable measurements started in 1971.


“Extreme weather will increase with global warming and thus climate adaptation measures, like flood defences, need to constantly be updated. What may appear to be sufficient to withstand a 1 in 100-year event can become quickly out of date as the incidence of extreme weather ramps up and becomes more unpredictable,” said Gail Whiteman, the chair of the Pentland centre for sustainability at Lancaster University.

UK floods: hundreds flee homes as swaths of northern England submerged

Robin McKie and agencies
Dec. 27, 2015

Hundreds of people fled their homes after torrential rain triggered flooding in towns across Lancashire and West Yorkshire, and dangerously high waters even reached the cities of Manchester and Leeds.

The Met Office issued two of its most serious, red weather warnings – indicating a danger to life – for the area and warned that up to five inches of rain could fall over the weekend. In addition, the Environment Agency (EA) issued 31 severe flood warnings – which also signal danger to life – as well as hundreds of standard flood warnings, which mean that immediate action is required.


In one incident believed connected with the flooding, a gas explosion occurred at around 4.30pm in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester. Saeed Atcha, a local radio presenter, said: “All of a sudden we heard a bang, we looked over to where the sound came from and couldn’t see anything.

“Then a second later there was another explosion and then a big orange beam lit up the sky, like a flash. It was very, very scary. Everyone was looking around in a state of shock. A police officer shouted ‘Get back into your house, there has been a gas explosion.’ Two or three minutes later the police officer jumped into his van and drove away.”

Atcha said he understood that the explosion had been caused by the flooding. It occurred right next to the river Irwell, which has burst its banks. He added: “It is going to be a very dark and miserable evening. It seems like the area is on lock-down.”


Locals described some of the flooding as the most severe they had ever seen.


At the same time, more than 10,000 homes in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, and Lancashire lost their electricity supply after flood waters surged into a local substation. Electricity North West said its teams were working to get power restored but were doing so in “extremely difficult conditions”. It warned that some properties might be without power until Monday. Flood defences at a number of its substations had been breached, it said, and engineers were working round the clock to restore power.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Floods In Paraguay, Argentina And Uruguay Displace Tens Of Thousands

Note that this is a record strong El Niño because of global warming. NPR should have mentioned this, but they get too much funding from fossil fuel companies. El Niños occur every two to seven years, so in themselves would not create record conditions.


Merrit Kennedy
Dec. 25, 2015

Flooding has hit parts of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The hardest-hit country, Paraguay, has declared a state of emergency.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Rio de Janeiro tells our Newscast unit that the flooding has killed five people and displaced 150,000. Here's more from Lourdes:

"In Paraguay's capital, Asuncion, 125,000 homes were without power as electricity distribution centers were knocked out across the country.


The wet weather is being blamed on the El Nino phenomenon, which affects the climate of the whole region. While there are floods in the southern cones, drought has been affecting parts of Colombia, and reservoirs are running dry there."


Trump’s Tax Cuts Would Add $24.5 Trillion to the Debt

Entitlement programs are those that everybody are eligible for : Social Security and Medicare. It's a handy term that allows Republicans to talk about cutting these programs while a lot of their followers think they are talking about cutting programs for other people.

Fiscal Times

By Eric Pianin
December 23, 2015

Donald Trump’s tax-cut plan could add as much as $24.5 trillion to the national debt over the coming 20 years unless it is accompanied by steep cuts in spending and entitlement programs, a new analysis finds.

The paper published by the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture by the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, provides a sobering reminder that many of the generous tax cut plans being floated by Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and other candidates carry enormous long-term price tags. Some of them, if adopted, would spark a renewal of the long-term debt crisis and could undermine the very economic recovery that GOP and Democratic presidential candidates alike are promising.

The numbers are startling, according to the new report: Trump’s proposals for consolidating and slashing individual and corporate tax rates and getting rid of the estate tax would reduce federal revenues by an estimated $9.5 trillion over the coming decade and an additional $15 trillion over the subsequent 10 years. And that’s before accounting for the government’s added interest costs from having to borrow substantial sums to make up for the revenue shortfall and keep the government operating.


Of course Trump would like to eliminate it. He was able to get so rich because he came from a very rich family, and was able to borrow an amount because of that which he couldn't have done if he were an average person.

How in the heck would eliminating the estate tax help average Americans? In 2015, only the amount of the estate over $5.43 million is taxed, and it increases with inflation. What eliminating the estate tax would do is accelerate the hoarding of money in the hands of a small percentage of the population, and allow their children an unfair advantage in life.
So if the estate is worth $6million ($6,000,000), the estate tax is levied on $6million - 5.43million = $0.57 million = $570,000.

Comment from a Facebook friend: That's the net worth after all the tax shelters are used. The true value of the estate could easily be in the tens of millions of dollars. Of course, this is one of the arguments that the neo-liberal economists love to use to lobby in favor of the estate tax' elimination, but the numbers don't lie -- even with all the deductions and loopholes that the wealthy can legally use, the revenue from the estate tax is still significant.

Only 0.2% of estates are currently affected by the estate tax.

In the example above, the tax owed would be 40% of $570,000,
or $228,000. This is the tax on an estate worth typically several tens of millions of dollars.

So if the actual value of the estate were $10million, the effective estate tax rate could be 228,000/10,000,000 = 0.0228 = 2.28%

Friday, December 25, 2015

Parents have more influence than they might realize to prevent substance use

Public Release: 10-Dec-2015
Parents have more influence than they might realize to prevent substance use
Iowa State University

Adolescence is a time when many children may consider experimenting with alcohol or drugs. New research shows parents can reduce that risk by maintaining a healthy and open relationship with their children.

Thomas Schofield, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University, says adolescents are more likely to drink or use drugs if they hang out with deviant friends or if they actively seek out peers to facilitate substance use. Parents who know what's going on with their children and their friends can minimize the impact of both pathways, according to the study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

"Parents don't even have to be 'super parents,'" Schofield said. "As long as they're at the 71st percentile, or getting a C- in parenting, both of these dangerous pathways to drug abuse go away."


Schofield and colleagues Rand Conger and Richard Robins, both at the University of California, Davis, observed interactions between Latino parents and children to gauge the level and effects of parental monitoring. They focused specifically on Latino families to better understand if cultural differences influenced parenting behaviors and outcomes. Latinos are also at greater risk to use drugs and alcohol at an early age, and have a higher probability of use and abuse over time, Schofield said.

For this paper, the research team observed children in fifth grade and again in seventh grade. Schofield says their data show that for many, this age range is a starting point or baseline for alcohol, tobacco and drug use. It's also a time when parents may be caught off guard by changes in their child's behavior, if they don't have a strong foundation established.

"Parents who haven't been deliberately investing time during middle and late childhood to build the relationship with their child -- one that is very open, with lots of communication, respect and understanding -- all the scaffolding falls away when their child becomes an adolescent," Schofield said. "The relationship is what the parent made it, and without that scaffolding a lot of parents struggle."

He added, "Preadolescence and early adolescence is not a particularly risky time; it's just the best time to get kids on board with collaborating, communicating with their parents and creating that relationship earlier."

Nearly 675 children were included in the study. Researchers observed mothers and fathers separately as they interacted with their children. They also controlled for child temperament and cultural beliefs. This indicates that more than genetics is at play, and parents can make a difference in influencing their child's behavior, Schofield said.

Deterring drug and alcohol use is just one reason why it is important for parents to be on the same page and share the same beliefs on parenting. Not only do parents affect their child's behavior in this regard, but over time they also change each other's thoughts and actions as a parent. That's the conclusion of a separate study, in which Schofield and colleague Jennifer Weaver, at Boise State University, analyzed data from two-parent families participating in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study on Early Child Care and Youth Development.

According to their analysis, beliefs about parenting predicted change in actual parenting behavior. They also found that behavior can change beliefs, but this effect was not as strong. The study provides insight that many people may not consider before becoming a parent, but should.

"Young people seek out romantic partners based on shared interests, physical attractiveness and how fun they are, not based on what kind of parent they'll become," Schofield said. "Whoever you end up making your spouse, they're going to influence your parenting behavior. That should be a factor in deciding who you have children with and it is not a factor a lot of people take into consideration."

Schofield says it's only natural that parents emulate each other, because we all adapt and shift to the people around us. But he notes that the ability for one parent to affect the other only exists when they have a good martial relationship, according to a previous study he and colleagues conducted. Knowing this, parents should use it to their advantage. For example, if there is an issue going on with their child, get support together. The research is published in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Nurse staffing and work environments affect survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest

Public Release: 10-Dec-2015
Nurse staffing and work environments affect survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest
Wolters Kluwer Health

Patients with in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA) have low survival rates--but why do some hospitals achieve higher survival than others? Higher nurse staffing levels and better working conditions may be part of the answer, reports a study in the January issue of Medical Care. The journal is published by Wolters Kluwer.

"These results add to a large body of literature suggesting that outcomes are better when nurses have a more reasonable workload and work in good hospital work environments," according to the new research study, led by the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing's Matthew McHugh, PhD, JD, MPH, RN, Associate Director, Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research. "Improving nurse working conditions holds promise for improving survival following IHCA."

Despite the chance of early intervention, less than one-fourth of patients with IHCA are discharged from the hospital alive. Some hospitals have been much more successful than others at improving survival after IHCA. Because nurses are the first link in the "Chain of Survival" in IHCA, factors related to nurse staffing might help to explain these variations.


Only 15 percent of the patients with IHCA survived to hospital discharge. Most of the IHCAs occurred in an intensive care unit (ICU), and 80 percent were witnessed. Eighty-eight percent of patients were on cardiac monitoring equipment when their cardiac arrest occurred.

Several factors affected the chances of survival--including whether the patient had a "shockable" heart rhythm that can potentially be reversed by an electric shock. Patients who were being monitored were also more likely to survive.

But even after taking these and other factors into account, hospitals with higher nurse staffing levels had higher IHCA survival rates. On general medical-surgical units, each additional patient per nurse was associated with a five percent relative reduction in the odds of survival.

In addition, the likelihood of survival was 16 percent lower at hospitals with poor work environments. That classification was based on a survey evaluating key areas for professional nursing practice, such as nurse participation, leadership, and support.


The authors suspect that having too many patients to manage interferes with nurses' ability to effectively monitor patients closely, identify changes in patient condition, and intervene with lifesaving efforts quickly when seconds count.

The results add to a growing body of evidence that improving hospital work environments may be a promising approach to reducing preventable deaths--particularly after IHCA. "Adequate hospital nurse staffing may be an important strategy in efforts aimed at achieving excellent patient outcomes," the researchers write. But improving staffing may be difficult for some hospitals because of costs--nurses already account for more than 40 percent of direct care costs for hospitalized patients.

Dr. McHugh and colleagues believe that simply adding more nurses without considering the work environment may be a poor investment. They write, "Improvement of work environments...requires a change of inter-professional culture and extended delegation of care management to those care providers who are closest to patients."

Harm reduction services less available in areas plagued by rising IV drug use and HIV infections

Public Release: 10-Dec-2015
Harm reduction services less available in areas plagued by rising IV drug use and HIV infections
The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Access to harm reduction programs such as syringe exchange is lowest in rural and suburban areas, where rates of addiction to heroin and other opioids are on the rise, according to a study led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and published online today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in drug injection in the United States, primarily the injection of prescription opioids and heroin among persons who started opioid use with oral analgesics before transitioning to injecting. Syringe service programs (SSPs) allow people who inject drugs to exchange used needles and syringes for new, sterile needles and syringes. These programs reduce the chances that people who inject drugs will share injection equipment and thereby contract infections like HIV and hepatitis C. Many SSPs also distribute a medication called naloxone, which is proven to reverse opiate overdoses.


"Syringe service programs have been very effective in reducing HIV transmission in the U.S. and throughout the world," said Don Des Jarlais, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and lead author of the study. "Our data show that rural and suburban SSPs face some special challenges in recruiting clients, funding, and staffing, but that these programs can provide the needed services when they are implemented. The biggest problem is simply that we do not have enough of them in rural and suburban areas. State and local governments can save lives by extending these programs."

One of the most highly reported recent epidemics of new HIV infections resulting from injection drug use was in southeastern Indiana. Until Indiana Governor Mike Pence declared the HIV outbreak a public health emergency in the spring of 2015, syringe exchange programs were illegal in the state.


Children with specific birth defects at increased risk for abuse


Public Release: 10-Dec-2015
UTHeath study: Children with specific birth defects at increased risk for abuse
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Children born with cleft lip or palate and spina bifida are at an increased risk for abuse before the age of 2, according to researchers from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).The results were published in the December issue of the journal Pediatrics.

In the study, researchers found that compared to children without birth defects the risk of maltreatment in children with cleft lip and/or palate was increased by 40 percent and for children with spina bifida, the risk was increased by 58 percent. These rates were especially high during the first year of life. However, children with Down syndrome were not at an increased risk compared to children with no birth defects.

"A baby with Down syndrome develops just like any other baby unless they have another congenital defect. When they start missing developmental milestones is when the intellectual impairments associated with Down syndrome become more apparent. Additionally, they typically do not have the same level of medical complexity as babies with cleft lip with or without cleft palate and spina bifida, who likely have a lot of medical needs and complications. If you've just given birth and have to deal with a lot more complexity and care, it's hard," said Bethanie Van Horne, Dr.P.H., assistant director of state initiatives at UTHealth's Children's Learning Institute. Van Horne conducted the study as part of her dissertation at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby's lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy. A baby can have a cleft lip, a cleft palate, or both a cleft lip and cleft palate. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect that affects the spine and is usually apparent at birth. Children with spina bifida have physical impairments ranging from mild to severe depending where on the spine the opening is located.


Among children with substantiated abuse, the risk of medical neglect was three to six times higher among all three birth defect groups than in the unaffected group. The complexity of their medical conditions may be a contributing factor for the increased risk of medical neglect versus other forms of neglect, according to Van Horne.

Researchers also studied how family factors affected risk of abuse. Children were more likely to be abused or neglected if their mothers had less than a high school education, had more children and used Medicaid. This was true even if a child did not have a birth defect. Van Horne said that poverty was likely the main factor in this finding.


tags: child abuse

Singing is beneficial for memory and mood especially in early dementia

Public Release: 10-Dec-2015
Singing is beneficial for memory and mood especially in early dementia
IOS Press

Researchers led by Dr. Teppo Särkämö at University of Helsinki, Finland have revealed that caregiver-implemented musical leisure activities, particularly singing, are cognitively and emotionally beneficial especially in the early stages of dementia. The findings could help improve dementia care and better target the use of music in different stages of dementia. The research was published today in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


Singing was found to be beneficial for working memory, executive function, and orientation especially in persons with mild dementia and younger (< 80 years) age, whereas music listening was associated with cognitive benefits only in persons with a more advanced level of dementia. Both singing and music listening were more effective in alleviating depression especially in persons with mild, Alzheimer-type dementia. Importantly, the musical background of the persons with dementia (whether they had sung or played an instrument before) did not influence the efficacy of the music interventions.


Low wages not education to blame for skills gap

There is also the fact that people have become aware of the severe age discrimination in IT.

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Low wages not education to blame for skills gap
University of Warwick

Research indicates low wages are to blame for the STEM skills gap
Wages must reflect the supply and demand for skills across occupations
Reform of schools and universities isn't the answer

Low wages rather than inadequate training are to blame for the STEM skills gap, according to research from the University of Warwick.

A new briefing paper suggests that the lack of workers with skills in science, maths, engineering and technology (STEM) and 'soft' communications skills is not due to problems with the education system, but to employers being unwilling to offer higher wages to suitably skilled workers.


"Businesses complain about the lack of workers with STEM skills but are unwilling to raise wages for these workers - or reduce wages for workers with skills that are less in demand."


Concern is growing in advanced economies, and in particular in the UK, about the skills gap: the growing gulf between the skills workers possess today and the skills businesses say they need. The concerns are often focused on shortages of workers with skills in STEM subjects but increasingly also on 'soft skills' like problem solving, team working and communication.

Dr Thijs van Rens will set out his analysis, based on US data, which shows that the source of labour market mismatch is that market wages do not reflect the relative demand for different types of skills. He will argue that the position often taken for granted in the public debate - that the skills gap is a supply problem - is incorrect.

In his research Dr van Rens used data on job finding rates, earnings and profits across states, industries and occupations to measure the extent of skills mismatch or gap on the US labour market, and the underlying frictions that gave rise to it.

Dr van Rens suggests that the labour market can adjust to a skills mismatch in two ways. The workforce may adapt to the demand for skills, for instance by acquiring training or changing occupation, or firms may adapt to the supply of skills.

However for one or both of these to happen, wages must reflect the relative supply and demand for various skills.


He added: "While firms complain about a shortage of qualified physicists and engineers on the labour market, a very large number of graduates in these fields work in the financial sector, where they only use their STEM skills to a very limited degree.

"Encouraging universities to educate more physicists and engineers will not make any difference if these additional STEM graduates look for jobs in investment banks."

Pesticide found in milk decades ago may be associated with signs of Parkinson's

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Pesticide found in milk decades ago may be associated with signs of Parkinson's
Association in nonsmokers who drank more than 2 cups daily
American Academy of Neurology

A pesticide used prior to the early 1980s and found in milk at that time may be associated with signs of Parkinson's disease in the brain, according to a study published in the December 9, 2015, online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

"The link between dairy products and Parkinson's disease has been found in other studies," said study author R. D. Abbott, PhD, with the Shiga University of Medical Science in Otsu, Japan. "Our study looked specifically at milk and the signs of Parkinson's in the brain."

For the study, 449 Japanese-American men with an average age of 54 who participated in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study were followed for more than 30 years and until death, after which autopsies were performed. Tests looked at whether participants had lost brain cells in the substantia nigra area of the brain, which occurs in Parkinson's disease and can start decades before any symptoms begin. Researchers also measured in 116 brains the amount of residue of a pesticide called heptachlor epoxide. The pesticide was found at very high levels in the milk supply in the early 1980s in Hawaii, where it was used in the pineapple industry. It was used to kill insects and was removed from use in the US around that time. The pesticide may also be found in well water.

The study found that nonsmokers who drank more than two cups of milk per day had 40 percent fewer brain cells in that area of the brain than people who drank less than two cups of milk per day. For those who were smokers at any point, there was no association between milk intake and loss of brain cells. Previous studies have shown that people who smoke have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

Residues of heptachlor epoxide were found in 90 percent of people who drank the most milk, compared to 63 percent of those who did not drink any milk. Abbott noted that the researchers do not have evidence that the milk participants drank contained heptachlor epoxide. He also stated that the study does not show that the pesticide or milk intake cause Parkinson's disease; it only shows an association.

"There are several possible explanations for the association, including chance," said Honglei Chen, MD, PhD, with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, who wrote a corresponding editorial. "Also, milk consumption was measured only once at the start of the study, and we have to assume that this measurement represented participants' dietary habits over time."

Chen noted that the study is an excellent example of how epidemiological studies can contribute to the search for causes of Parkinson's disease.

Stereotypes around aging can negatively impact memory and hearing

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Stereotypes around aging can negatively impact memory and hearing
University of Toronto

A study led by researchers at the University of Toronto shows that when older adults feel negatively about aging, they may lack confidence in their abilities to hear and remember things, and perform poorly at both.

"People's feelings about getting older influence their sensory and cognitive functions," said Alison Chasteen, professor in U of T's Department of Psychology and lead author of the study published in Psychology and Aging. "Those feelings are often rooted in stereotypes about getting older and comments made by those around them that their hearing and memory are failing. So, we need to take a deeper and broader approach to understanding the factors that influence their daily lives."


"That's not to say all older adults who demonstrate poor capacities for hearing and memory have negative views of aging," said Chasteen. "It's not that negative views on aging cause poor performance in some functions, there is simply a strong correlation between the two when a negative view impacts an individual's confidence in the ability to function."

Chasteen said the perceptions older people have about their abilities to function and how they feel about aging must be considered when determining their cognitive and sensory health. She recommends educating older people about ways in which they can influence their aging experience, including providing them with training exercises to enhance their cognitive and physical performance, and disspelling stereotypes about aging.

"Knowing that changing how older adults feel about themselves could improve their abilities to hear and remember will enable the development of interventions to improve their quality of life."

Iceland volcano's eruption shows how sulfur particles influence clouds

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Iceland volcano's eruption shows how sulfur particles influence clouds
University of Washington

It has long been suspected that sulfur emissions can brighten clouds. Water droplets tend to clump around particles of sulfuric acid, causing smaller droplets that form brighter, more reflective clouds.

But while humans have pumped sulfur into Earth's atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, it's been hard to measure how this affects the clouds above. New University of Washington research uses a huge volcanic eruption in Iceland to measure the change.

The new study, to be published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, shows that sulfur emissions do indeed result in smaller cloud droplet size, leading to brighter clouds that reflect significantly more sunlight.

"This eruption is a chance to nail down one of the big uncertainties in climate models," said first author Daniel McCoy, a UW doctoral student in atmospheric sciences.


The results confirm that volcanoes cool the planet not just by emitting particles high in the atmosphere, but also by releasing low-level sulfur to influence cloud formation.

When the air contains aerosol particles, the same amount of water vapor condenses into many small drops, whose larger surface area reflects more sunlight. The difference in reflected solar radiation for September and October 2014 was 2 watts per square meter in the region over Iceland.


The results may help understand humans' impact on clouds. Human pollution since the Industrial Revolution is believed to have altered skies in the Northern Hemisphere. One uncertainty in climate models is how much human pollution has brightened the clouds, shielding the planet from the effects of the simultaneous rise in carbon dioxide.

"One of the big uncertainties regarding climate change is how much human-produced aerosols have offset the warming until now," Hartmann said. "We hope the data from this eruption will improve the model simulations of cloud effects, and narrow the uncertainties in projections of the future."

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was the first to include a chapter on clouds and aerosols, one of the biggest uncertainties in global climate models. This study will provide a benchmark for modelers to check their simulations of clouds and aerosols and improve their algorithms for the next generation of climate models.


An increase in alcohol tax appears to have decreased gonorrhea rates in Maryland

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
An increase in alcohol tax appears to have decreased gonorrhea rates in Maryland
University of Florida

Increasing state alcohol taxes could help prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, according to University of Florida Health researchers, who found that gonorrhea rates decreased by 24 percent in Maryland after the state increased its sales tax on alcohol in 2011.

Multiple prior studies have shown that increases in alcohol taxes decrease alcohol consumption. Less drinking reduces risky sexual behavior, such as having unprotected sex or having sex with new partners. In 2014, the rate of infection from gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis increased substantially nationwide, and young people accounted for nearly two-thirds of the cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia. This UF Health study is one of the first to quantify the effect of alcohol taxes on the rate of sexually transmitted infections.


Sexually transmitted diseases can cause pain, infertility and certain types of cancer. In Maryland, the tax increase resulted in 2,400 fewer statewide cases of gonorrhea during the 18 months after the tax increase went into effect, according to findings published today (Dec. 9) in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The tax increase in Maryland was only $0.03 per $1. The tax increased from 6 percent, which had been the sales tax rate on alcohol since July 1, 2008, to 9 percent on July 1, 2011.


To attribute the effects the team observed to the increase in alcohol taxes, the researchers compared the trends in sexually transmitted diseases in Maryland with three groups of other states.


The research team did not find any effect on chlamydia rates or any differences across age, race or ethnicity, or gender. This lack of difference across various demographics suggests the tax may have influenced all individuals similarly, Staras said.

The lack of effect on chlamydia rates could be due to the fact that chlamydia infections are more likely to be asymptomatic or mild compared with gonorrhea, which means people are less likely to seek testing and therefore the cases are less likely to be reported. In addition, gonorrhea infections are more geographically concentrated and restricted to higher-risk populations, magnifying the influence of small changes, such as a decrease in alcohol consumption. High-risk populations include individuals who engage in risky sexual behavior with concurrent partners or those who have sexual partners within an interconnected social group.

"Right now, the only population-level intervention for STIs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is condom distribution," Staras said. "However, the effects we observed in this study are comparable to the effectiveness of condom distribution, and taxes generate revenue rather than spend it -- making it a powerful option for policymakers to consider."

Witnessing drug use can spur immediate antisocial behavior by teens

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Witnessing drug use can spur immediate antisocial behavior by teens
Likelihood much greater for those with 'risk-taking' gene
Duke University

Seeing others drink alcohol or use drugs makes it more likely that teenagers will engage in antisocial behavior on the same day, according to new findings from Duke University.

The risk is significantly greater for young adolescents who have a 'risk-taking' gene associated with sensitivity to substance use exposure.

"Past research has shown that children who grow up in families, schools and neighborhoods where alcohol and drugs are frequently used are at risk for behavioral problems later in life, but our findings demonstrate that these effects are immediate," said Candice Odgers, associate professor in Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy and associate director of the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy.


The authors compared a teen's behavior on days when he or she was around people using substances to the same teen's behavior on days when he or she was not. This approach allowed the researchers to test whether witnessing substance use triggers antisocial behaviors including stealing, damaging property or hitting or hurting someone.

They found that witnessing substance abuse triggers misbehavior for both males and females, and especially for the 30 percent in their study group who carry the DRD4-7R genotype.

On days adolescents were exposed to others using alcohol or drugs, youth without the DRD4-7R variant were twice as likely to engage in antisocial behavior, Russell said. Adolescents with the DRD4-7R variant, however, were six times as likely.

"Our findings support the idea that situations where others are using alcohol or drugs may serve as 'triggering contexts' for adolescents' problem behavior," Russell said, "and that some youth, by virtue of their genetics, appear more sensitive to these environmental risks than others."

The DRD4-7R variant is associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a disorder characterized by novelty-seeking behavior and impulsivity. Recent studies have shown that DRD4-7R carriers may also be more reactive to conditions in their surrounding environments, a phenomenon known as "differential susceptibility."

The combination of increased impulsivity and heightened reactivity to environments may explain why adolescents with the DRD4-7R variant were at greater risk for same-day antisocial behavior, Russell said. More research is needed to know for sure, he added.


Chemical exposure in mothers, babies, linked to poor vaccine response

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Is chemical exposure in mothers, babies, linked to poor vaccine response?
University of Rochester Medical Center

Early life exposures to toxic chemicals such as PCBs and DDT dampen an infant's response to the tuberculosis vaccine, according to a new study from the University of Rochester Environmental Health Sciences Center.

The significance of the study extends far beyond TB vaccine responses and exposures to these two chemicals, said Todd Jusko, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the UR Departments of Environmental Medicine and Public Health Sciences, who led the study. "There are thousands of pollutants similar to PCBs and DDT with unknown health implications," he said. "Our work provides a foundation for how these types of chemicals affect the developing immune system in infants around the world."

The two primary chemicals studied in the UR paper--polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and DDE, the main breakdown product of the insecticide DDT--are among the world's most persistent pollutants. (Persistent pollutants are not easily degraded and thus remain a health threat long after they are banned.)

PCBs were used in manufacturing and in consumer products in the United States until their ban in 1979. Despite this, nearly all people have detectable concentrations in their blood, even those who live in unindustrialized areas around the globe. DDT, although banned in the U.S., is still used in some countries to control malaria spread by mosquitos.


Data showed that harmful chemicals were detected in more than 99 percent of the blood samples. But infants who had the highest concentrations of PCBs and other chemicals in their blood tended to have the lowest antibodies for fighting TB. In fact, babies whose PCB concentrations ranked in the 75th percentile had 37 percent lower antibodies for the TB vaccine, compared to babies with PCB concentrations in the 25th percentile.

DDE was not as strongly associated as PCBs with a reduction in vaccine antibody levels, but its presence also substantially reduced the infant response to the TB vaccine; infants with exposures to both chemicals fared the worst, the study said.

Like other persistent chemicals, PCBs and DDE cross the placenta and are readily passed from mother to child through breastfeeding. Development of a robust immune system is a complex and intricate process in early life, the UR authors noted, and therefore even small changes can lead to long-term dysfunction.

Tuberculosis is a major infectious disease killer worldwide, impacting nearly 10 million people in 2014. Scientists have debated for years why response to the TB vaccine is variable, and the effect of environmental toxins on the developing immune system is often overlooked as a possible reason. The UR study reinforces this idea by showing that common pollutants reduce the response to an important global vaccine, Lawrence said.

Linguists discover the best word order for giving directions

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Linguists discover the best word order for giving directions
Good directions start - literally -- with the most obvious

To give good directions, it is not enough to say the right things: saying them in the right order is also important, shows a study in Frontiers in Psychology. Sentences that start with a prominent landmark and end with the object of interest work better than sentences where this order is reversed. These results could have direct applications in the fields of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction.

"Here we show for the first time that people are quicker to find a hard-to-see person in an image when the directions mention a prominent landmark first, as in 'Next to the horse is the man in red', rather than last, as in 'The man in red is next to the horse'," says Alasdair Clarke from the School of Psychology at the University of Aberdeen, the lead author of the study.


"Listeners start processing the directions before they're finished, so it's good to give them a head start by pointing them towards something they can find quickly, such as a landmark. But if the target your listener is looking for is itself easy to see, then you should just start your directions with that," concludes co-author Micha Elsner, Assistant Professor at the Department of Linguistics, Ohio State University.


Smoking in pregnancy affects sons' fitness in later life

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Smoking in pregnancy 'affects boys' fitness in later life'

Mothers who smoke are putting more than their own health at risk, suggests a study published today in BJOG: an International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG). Young men whose mothers smoked during pregnancy had lower aerobic fitness compared to those whose mothers did not.

For the first time, a small Finnish study has examined the impact of maternal smoking on the long-term health of male offspring. Of the 508 young men (average age 19) included in the study 59 of their mothers smoked more than one cigarette a day throughout pregnancy. Results found that maternal smoking was associated with lower aerobic fitness of their children, which was measured by ability on a running test at the beginning of their military service assessment. Aerobic activity was also independently associated with their own smoking status, weight and physical activity.

The study also found that higher maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and excessive weight gain during pregnancy were associated with lower aerobic fitness in the offspring.


The health risks associated with smoking, and the benefits of stopping smoking, are well known. Mothers who smoke are at a higher risk of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, intrauterine growth restriction, premature birth and stillbirth. Their babies are also more likely to suffer from birth defects, and neurological, psychological or behavioural difficulties. In addition, babies born to mothers who smoke have a greater risk of asthma, chest and ear infections and pneumonia as well as being more susceptible to infant death syndrome. Although more likely to be small babies, they are at increased risk of obesity and insulin resistance (the precursor of diabetes) later in life.


Bullying exposure associated with adult psychiatric disorders requiring treatment

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Bullying exposure associated with adult psychiatric disorders requiring treatment
The JAMA Network Journals

Exposure to bullying as a child was associated with psychiatric disorders in adulthood that required treatment in a study of Finnish children, according to an article published online by JAMA Psychiatry.

Previous research has suggested bullying and exposure to bullying may contribute to later mental health.

Andre Sourander, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Turku, Finland, and coauthors examined associations between bullying behavior at age 8 and adult psychiatric outcomes by age 29.


About 90 percent of study participants (4,540 of 5,034) did not engage in bullying behavior and, of those, 520 (11.5 percent) had received a psychiatric diagnosis by follow-up. In comparison, 33 of 166 (19.9 percent) of participants who engaged in frequent bullying, 58 of 251 (23.1 percent) participants frequently exposed to bullying, and 24 of 77 (31.2 percent) participants who both frequently engaged in and were frequently exposed to bullying had psychiatric diagnoses by follow-up, according to the results.


The treatment of any psychiatric disorder was associated with frequent exposure to bullying, as well as with being a bully and being exposed to bullying. Exposure to bullying was associated with depression, according to the results.


Behavioral problems in youths are associated with differences in the brain

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Behavioral problems in youths are associated with differences in the brain
University of Birmingham

Young people with behavioural problems, such as antisocial and aggressive behaviour, show reduced grey matter volume in a number of areas of the brain, according to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

The researchers from the University of Birmingham found that, compared to typically developing youths, those with behavioural problems show grey matter reductions specifically within the amygdala, the insula, and the prefrontal cortex.

These brain areas are important for decision-making, empathic responses, reading facial expressions and emotion regulation; key cognitive and affective processes that are shown to be deficient in youths with behavioural problems.


Dr Stephane De Brito, lead author of the paper, explained, "We know that severe behavioural problems in youths are not only predictive of antisocial and aggressive behaviour in adulthood, but also substance misuse, mental health problems and poor physical health."

"For that reason, behavioural problems are an essential target for prevention efforts and our study advances understanding of the brain regions associated with aggressive and antisocial behaviour in youths."

However, a number of unanswered questions still remain in the field. For example, the extent to which these structural differences in the brain are associated with environmental factors (such as smoking/substance abuse during pregnancy and maltreatment in early childhood) is still poorly understood.

Dr Jack Rogers, Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, said, "There are a lot of questions still outstanding. For instance, prospective longitudinal studies are needed to assess if these structural differences are present early in life and if they persist over a longer period of time."

"In future research, it will also be important to examine if these brain differences, and the affective and cognitive processes they are involved in, can be influenced by therapeutic interventions to promote a good outcome in adult life."


Climate outlook may be worse than feared, global study suggests


Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
Climate outlook may be worse than feared, global study suggests
University of Edinburgh

As world leaders hold climate talks in Paris, research shows that land surface temperatures may rise by an average of almost 8C by 2100, if significant efforts are not made to counteract climate change.

Such a rise would have a devastating impact on life on Earth. It would place billions of people at risk from extreme temperatures, flooding, regional drought, and food shortages.

The study calculated the likely effect of increasing atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases above pre-industrialisation amounts. It finds that if emissions continue to grow at current rates, with no significant action taken by society, then by 2100 global land temperatures will have increased by 7.9C (14.2F), compared with 1750.

This finding lies at the very uppermost range of temperature rise as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It also breaches the United Nations' safe limit of 2C, beyond which the UN says dangerous climate change can be expected.


The study was based on historical temperatures and emissions data. It accounted for atmospheric pollution effects that have been cooling Earth by reflecting sunlight into space, and for the slow response time of the ocean.


Happiness and unhappiness have no direct effect on mortality

Public Release: 9-Dec-2015
The Lancet: Happiness and unhappiness have no direct effect on mortality
The Lancet

A study of a million UK women, published today in The Lancet, has shown that happiness itself has no direct effect on mortality, and that the widespread but mistaken belief that unhappiness and stress directly cause ill health came from studies that had simply confused cause and effect.

Life-threatening poor health can cause unhappiness, and for this reason unhappiness is associated with increased mortality. In addition, smokers tend to be unhappier than non-smokers. However, after taking account of previous ill health, smoking, and other lifestyle and socio-economic factors, the investigators found that unhappiness itself was no longer associated with increased mortality.

The lead author, Dr Bette Liu, now at the University of New South Wales, Australia said: "Illness makes you unhappy, but unhappiness itself doesn't make you ill. We found no direct effect of unhappiness or stress on mortality, even in a ten-year study of a million women."[1]


As in other studies, unhappiness was associated with deprivation, smoking, lack of exercise, and not living with a partner. The strongest associations, however, were that the women who were already in poor health tended to say that they were unhappy, stressed, not in control, and not relaxed.


After allowing for any differences already present in health and lifestyle, the overall death rate among those who were unhappy was the same as the death rate among those who were generally happy. The study is so large that it rules out unhappiness being a direct cause of any material increase in overall mortality, in women.

This was true for overall mortality, for cancer mortality, and for heart disease mortality, and it was true for stress as well as for unhappiness.

Co-author Professor Sir Richard Peto, of the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK said: "Many still believe that stress or unhappiness can directly cause disease, but they are simply confusing cause and effect. Of course people who are ill tend to be unhappier than those who are well, but the UK Million Women Study shows that happiness and unhappiness do not themselves have any direct effect on death rates."[1]

Previous reports of reduced mortality being associated with happiness, with being in control, with being relaxed, or with related measures of wellbeing had not allowed properly for the strong effect of ill health on unhappiness and on stress.


Earth Has Lost a Third of Its Farmable Land in Last 40 Years, Researchers Say

By Ada Carr
Dec. 21, 2015

Over the past 40 years, a third of the world’s farmable land has been wiped out by erosion and pollution, researchers say. This has the potential to become disastrous, as the demand for food soars worldwide.

According to experts from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, almost 33 percent of the world’s arable land has been lost.

“Soil is lost rapidly but replaced over millennia and this represents one of the greatest global threats for agriculture. This is catastrophic when you think that it takes about 500 years to form 2.5 centimeters of topsoil under normal agricultural conditions,” said University of Sheffield professor of plant and soil biology Duncan Cameron.


The decline in soil has come at a time when the global demand for food is growing at a rapid rate. It’s estimated that by 2050 the world will need to grow 50 percent more food to feed a projected population of 9 billion, reports The Guardian.

The erosion of soil is largely due to constant disturbance from planting and harvesting crops. If soil is continually turned over it is exposed to oxygen which makes it release carbon into the atmosphere, causing it to fail to effectively bind. This diminishes the soil’s ability to hold water, to buffer flooding and provide a base for plants. These compromised soils are also more likely to be washed away.

Intensive agriculture methods in place requires the heavy use of fertilizers, which need high energy inputs to supply inorganic nitrogen. This process takes up five percent of the natural gas production and two percent of the world’s annual energy supply, experts said.


tags: human footprint

United Parcel Services settles overcharging claims with 14 states

By Mark Huffman
Oct. 21, 2015


Fourteen states, as well as the cities of Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC, sued United Parcel Service (UPS) claiming UPS employees overcharged government agency customers on certain transactions.

The suit claimed that certain UPS employees recorded inaccurate delivery times on packages sent by government customers through next-day delivery services. The result, the suit alleges, was premium-priced packages that appeared to have been delivered by their guaranteed commitment times when they had not been delivered on time.

The lawsuit also claimed certain UPS employees applied inappropriate exception codes to excuse late next-day packages. For example, they chalked it up to weather delays when the skies were sunny.

As a result, the government customers said they were unable to get refunds for the late deliveries.

In a settlement agreement, UPS agreed to pay the governments $4 million and will start training, monitoring, and reporting compliance programs to address any potential delivery failures or policy violations.

“UPS improperly profited from charging New York State government entities – and ultimately our taxpayers – when its employees failed to meet its guaranteed delivery times for overnight deliveries,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “Corporations that improperly profit at the expense of taxpayers will be held to account.”


'Schindler of Congo' Marrion P'Udongo Is Now in Need of Saving

You can donate for his kidney transplant at

by Cassandra Vinograd
Dec. 25, 2015

He's been dubbed the "Schindler of Congo" for acts of heroism, but now he's the one in need of saving.

Pastor Marrion P'Udongo earned his nickname for saving nearly 100 people from murderous militiamen in 2003 — but that was only one of his many acts of courage.

He's gone into the bush to coax out child soldiers, helped scores of rape victims secure medical treatment, fed and clothed inmates in Congo's most notorious prison and helps run an orphanage for children impacted by his nation's decades-long war.

But today, the man also known simply as "pastor" to many spends his days hooked up to a dialysis machine and praying for a miracle.

"I don't feel in my heart that I should die now," he told NBC News. "I still have a lot to do."

P'Udongo nearly died in 2011 from kidney failure; a massive fundraising campaign helped cover the cost of a life-saving transplant. But the donor organ was slow to take and this spring he got bad news: his body was rejecting the kidney.

Suddenly, he was back where he started — and desperately in need of assistance.

Several people volunteered as new donors. A match was found and paperwork arranged for a transplant at a hospital in India, which reportedly has a higher success rate for such procedures.

"There are really people who want to help. So many. But the challenge is that we don't have money," P'Udongo said.

He needs around $35,000 for the procedure. The pastor is currently living off his $200 a month salary and a patchwork of donations to pay for medical care and rent in Uganda's capital, where he gets dialysis three times a week and only goes out for church.


P'Udongo's current reality stands in stark contrast to his life in Bunia, where his work made him feel "like I'm doing one of the best things in the world."

Human-rights workers, journalists and Hollywood stars like Ben Affleck who worked with him there agree — and are fighting to ensure he gets back there to continue his mission.


"He has kind of a power around him — it's a magic," he explained, adding that what sets P'Udongo apart was his ability to access all sides in the protracted conflict.

"He's like a Moses character," Mealer said. "You would walk through the bush and people would just run out to him. He was this kind of lighthouse through all these years of war. Even the most wicked militia guys, they loved him."

The Schindler comparisons started after the siege of Bunia in May 2003. Ethnic Lendu militiamen tore into the town and started butchering members of the Hema ethnic group in the streets.

Dozens of desperate Hema went to the pastor's house seeking refuge.

"Hema were being captured by the militias in order to be slaughtered," the pastor explained. He sheltered around 70 people for about a week — with little food or water but plenty of prayer — until fighters kicked down his door.

"The militia came in and they wanted to kill the people who were there," P'Udongo said. "All Hema — including my wife."

He said he thought he might die but felt compelled to act, so he pleaded for mercy.

"People cannot be killed by dogs," he said. "I was feeling that passion in my heart to ... plead with them."

The militiamen seemed undeterred, until a fighter came in who'd seen pastor preach.

"He said, 'we know this pastor, he's a good man so we cannot kill these people here,'" P'Udongo recalled. That stroke of luck — or act of God, as pastor describes it — secured their safety, and the militiamen escorted all of them to a U.N. base.


Pastor has carried on his saving since that moment in Bunia, most recently devoting his time to his prison ministry and helping run the St. Kizito orphanage there.

His colleague there, Elysee Pifwa, volunteered and matched as his kidney donor — a testament to pastor's impact, according to Mealer.

"When you put it into terms of him being gone … There's no getting him back," Mealer said. "There's no reproducing someone like this who has given, who gives his life for others."

He said that the 80 kids at the orphanage — many brought in by P'Udongo himself — would be devastated to lose their protector.

"Those kids need him — they really depend on him," added Mealer, one of the orphanage's founders. "He's the oil that helps that place run."


"This is a good man doing good work in a place where there isn't a lot of goodness left," he said. "It's a good person working on this earth, helping people without a voice and without a lot of power. If he's gone, that will be lost. The darkness that tries to force itself into every small place will win again."


It Wasn’t Only Exxon That Knew About Global Warming Since the 1970s

No surprise at all.
These people are the moral equivalent of hired killers, who kill for money.

Lauren McCauley, Common Dreams | December 24, 2015

It wasn’t just Exxon that knew fossil fuels were cooking the planet.

New investigative reporting by Neela Banerjee with Inside Climate News revealed on Tuesday that scientists and engineers from nearly every major U.S. and multinational oil and gas company may have for decades known about the impacts of carbon emissions on the climate.

Between 1979 and 1983, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the industry’s most powerful lobby group, ran a task force for fossil fuel companies to “monitor and share climate research,” according to internal documents obtained by Inside Climate News.

According to the reporting:

Like Exxon, the companies also expressed a willingness to understand the links between their product, greater CO2 concentrations and the climate, the papers reveal. Some corporations ran their own research units as well, although they were smaller and less ambitious than Exxon’s and focused on climate modeling, said James J. Nelson, the former director of the task force.

“It was a fact-finding task force,” Nelson said in an interview. “We wanted to look at emerging science, the implications of it and where improvements could be made, if possible, to reduce emissions.”

The “CO2 and Climate Task Force,” which changed in 1980 its name to the “Climate and Energy Task Force,” included researchers from Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Amoco, Phillips, Texaco, Shell, Sunoco and Sohio, among others.

One memo by an Exxon task force representative pointed to 1979 “background paper on CO2,” which “predicted when the first clear effects of climate change might be felt,” noting that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was rising steadily.

And at a February 1980 meeting in New York, the task force invited Professor John A. Laurmann of Stanford University to brief members about climate science.

“In his conclusions section, Laurmann estimated that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would double in 2038, which he said would likely lead to a 2.5 degrees Celsius rise (4.5F) in global average temperatures with ‘major economic consequences,'” Banerjee reports. He then told the task force that models showed a 5 degrees Celsius (9F) rise by 2067, with ‘globally catastrophic effects,'” Banerjee reports.

The documents show that API members, at one point, considered an alternative path in the face of these dire predictions:


The damning revelations are the latest in an ongoing investigation into what the fossil fuel industry knew about climate change and then suppressed for decades—all while continuing to profit from the planet’s destruction.

Reports that Exxon, specifically, lied about climate change were published early October in the Los Angeles Times, mirroring a separate but similar investigation by Inside Climate News in September. Those findings set off a storm of outrage, including a probe by the New York Attorney General.

Nelson, a former head of the API task force, told Banerjee that with the growing powers of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the early 1980’s, API decided to shift gears.

“They took the environmental unit and put it into the political department, which was primarily lobbyists,” he said. “They weren’t focused on doing research or on improving the oil industry’s impact on pollution. They were less interested in pushing the envelope of science and more interested in how to make it more advantageous politically or economically for the oil industry. That’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just a fact of life.”

We exceeded 1C warming more than a decade ago.

How Close Are We to 'Dangerous' Planetary Warming?

Michael E. Mann
Director of Penn State Earth System Science Center;
Dec. 23, 2015

It has been widely reported that 2015 will be the first year where temperatures climbed to 1C above the pre-industrial. That might make it seem like we've got quite a ways to go until we breach the 2C limit. But the claim is wrong. We exceeded 1C warming more than a decade ago. The problem is that here, and elsewhere, an inappropriate baseline has been invoked for defining the "pre-industrial." The warming was measured relative to the average over the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In other words, the base year implicitly used to define "pre-industrial" conditions is 1875, the mid-point of that interval. Yet the industrial revolution and the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with it, began more than a century earlier.

Unfortunately, even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has fallen victim to this problematic convention in their latest (5th) assessment report. The key graphic (Fig. 1 below) in the Summary for Policy Makers ("SPM") of the report measures net anthropogenic (i.e. human-generated) carbon emissions and the resulting warming that can be expected. Both the emissions and warming and measured relative to an 1870 baseline.



The graph shows the warming of the Northern Hemisphere (in degrees C) due to human-generated greenhouse gases ("GHG") alone, as estimated by the various climate models used in the IPCC 5th assessment report (the black curve -- the "multimodel mean" is the average over all of the climate model simulations that were done). The graph has been annotated to indicate the warming observed by 1800 and 1900. It is evident that roughly 0.3C greenhouse warming had already taken place by 1900, and roughly 0.2C warming by 1870. While that might seem like a minor amount of warming, it has significant implications for the challenge we face in stabilizing warming below 2C, let alone 1.5C, as we shall see below.


using the more appropriate 1750-1850 pre-industrial baseline, we see that the Northern Hemisphere average temperature (gray squiggly curve) has already warmed nearly 1.2C. Temperatures have exceeded 1C above pre-industrial levels for most of the past decade. So 2015 obviously won't be the first time this has happened, despite press reports to the contrary.


limiting CO2 concentrations to 450 ppm (orange dashed curve in Fig. 3) would indeed limit warming to about 2C relative to pre-industrial. Problem solved? Not quite...

While greenhouse warming would abate, the cessation of coal burning (if we were truly to go cold-turkey on all fossil fuel burning) would mean a disappearance of the reflective sulphate pollutants ("aerosols") produced from the dirty burning of coal. These pollutants have a regional cooling effect that has offset a substantial fraction of greenhouse warming, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. That cooling would soon disappear, adding about 0.5C to the net warming. When we take this factor into account (orange dotted curve), the warming for 450 ppm stabilization is now is seen to approach 2.5C, well about the "dangerous" limit. Indeed, CO2 concentrations now have to be kept below 405 ppm (where we'll be in under three years at current rates of emissions) to avoid 2C warming (blue dotted curve).

So evidently, we don't have 1/3 of our total carbon budget left to expend, as implied by the IPCC analysis. We've already expended the vast majority of the budget for remaining under 2C. And what about 1.5C stabilization? We're already overdrawn.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

You’ll Be Outraged at How Easy It Was to Get You to Click on This Headline

Bryan Gardiner
Dec. 18, 2015


one thing is clear about clickbait: It’s increasingly hard to pin down. Some, like Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith, narrowly define it as an article that doesn’t deliver on its headline’s promise. Others think it means vapid listicles, quizzes, and Betteridge’s Law headlines. And then there are those who simply use it as shorthand for stuff they don’t like on the Internet.

Here’s what most people can agree on: Clickbait is annoying, but by god, it works—even when readers recognize it for what it is. The word’s substantial semantic drift may be behind some of this effectiveness. But a hefty helping of behavioral science is at play, too. As a number of new studies confirm, you can blame your clickbait habit on two things: the outsized role emotion plays in your intuitive judgements and daily choices, and your lazy brain.


Clickbait doesn’t just happen on its own. Editors write headlines in an effort to manipulate you—or at least grab your attention—and always have. “Headless Body In Topless Bar,” and “Sticks Nix Hick Pix” wouldn’t exist if publications didn’t care about attracting eyeballs. The difference with clickbait is you’re often aware of this manipulation, and yet helpless to resist it. It’s at once obvious in its bait-iness, and somehow still effective bait.

This has a lot to do with emotion and the role it plays in our daily decision-making processes, says Jonah Berger, who studies social influence and contagion at the University of Pennsylvania. Emotional arousal, or the degree of physical response you have to an emotion, is a key ingredient in clicking behaviors. Sadness and anger, for example, are negative emotions, but anger is much more potent. “It drives us, fires us up, and compels us to take action,” Berger says. If you’ve ever found yourself falling for outrage clickbait or spent time hate-reading and hate-watching something, you know what Berger is talking about. “Anger, anxiety, humor, excitement, inspiration, surprise—all of these are punchy emotions that clickbait headlines rely on,” he says.

A growing body of research supports this idea.


In the mid-1990s, Loewenstein came up with what he called the “information-gap” theory. It basically holds that whenever we perceive a gap “between what we know and what we want to know,” that gap has emotional consequences. “Such information gaps produce the feeling of deprivation labeled curiosity,” he wrote. “The curious individual is motivated to obtain the missing information to reduce or eliminate the feeling of deprivation.”

In other words, not knowing is cognitively uncomfortable.


Research has shown that humans are quite willing to put up with massive amounts of disappointment and frustration so long as there’s an occasional payout. And yes, sometimes clickbait does deliver these payouts … in spectacular fashion.


It’s well established that humans are pre-programmed cute seekers. To our brains’ pleasure centers, there’s little difference between looking at cute animals and consuming sugar or having sex. Indeed, the same neurotransmitter, dopamine, is involved in all three behaviors.


Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sopolsky summarizes the finding this way: “Dopamine is not about pleasure; it’s about the anticipation of pleasure. It’s about the pursuit of happiness rather than happiness itself.”

What’s really interesting is what happens when you reduce the reward frequency. When it comes only 50 percent of the time, dopamine levels go through the roof. In this sense, a violated promise isn’t a deterrent for clicking behavior, but rather an incentive. As Sopolsky says, “you’ve just introduced the word ‘maybe’ into the equation, and maybe is addictive like nothing else out there.” Psychologists call this intermittent reinforcement, and it basically means that one of the most effective ways to get a specific behavior out of a person is to introduce “perhaps” into the equation.


After Paris accord, most U.S. Republicans back action on climate

By Megan Cassella
Dec. 23, 2015

A majority of U.S. Republicans who had heard of the international climate deal in Paris said they support working with other countries to curb global warming and were willing to take steps to do so, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday.


More than half, or 58 percent, of Republicans surveyed said they approved of U.S. efforts to work with other nations to limit global warming, the poll showed. Forty percent said they would support a presidential candidate who did so.

Sixty-eight percent, meanwhile, said they either somewhat or strongly agree that they are willing to take individual steps to help the environment, such as cutting down on air-conditioning or buying a more efficient car.

Republicans surveyed were split on whether they would support a candidate who believes climate change is primarily man-made, with 30 percent saying they would vote for such a candidate and 27 percent saying they would not.

Republicans were less enthusiastic about fighting climate change than Democrats, but more willing to address it than the party's presidential candidates. Ninety-one percent of Democrats approve of the United States taking action.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Link between PCOS in the mother and autism in the child

Public Release: 8-Dec-2015
Link between PCOS in the mother and autism in the child
Karolinska Institutet

Children born to mothers with polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS, are at an increased risk of developing autism spectrum disorders, according to a new epidemiological study from Sweden's Karolinska Institutet. The findings, which are published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, support the notion that exposure to sex hormones early in life may be important for the development of autism in both sexes.


there are several lines of evidence that indicate that exposure to certain sex hormones early in life may play a role in the development of ASD. These sex hormones, known as androgens, are responsible for development of male-typical characteristics.

Androgens also affect the development of the brain and central nervous system. Since women with PCOS have increased levels of androgens even during pregnancy, the investigators hypothesised that the disorder might affect the risk of ASD in the children. 5-15 per cent of women of child-bearing age are affected by PCOS, making it one of the most common endocrine disorders.


"We found that a maternal diagnosis of PCOS increased the risk of ASD in the offspring by 59 per cent", says Kyriaki Kosidou, lead researcher on the study, at the Department of Public Health Sciences. "The risk was further increased among mothers with both PCOS and obesity, a condition common to PCOS that is related to more severely increased androgens."

ASD are about four times more common in boys than girls, but there were no observed differences in risk between boys and girls in the study.