Archive for June 3rd, 2008
My impression of physicists is that they are the epitome of the scientist: unswayed by anything save facts and observations, and totally ignoring the human element (and thus no ad hominem responses to arguments based on data). Well, it’s not so. Sherry Towers did a sensible study of the conference presentation opportunities for women physicists vs. men physicists at Fermilabs—and the counter-arguments are anything but rational. Her report from New Scientist:
Over the past few decades, while all fields of science have increased the proportion of women at faculty level, physics has remained the most unequal, with women accounting for only around 10 per cent of faculty members. Is this because women are innately incapable of succeeding in the field (and/or innately prefer other careers), or because they are being discriminated against at more junior levels?
I was curious to know, so in 2004, while I was working as a physicist based at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, I surveyed researchers there. Conference presentations are key to the career advancement of young physicists, as they provide exposure to potential employers, so one of my questions asked how many such presentations the respondent had been allocated over the preceding five years. A particle physicist cannot give a presentation unless selected to do so by the administrators of their experiment – a decision generally taken in a closed-door meeting of senior collaborators.
For skiers and snowboarders there is no business like snow business. But in the Alps winter sports may be doing no business at all in years to come.
In the late 1980s, there was a dramatic step-like drop in the amount of snow falling in the Swiss Alps. Since then, snowfall has never recovered, and in some years the amount that fell was 60 per cent lower than was typical in the early 1980s, says Christoph Marty at the Swiss Federal Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos. He has analysed snowfall trends spanning 60 years and adds that the average number of snow days over the last 20 winters is lower than at any time since records began more than 100 years ago.
The future of winter tourism in the region is looking grim. “I don’t believe we will see the kind of snow conditions we have experienced in past decades,” he says.
Previous studies have suggested a decline in the region’s snowfall but Marty’s analysis is the first to take in 10 years of new data from 34 stations between 200 and 1800 metres above sea level. The work will appear in Geophysical Research Letters.
It’s hard say whether this marks any kind of tipping point in terms of climate change, says Marty. “But from the data it looks like a change in the large-scale weather pattern,” he adds.
Climate Change – Want to know more about global warming: the science, impacts and political debate? Visit our continually updated special report.
Ann Landman has an excellent post on a new business tactic: “slacktivism” It begins:
Recently while browsing the Web I came across UrbanDictionary.com, which is sort of a wiki of contemporary slang. I found some of the newer words listed there amusing, like “hobosexual” (the opposite of metrosexual; someone who cares little about their looks), “consumerican,” (“a particularly American brand of consumerism”), and “wikidemia” (“an academic work passed off as scholarly yet researched entirely on Wikipedia”).
Then I came across a word that put me into a more thoughtful zone: “slacktivism.”
“Slacktivism” (alternative spelling “slactivism”) is a fusion of the words “slacker” and “activism,” and UrbanDicationary.com defines it as “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” It refers to ersatz acts that people perform that they have somehow come to believe are full of meaning, like slapping a magnetic ribbon on your car to “support the troops,” wearing a colored rubber wristband to “fight cancer,” or refusing to buy gasoline on a certain day to protest high gas prices, instead of, say, actually changing your lifestyle to use less gas.
According to UrbanDictionary.com’s definition, slacktivism pertains only to individual behavior, but shortly after I grasped the meaning of the word, I started to see that slacktivism is really much bigger than that. I started to see that corporations perpetrate large-scale, organized slacktivism as a public relations strategy to subtly derail social movements aimed at creating beneficial change.
So what form does corporate-sponsored slacktivism take, and how can people recognize it? The best way to describe it is to give some examples. …
The Center for Science in the Public Interest is pointing out that ExxonMobil has just announced “for the second consecutive year” that it is cutting funding to groups which promote skepticism about global warming. The groups that are supposedly being cut off include the Capital Research Center, Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute, and the Institute for Energy Research. However, CSPI points out, “Each group continued to receive Exxon funding in 2007 after the company’s first announcement that it would discontinue the payments. Exxon did not immediately return calls seeking comment on how serious it was in following through on its plans.”
I’m off to Whole Foods for a few things, and among other items I buying some fresh chervil, chives, parsley, and tarragon because of this post.
Many in the Army downplay or deny post-traumatic stress disorder. In their view, the soldiers suffering from such problems should snap out of it. That leads to things like this, from ThinkProgress:
At Fort Benning in Georgia, the Army has assigned soldiers suffering from PTSD to housing located just 200 yards away from firing ranges. The “barrages from rifles and machine guns” make these wounded soldiers “cringe” and “stay awake and on edge,” and recently “sent one soldier to the emergency room with an anxiety attack.” Complaints to medical personnel and officers have brought no relief.
CQ reports that in just the first three months of this year, “three of the nation’s biggest telecommunications companies have employed 37 lobbying firms to urge lawmakers to include such immunity in any overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.” These companies and their allies spent more than $14 million lobbying during this time.
We need a term for ignorance that is impervious to information: armor-plated ignorance. I’m not thinking so much of global warming (though there’s certainly an example) or evolution (another example), but of abstinence-based sex ed: the notion that teaching kids that they really, really must not have sex until they are married will somehow work, when study after study shows that it does not work. For example, this article from ThinkProgress today:
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) is launching a $1 million “Parents for Truth” campaign. Its mission is to enlist 1 million parents to back abstinence-only education by lobbying local schools and working to elect supportive lawmakers. Last week, the NAEA e-mailed “30,000 supporters, practitioners and parents to try to recruit participants and plans to e-mail 100,000 this week.”
There is very little that is truthful about this “Parents for Truth” campaign. Not only is it pushing misleading, discredited claims about abstinence-only education, but the entire effort appears to be run by unethical individuals with strong ties in the anti-gay movement:
– Valerie Huber, the NAEA’s executive director, was found guilty of “neglect of duty” while at the Ohio Department of Health in 2006. She “participated to a substantial degree in the selection of a vendor” for which she also worked. Huber was given a one-day suspension from her position.
– Melissa Cox was one of the vendors with which Huber had ties. Cox had previously worked for the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, which advocated “curing” gays through “conversion therapy. An abstinence-only conference planned by Huber in October 2005 had been criticized for its “overt Christian messages and anti-gay speakers, including ones openly recruiting for the ‘ex-gay’ movement.”
– As noted by the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, NAEA has hired the PR firm Creative Response Concepts to “develop and implement a national public relations campaign to improve the public understanding and perception of abstinence education.” Creative Response Concepts was best known for leading the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” campaign in 2004. Its other clients have included the RNC, Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, and the Discovery Institute.
Abstinence-only programs don’t work. Last November, 10 leading scientists in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health warned that abstinence-only education withholds “information that may be critical to protecting the health of young people.” More recently, health experts testified to Congress that these programs “have not cut teen pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases or delayed the age at which sex begins.”
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Many babies and toddlers need to get more vitamin D, which is essential for healthy bones, a new study shows.
This isn’t the first time that the topic has come up. Since 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended vitamin D supplementation of 200 international units (IU) per day for all infants who don’t get at least 500 milliliters of vitamin D-fortified formula or milk. That includes breastfed babies, since breast milk is low in vitamin D.
In the new study, doctors at Children’s Hospital Boston measured the blood levels of vitamin D in 380 healthy infants and toddlers aged 8 months to 2 years.
Important story from Jonathan Landay of the McClatchy Washington Bureau:
The presumptive Republican nominee for president and the leading contender for the Democratic nomination are exaggerating what’s known about Iran’s nuclear program as they duel over how best to deal with Tehran.
Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., say that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
The U.S. intelligence community, however, thinks that Iran halted an effort to build a nuclear warhead in mid-2003, and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, which is investigating the program, has found no evidence to date of an active Iranian nuclear-weapons project.
The candidates’ comments raise questions about how carefully the two have studied the public record on what’s become a major campaign issue and is one of the most difficult foreign-policy challenges likely to confront the next president.
The issue is also significant because the Bush administration inflated assessments of the Iraqi nuclear threat and the possibility that former dictator Saddam Hussein could pass nuclear weapons to terrorists as it sought to whip up public support for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Global warming is turning parts of Spain into a desert, while most people (developers, businesses, farmers) have acted as though the water supply is infinite. (Las Vegas, anyone?) You can see how the water fights will start: in denial that the supply of water is limited (just as some still deny that the supply of oil is limited). Elisabeth Rosenthal reports in the NY Times:
FORTUNA, Spain — Lush fields of lettuce and hothouses of tomatoes line the roads. Verdant new developments of plush pastel vacation homes beckon buyers from Britain and Germany. Golf courses — dozens of them, all recently built — give way to the beach. At last, this hardscrabble corner of southeast Spain is thriving.
There is only one problem with the picture of bounty: this province, Murcia, is running out of water. Swaths of southeast Spain are steadily turning into desert, a process spurred on by global warming and poorly planned development.
Murcia, traditionally a poor farming region, has undergone a resort-building boom in recent years, even as many of its farmers have switched to more thirsty crops, encouraged by water transfer plans, which have become increasingly untenable. The combination has put new pressures on the land and its dwindling supply of water.
This year, farmers are fighting developers over water rights. They are fighting one another over who gets to water their crops. And in a sign of their mounting desperation, they are buying and selling water like gold on a rapidly growing black market, mostly from illegal wells.
Southern Spain has long been plagued by cyclical droughts, but the current crisis, scientists say, probably reflects a more permanent climate change brought on by global warming. And it is a harbinger of a new kind of conflict.
The battles of yesterday were fought over land, they warn. Those of the present center on oil. But those of the future — a future made hotter and drier by climate change in much of the world — seem likely to focus on water, they say.
Yes, political hacks appointees did indeed censor and rewrite scientific results to downplay findings of global warming. Facts are not important to ideologues—in truth, facts are often the enemy. Andrew Revkin reports for the NY Times:
Two years after James E. Hansen, the leading climate scientist at NASA, and other agency employees described a pattern of distortion and suppression of climate science by political appointees, the agency’s inspector general has concluded that such activities occurred and were “inconsistent” with the law that established the space program 50 years ago.
In a 48-page report issued on Monday as a result of a request in 2006 by 14 senators, the internal investigative office said the activities appeared limited to the headquarters press office.
No evidence was found showing that officials higher at NASA or in the Bush administration were involved in interfering with the release of climate science information, the report said.
It also credited Michael Griffin, the agency administrator, for swiftly ordering a review and policy changes when the pattern came to light after articles in The New York Times early in 2006.
The report, signed by Kevin H. Winters, assistant inspector general for investigations, criticized what it said was a sustained pattern of activities, largely supervised by senior political appointees, that included muting or withholding news releases on global warming and, at least in Dr. Hansen’s case, limiting a scientist’s interactions with reporters.
After a natural disaster, this little device really can be a lifesaver. (Click photo above to enlarge; at the link, I had to use IE Tab to see the videos.) One big problem following a disaster like an earthquake, a flood, and the like is ensuring a supply of clean and safe drinking water. Also, in some areas finding clean drinking water is a constant problem. With this water bottle, any water can be used without boiling. EcoGeek reports:
The Lifesaver is a portable water filter system, offering clean water from any water source. Setting aside how handy this is for backpacking, this could be a huge leap forward for ensuring safe drinking water in developing countries, disaster areas, or war zones where clean water is in short supply. And it’s far more palatable than other icky but earth-friendly water filtration ideas.
The inventor is Michael Pritchard, who thought of the concept in response to recent natural disasters. The basic science is in creating a filter smaller than the smallest virus, which is 25 nanometers across. The filter, therefore, has holes 15 nanometers across, successfully trapping even the feistiest of disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other waterborne pathogens. It is the world’s first filtration water bottle to achieve such thorough filtration.
The most important feature of the Lifesaver is the fact that it is usable by anyone, even children. Unscrew the base, dip it in a water source, screw the base back on, and quickly pump the water through the filter. The user can then drink the water right from the bottle. And the filters are replaceable, but they won’t need to be replaced often – each filter can treat over 1050 gallons of water before shutting itself off at expiration, making them that much more practical and safe. Even better, zero chemicals are used! Creating something that is so simple to use, yet provides a truly high-tech solution is a really big deal for disaster relief.
While pretty expensive for an individual to purchase ($460), these are affordable for governments and organizations to purchase and provide in relief efforts or to soldiers. This is a serious wonder-tool, but you kinda have to stop and think, “Why didn’t we have this already?” Thank you Michael Pritchard.
Via TalkingPointsMemo, here’s a report by a DailyKos diarist on a meeting of a Congressman with his constituents. He’s endorsed Obama but comes from a strongly pro-Clinton district, so the meeting had considerable interest. Worth reading, and not lengthy.
I’ve been using Registry Booster 2, which costs $40, as I recall. But based on this post in Confessions of a Freeware Junkie, I decided to try Glary Utilities 2.5. I downloaded the freeware version and ran it—wow! It claimed to find around 800 registry errors. I looked through the list and the errors I could recognize definitely seemed like errors. It also found various little problems in other areas and in addition cleared out all the temporary files. This was all done via “1-click maintenance” on the tabs. I have to say that I like it. I think this is the one I’ll be using.
Tabac, a German brand, makes an excellent shaving soap and a good aftershave, and that’s what I used today. (They also make a good shaving cream, but I’m a soap guy.) The Simpsons Emperor 3 Super created the usual thick, luxurious Tabac lather, and I picked the Gillette Milord from the 40’s with a previously used Astra Keramik blade. The Astra Keramik is one of those blades for which the first shave is not so good as the second or third—presumably because some of the coating must be worn from the edge for full sharpness.
The three passes were quite smooth and I almost skipped the oil pass, but decided to go for perfection: Hydrolast Cutting Balm and a final pass with the razor delivered it. Great shave.