Later On

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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Effect of rape culture: Girls View Sexual Violence as Normal

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A press release from Sociologists for Women in Society:

New evidence from the journal Gender & Society helps explain what women’s advocates have argued for years – that women report abuse at much lower rates than it actually occurs. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 44% of victims are under the age of 18, and 60% of sexual assaults are not reported to police.

The study, “Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Harassment and Abuse,” will appear in the June 2014 issue of Gender & Society, a top-ranked journal in Gender Studies and Sociology. The findings reveal that girls and young women rarely reported incidents of abuse because they regarded sexual violence against them as normal.

Sociologist Heather Hlavka at Marquette University analyzed forensic interviews conducted by Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) with 100 youths between the ages of three and 17 who may have been sexually assaulted. Hlavka found that the young women experienced forms of sexual violence in their everyday lives including: objectification, sexual harassment, and abuse. Often times they rationalized these incidents as normal.

During one interview, referring to boys at school, a 13 year-old girl states:

“They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean… I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.”

The researcher’s analysis led her to identify several reasons why young women do not report sexual violence.

  • Girls believe the myth that men can’t help it. The girls interviewed described men as unable to control their sexual desires, often framing men as the sexual aggressors and women as the gatekeepers of sexual activity. They perceived everyday harassment and abuse as normal male behavior, and as something to endure, ignore, or maneuver around.
  • Many of the girls said that they didn’t report the incident because they didn’t want to make a “big deal” of their experiences.  They doubted if anything outside of forcible heterosexual intercourse counted as an offense or rape.
  • Lack of reporting may be linked to trust in authority figures. According to Hlavka, the girls seem to have internalized their position in a male-dominated, sexual context and likely assumed authority figures would also view them as “bad girls” who prompted the assault.
  • Hlavka found that girls don’t support other girls when they report sexual violence. The young women expressed fear that they would be labeled as a “whore” or “slut,” or accused of exaggeration or lying by both authority figures and their peers, decreasing their likelihood of reporting sexual abuse. [Sisterhood may be powerful, but it apparently is also scarce. - LG]

The young women in the study provided insight into how some youth perceived their experiences of sexual violence and harassment during sexual encounters with men. In particular, the study pointed to how the law and popular media may lead to girls’ interpreting their abuse as normal. According to the author, policymakers, educators, and lawmakers need to address how sexual violence is actually experienced by youth beginning at very young ages in order to increase reporting practices, and to protect children from the everyday violence and harassment all too common in their lives.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2014 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Interesting psychological effect used by weight loss software

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I blogged earlier about the $5 OS X program Diet Controller, which I bought from the App Store. Most people nowadays have diet programs for their smartphones, but I still use dumb phones, so I wanted something on my computer.

The backstory: I lost a lot of weight, kept it off for a while but when I discontinued Pilates—which I liked a lot but finally realized I could not really afford—my weight gradually started creeping up over the months. Finally, I realized I had to Take Steps.

My main weakness is eating between meals—little snacks plus a bite here and a bit there—so my initial thought in getting the software was twofold: first, I would get a better idea of my caloric intake, and second, that writing down snacks and bites (and I’m very good at recording this: skipping entries distorts the data, and I’m the only one looking at it, so why not enter all food?) would make me conscious of what I was doing, and if I ate the snack anyway, at least I would know the caloric impact.

But Diet controller turned out to be a much better program than I expected. First, the user interface is very nice. Second, it has an interesting psychological aspect. Looking at the calories has helped it itself, but the program also has graphs of the “calorie balance” (which I tend to call the calorie deficit). The calorie deficit is the difference between the number of calories required in a day and the number of calories consumed that day.

The number of calories required per day is computer from a basic metabolism rate computer from weight, age, and general activity level (sedentary, for me) and the number of calories expended in exercise, which is entered in the exercise log. (No entries yet for me.)

Obviously, a positive calorie deficit is good—you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, so body fat is burned to make up the deficit—and a negative calorie deficit is bad. When you see the deficit chart day to day, somehow one becomes motivated to increase the deficit, and increasing something is more psychologically satisfying than decreasing something. So although the only way to increase the calorie deficit is to cut back on calories consumed, by focusing on increasing something (or at least maintaining what has been achieved) is psychologically more appealing than trying to make something smaller (calories consumed). Here’s one such graph (the program has several ways of viewing the deficit). It’s for 20 days (you can select number of days), and I started using the program on 30 March. You’ll notice the deficit went negative (i.e., I consumed more calories than I burned) at first, but then I start to figure it out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.34.46 PM

It really is an excellent little program, and very nicely done. $5. Amazing.

That blowout on 3 April was because I made myself a big batch of oyster stew, which included 12 oz shucked oysters (555 calories) along with butter, flour, and whole milk. Delicious, but… But you will notice I’m catching on.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:37 pm

How can one raise children who are caring and moral?

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Adam Grant has an interesting column in the NY Times:

What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.

Yet although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.

Despite the significance that it holds in our lives, teaching children to care about others is no simple task. In an Israeli study of nearly 600 families, parents who valued kindness and compassion frequently failed to raise children who shared those values.

Are some children simply good-natured — or not? For the past decade, I’ve been studying the surprising success of people who frequently help others without any strings attached. As the father of two daughters and a son, I’ve become increasingly curious about how these generous tendencies develop.

Genetic twin studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited. That leaves a lot of room for nurture, and the evidence on how parents raise kind and compassionate children flies in the face of what many of even the most well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:56 am

Why We’re in a New Gilded Age

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Paul Krugman has an interesting book review in the NY Review of Books:

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
by Thomas Piketty, translated from the French by Arthur Goldhammer
Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 685 pp., $39.95

Thomas Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics, isn’t a household name, although that may change with the English-language publication of his magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Yet his influence runs deep. It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in a second Gilded Age—or, as Piketty likes to put it, a second Belle Époque—defined by the incredible rise of the “one percent.” But it has only become a commonplace thanks to Piketty’s work. In particular, he and a few colleagues (notably Anthony Atkinson at Oxford and Emmanuel Saez at Berkeley) have pioneered statistical techniques that make it possible to track the concentration of income and wealth deep into the past—back to the early twentieth century for America and Britain, and all the way to the late eighteenth century for France.

The result has been a revolution in our understanding of long-term trends in inequality. Before this revolution, most discussions of economic disparity more or less ignored the very rich. Some economists (not to mention politicians) tried to shout down any mention of inequality at all: “Of the tendencies that are harmful to sound economics, the most seductive, and in my opinion the most poisonous, is to focus on questions of distribution,” declared Robert Lucas Jr. of the University of Chicago, the most influential macroeconomist of his generation, in 2004. But even those willing to discuss inequality generally focused on the gap between the poor or the working class and the merely well-off, not the truly rich—on college graduates whose wage gains outpaced those of less-educated workers, or on the comparative good fortune of the top fifth of the population compared with the bottom four fifths, not on the rapidly rising incomes of executives and bankers.

It therefore came as a revelation when Piketty and his colleagues showed that incomes of the now famous “one percent,” and of even narrower groups, are actually the big story in rising inequality. And this discovery came with a second revelation: talk of a second Gilded Age, which might have seemed like hyperbole, was nothing of the kind. In America in particular the share of national income going to the top one percent has followed a great U-shaped arc. Before World War I the one percent received around a fifth of total income in both Britain and the United States. By 1950 that share had been cut by more than half. But since 1980 the one percent has seen its income share surge again—and in the United States it’s back to what it was a century ago.

Still, today’s economic elite is very different from that of the nineteenth century, isn’t it? Back then, great wealth tended to be inherited; aren’t today’s economic elite people who earned their position? Well, Piketty tells us that this isn’t as true as you think, and that in any case this state of affairs may prove no more durable than the middle-class society that flourished for a generation after World War II. The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to “patrimonial capitalism,” in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.

It’s a remarkable claim—and precisely because it’s so remarkable, it needs to be examined carefully and critically. Before I get into that, however, let me say right away that Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?—with painstaking data analysis. And even though Piketty mocks the economics profession for its “childish passion for mathematics,” underlying his discussion is a tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics.


What do we know about economic inequality, and about when do we know it? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 3:02 pm

Cancer and cannabis

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A hopeful report by Randy Robinson. Although one case doesn’t establish efficacy, it certain suggests that research is justified—and Obama will not budge on reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I. Randy Robinson writes in Culture:

At 14 years old, Alysa Erwin was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  As it would with any family, the news hit hard. “When the doctor called me to tell me Alysa had cancer, she said there wasn’t a good outcome. There was no success rate whatsoever,” said Carly, Alysa’s mother.

“She told me all we could do was have hope.”

But that was in 2011.

In 2014, Alysa is cancer-free, and her family believes cannabis oil saved her life. At the time, the Erwins’ outlook appeared grim. Doctors call her condition Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, an inoperable cancer with a near-zero survival rate. Alysa’s disease, caused by uncontrolled neuron growth, had spider-webbed throughout her brain. There were no individual tumors to target. A wiry network of cancerous cells penetrated so far into her skull that surgery was impossible. That meant Alysa would have to undergo aggressive chemo—and radiation therapies, a choice which leaves many terminal patients incapacitated during their final days. In Alysa’s case, even with traditional medical treatment, doctors expected she’d survive for only another one or two years. The situation became desperate, and the Erwins sought out another choice.

Alysa’s father David, heard about Rick Simpson’s Phoenix Tears Foundation through Michigan Compassion, a medical cannabis organization. After watching the documentaries What If Cannabis Cured Cancer? and Run from the Cure, the Erwins decided cannabis oil was their best bet for Alysa’s recovery.

“We knew what we wanted,” Carly said, “but we wanted to hear her choice.”

Alysa, presented with the options of chemotherapy or cannabinoids, tried the conventional route first. After just five days of popping Temedor pills—and enduring the debilitating nausea that comes with them—she abandoned chemo and went with cannabis. The Erwins were floored. They saw instant results.

Thirty minutes after she took her first half-teaspoon mix of concentrate and peanut butter, Alysa was laughing again. She was eating. Her pain vanished and she could hold down food. “She was like a regular teenager,” her mother said. . .

Continue reading. Why won’t Obama budge on reclassifying marijuana? It is an action he could take immediately, but he doesn’t and since he doesn’t have press conferences, there’s no way of asking him why. But none of the reasons I can think of are very complimentary to him.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 2:00 pm

Toxic emission spikes at fracking sites are rarely monitored

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Do not live or spend much time near fracking sites: the government is failing to regulate fracking and when businesses are given the opportunity, they poison the environment. Lisa Song and Jim Morris report at McClatchy:

People in natural gas drilling areas who complain about nauseating odors, nosebleeds and other symptoms they fear could be caused by shale development are usually told by state regulators that monitoring data show the air quality is fine.

But a new study suggests that the most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don’t catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production. The study, reported this week in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health, was conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit based near Pittsburgh.

A health survey the group released last year found that people who live near drilling sites in Washington County, Pa., in the Marcellus Shale, reported symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds, all of which could be caused by pollutants known to be emitted from gas sites. Similar problems have been reported by people who live in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

While residents want to know whether gas drilling is affecting the air near their homes – where emissions can vary dramatically over the course of a day – regulators generally use methods designed to assess long-term regional air quality.

They’re “misapplying the technology,” said lead author David Brown, who conducted the study with three of his colleagues at the Environmental Health Project. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2014 at 1:15 pm

Evidence doesn’t work. What’s the alternative?

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Several articles have been published in the wake of studies that show how presenting people with evidence that their view on a topic is wrong will not dissuade them but make them hold even more tightly to their view. Here’s one such article by Ezra Klein.

If the finding holds up—and the evidence so far is strong—then I don’t see what we can do. Since evidence and reason are pretty much useless (or, indeed, worse than useless), we are left with power, force, and violence as the way to win arguments. Indeed, in looking at history, those are how religious debates have been settled (since evidence is immaterial to a faith-based position).

And perhaps it is the case that power, force, and violence are the only way to settle disagreements on matters of fact—a depressing thought. I have the idea that I am open to evidence and rational argument, but I am by nature a loner and those who seem most unable to accept evidence and argument against their positions have, as Klein points out, much of their identity derived from belonging a group: changing their position would exclude them from the group, and group membership is essential to who they are. I don’t belong to groups, so I experience less pressure to conform, which makes it somewhat easier to consider evidence and reasoning.

At any rate, one gets the feeling that it’s hopeless: those who are in error on an issue will stick with their position to the death (thus religious wars), and no amount of contrary evidence or obvious inconsistencies in their position will have any effect beyond making them more certain of their position.

Perhaps Voltaire was right: There’s nowt to do but cultivate our gardens.

UPDATE: I’ve continued to ponder this question, which seems extremely important if we are to retain the gains of the Enlightenment. A few points:

Evidence-based arguments using reason does work in many instances: look, for example, at the success of science and technology.

Logical, reasoned argument based on evidence is a skill, not something innate that we can simply do. That means doing it well requires training and practice. Without training and practice, conclusions may well be based on desires, conformity with a social circle, or other factors irrelevant to the evience and the argument (cf. Klein’s example of Hannity and climate change). Desiring to remain in good graces with one’s social group is irrelevant to reasoned argument from evidence.

Some positions are contradicted by evidence and arrived at by flawed methods (e.g., wanting something to be true because it fits with the beliefs of your church or other social group). While restricting the argument to evidence and reasoning from that may be difficult—particularly for those untrained in reasoning from evidence—that nevertheless is more likely to reach correct answers (i.e., answers in accordance with reality).

It does seem that many people do not reason well and do not understand how to use evidence—and many may place a higher priority remaining in good graces with their social group than arriving at conclusions that match reality. This is indeed a problem: when policy decisions are based on fantasies, even well-intentioned fantasies, the results are not good.

The root cause is that we are social animals, so social needs have high priority. But that does not mean that reasoned argument from evidence is wrong or something we should abandon. And I think, in a proper education, students are taught to aspire to sound reasoning from evidence as the most productive approach and the best chance of matching solutions to reality.

UPDATE 2: Paul Krugman has a very good response to Klein’s article. He points out that, when your tribe’s beliefs are inconsistent with demonstrated facts, then choosing to go with one or the other is not symmetric between Conservatives and Liberals: although the experiment seems to suggest that the phenomenon is equally common on both sides, in fact it is not: as Krugman states, there is no liberal example of something on the scale of climate change denial (in which the stakes are so high), of vaccines causing autism, or the like. And I think this is because Conservatives are much more tribal in their orientation. You will recall how loyalty and authority rank very high with Conservatives and not with Liberals, whose major concerns are harm and fairness. (See this post for more information on the study.) If loyalty is a primary value, then taking a stand against a group belief is intolerable. And indeed you see that if someone takes a stand that’s different from the group’s views, s/he is often ostracized and strongly criticized by their group if the group values loyalty: dissent and standing apart from the group is not accepted in groups in which loyalty and authority are paramount. And those are exactly Conservative groups; Liberals are perhaps more tolerant, and in any event judge things by different primary values.

Because Conservatives value loyalty and authority so highly, they look to the group and its leaders for guidance; Liberals put less weight on those virtues and thus look instead at the evidence, less concerned about whose apple-cart they might upset.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2014 at 10:55 am

A sad take on fraudulent science research

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It’s a serious problem, well described in this short piece by Paul Bisceglio in Pacific Standard. In the investigation, scientist could submit anonymous examples, and this was one:

Where are the scientific integrity and self-correction we idealize? Sadly, Brookes’s report includes a handful of anonymous testimonials that highlights the frequent politics behind scientific corrections, such as:

I reviewed a paper and found fabricated data. The journal rejected the paper, and subsequently it was published in a different journal with some problem data still present. The editor at the new journal knows about the previous rejection for reasons of data fabrication, but refuses to take up the matter with the authors unless I am willing to have my real name revealed as an accuser. I refused, because the lead author is on a panel that reviews my grant proposals.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2014 at 7:37 pm

Posted in Science

Louisiana’s coastline is disappearing

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An interesting and reasonably lengthy article in the Washington Post by Lydia DePillis:

MONTEGUT, La. — After a century of oil exploration, the wetlands of Southern Louisiana have been cut to ribbons. Companies dug deep channels to lay pipe and ferry black gold out of the bayous, but never stitched them up; the open sores now funnel sand out to sea and allow saltwater to corrode vegetation that held the land in place. Largely as a result, the coastal buffer zone is 25 percent smaller than it used to be back in 1932, and still losing about a football field’s worth of land every hour — leaving towns inland ever more vulnerable to the next giant storm.

Right now, there’s a huge fight underway in Baton Rouge that will determine whether industry pays to protect what’s left. If it doesn’t, it’s not clear who will.

Here’s the quick version: Last summer, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East sued 97 oil companies for decades of negligence. The proceeds could provide a good chunk of the state’s $50 billion coastal restoration plan, which is still mostly unfunded. The state’s oil industry-backed Republicans, however, are scrambling to derail the suit — and just might be able to, with a bill that would essentially deprive the flood authorities of any power to litigate large environmental cases, now or in the future. If that happens, environmental groups are maneuvering to join the suit, or file another one that would accomplish the same thing.

And the consequences are not just abstract. The 711,000 residents of Louisiana’s five most coastal counties live in an ever more precarious reality — and few more so than the denizens of Isle de Jean Charles, a filigree of sandbars an hour southeast of New Orleans. Many of its residents can’t or won’t move away, either because it’s all they’ve ever known, or because the very industry flushing the land from beneath their feet is still the biggest source of vitality the region has. A walk through town shows us just how deep those conflicts run. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2014 at 10:24 am

Saturated Fads: Butter Is Back Only Because Our Biases Remain

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I suppose it was too good to be true. James McWilliams writes at Pacific Standard:

A report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on March 17 left meat eaters salivating. The meta-analysis of over 70 studies explored the comparative impact of saturated fat (found in meat, butter, and cheese) and unsaturated fat (found in vegetable oils, nuts, and fish) on heart disease. Challenging decades of conventional wisdom, the authors reported no clear correlation between levels of saturated fat and heart problems. Brashly, they concluded: “Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”

Food writers, who have long struggled with promoting meaty recipes without prescribing a heart attack on a plate, were wide-eyed with glee. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman wrote, “Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.” Christiane Northrup, writing in Huffington Post, practically urged readers to get thee to the nearest Burger King. “Think about it,” she wrote, “It’s NOT the burger with cheese and bacon that’s the issue. It’s the ketchup, the bun, and the fries.” Michael Pollan, commenting on the Times coverage of the study, tweeted: “About time!”

As a rule, one should be suspect when any nutrition study is widely celebrated. Sure enough, as so often happens, the other shoe quickly dropped on the saturated fat news. Within days of publication, critics of the study—as well as the researchers themselves—reported a slew of not insignificant errors. In one case the authors misinterpreted a study showing a strong correlation between unsaturated fats and positive heart health and, in another, they overlooked two critical studies on omega-6 fatty acids that presumably did not support their findings.

Scientists were unusually vocal in their critiques. The omissions, according to a New Zealand scientist, “demonstrate shoddy research and make one wonder whether there are more that haven’t been detected.” The authors of the study “have done a huge amount of damage,” Walter Willet, the chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Science. Deeming the work “dangerous,” he called for a retraction.

Vocal critiques notwithstanding, the media blast touting this study cannot be undone. Willet noted as much, saying, “It is good that [the authors] fixed it for the record, but it has caused massive confusion and the public hasn’t heard about the correction.” A big problem for Willet is meta-studies more generally.”It looks like a sweeping summary of all the data, so it gets a lot of attention,” he said, “but these days meta-analyses are often done by people who are not familiar with a field, who don’t have the primary data or don’t make the effort to get it.”

Just as unfortunate as the apparently flawed meta-study was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Science

I’ll continue my vitamin D supplement, supported by two new studies

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Anahad O’Connor writes in the NY Times:

People with low vitamin D levels are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease and to suffer from other illnesses, scientists reported in two large studies published on Tuesday.

The new research suggests strongly that blood levels of vitamin D are a good barometer of overall health. But it does not resolve the question of whether low levels are a cause of disease or simply an indicator of behaviors that contribute to poor health, like a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and a diet heavy in processed and unhealthful foods.

Nicknamed the sunshine nutrient, vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It can be obtained from a small assortment of foods, including fish, eggs, fortified dairy products and organ meats, and vegetables like mushrooms and kale. And blood levels of it can be lowered by smoking, obesity and inflammation.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is an important part of the immune system. Receptors for the vitamin and related enzymes are found throughout cells and tissues of the body, suggesting it may be vital to many physiological functions, said Dr. Oscar H. Franco, a professor of preventive medicine at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and an author of one of the new studies, which appeared in the journal BMJ.

“It has effects at the genetic level, and it affects cardiovascular health and bone health,” he said. “There are different hypotheses for the factors that vitamin D regulates, from genes to inflammation. That’s the reason vitamin D seems so promising.”

The two studies were meta-analyses that included data on more than a million people. They included observational findings on the relationship between disease and blood levels of vitamin D. The researchers also reviewed evidence from randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in scientific research — that assessed whether taking vitamin D daily was beneficial. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

More denial from the GOP on climate change

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They really should be thinking, “What are our plans if it does turn out to be real? What should we now be doing if that turns out to be the case?” But it’s easier just to fall back on denial and work hard to stop people talking about it or studying it. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:

Two days after a U.N. report warned of increased famine, war, and poverty from unmitigated carbon emissions, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to focus less on studying climate change, and more on predicting storms.

The bill, introduced last June by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), wouldn’t require NOAA to stop its climate research entirely, but it would require the agency to “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2014 at 1:03 pm

Americans finally understand that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol

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Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post:

A new Pew survey out today provides yet another illustration of the failure of America’s drug war. By a nearly five-to-one margin, Americans agree that alcohol is worse for you than marijuana. However you slice the data up demographically, majorities say the same thing.


The elderly, Republicans and Hispanics are the least likely to agree that booze is more harmful than weed, but even among these groups respondents said that alcohol was more harmful by more than a two-to-one margin. At the other end of the spectrum, blacks say alcohol is more harmful by an eight-to-one margin, while those under thirty agree by nearly seven-to-one.

On the relative dangers of marijuana and alcohol, the public is now in line with what medical researchers have been saying for years. A 2010 study in the journal Lancet, for instance, graded common drugs on sixteen criteria relating to how harmful the drugs were to users, and how harmful they were to society overall. On both measures – harm to self and harm to users – marijuana scored significantly lower than alcohol.


In fact, alcohol was the most dangerous of all the drugs studied, vastly more dangerous than other drugs in terms of harm to society, and behind only meth, crack and heroin when it came to harm to users.

Other topline findings from the Pew survey: . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: And check out this story: “NJ Prosecutors Reverse Age-old Position and Now Support Marijuana Legalization“. From the article:

The paper reported that Barr’s other reasons for backing marijuana legalization include:

• Requests by prosecutors to analyze samples of marijuana are overwhelming the state’s drug-testing laboratories, sometimes leading to dismissals of cases when defendants invoke their rights to speedy trials;

• Studies show that marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, nicotine or caffeine;

• Marijuana is easier for high school students to obtain than alcohol because the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated;

• Very few of the thousands of DWI cases prosecuted annually are for driving under the influence of marijuana;

• Statistics show that African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, but there is no evidence to show there is disproportionately more marijuana use in minority communities;

• The state loses money by not collecting sales tax on marijuana, while drug dealers profit.

“The time has come to understand that this particular offense makes about as much sense as prohibition of alcohol did,” Barr said. “It is time to stop the insanity.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2014 at 11:46 am

Posted in Drug laws, Health, Science

What happens when you repeal mandatory motorcycle helmet laws?

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Deaths increase sharply. It seems pretty clearcut—MUCH more persuasive than “vaccines cause autism,” for example. In the case of the vaccines, when thiomersal was removed from vaccines, there was no effect at all on autism rates. In contrast, when motorcycle helmets were no longer mandatory, deaths immediately started to rise. See this brief, interesting article with graphs in the NY Times.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2014 at 10:04 am

The fruits of denial

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Timothy Eagan writes in the NY Times:

DON’T tell me, please, that nobody saw one of the deadliest landslides in American history coming. Say a prayer or send a donation for a community buried under a mountain of mud along a great river in Washington State, the Stillaguamish. Praise the emergency workers still trying to find a pulse of life in a disaster that left 25 people dead and 90 missing.

But enough with the denial, the willful ignorance of cause and effect, the shock that one of the prettiest valleys on the planet could turn in a flash from quiet respite in the foothills of the North Cascades to a gravelly graveyard.

“This was a completely unforeseen slide,” said John Pennington, the emergency manager of Snohomish County. “It was considered very safe.” He said this on Monday, two days after the equivalent of three million dump truck loads of wet earth heaved down on the river near the tiny town of Oso. Unforeseen — except for 60 years’ worth of warnings, most notably a report in 1999 that outlined “the potential for a large catastrophic failure” on the very hillside that just suffered a large catastrophic failure.

It is human nature, if not the American way, to look potential disaster in the face and prefer to see a bright and shining lie. The “taming” of this continent, in five centuries and change, required a mighty mustering of cognitive dissonance. As a result, most of us live with the danger of wildfire, earthquake, tornado, flooding, drought, hurricane or yet-to-be-defined and climate-change-influenced superstorm. A legacy of settlement is the delusion that large-scale manipulation of the natural world can be done without consequence.

What happened when the earth moved on a quiet Saturday morning in the Stillaguamish Valley was foretold, in some ways, by the relationship that people have with that sylvan slice of the Pacific Northwest.

Almost 25 years ago, I went into one of the headwater streams of the Stillaguamish with Pat Stevenson, a biologist with the American Indian tribe that bears the same name as the river and claims an ancient link to that land. The rain was Noah-level that day — just as it’s been for most of this March.

We drove upriver, winding along the drainage of Deer Creek, one of the main tributaries of the Stillaguamish. We couldn’t see Whitehorse Mountain, the dreamy peak that towers over the valley, that day. We could barely see beyond our windshield wipers. At last, we arrived at an open wound near road’s end. I’d never witnessed anything like it: an active slide, sloughing mud and clay down into the formerly pristine creek. We watched huge sections of land peel and puddle — an ugly and terrifying new landscape under creation before our eyes.

Stevenson pointed uphill, to bare, saturated earth that was melting, like candle wax, into the main mudslide. Not long ago, this had been a thick forest of old growth timber. But after it was excessively logged, every standing tree removed, there was nothing to hold the land in place during heavy rains. A federal survey determined that nearly 50 percent of the entire basin above Deer Creek had been logged over a 30-year period. It didn’t take a degree in forestry to see how one event led to the other.

The Stilly, as locals call the river, is well known to those who chase fish with a fly rod, and to native people who have been living off its bounty for centuries. Zane Grey, the Western novelist, called it the finest fishing river in the world for steelhead, the big seagoing trout that can grow to 40 pounds. What Stevenson showed me that day in a November storm was how one human activity, logging, was destroying the source of joy and sustenance for others. When the crack and groan of an entire hillside in collapse happened a week ago Saturday, I thought instantly of Stevenson and that gloomy day at Deer Creek.

And, sure enough, logging above the area of the current landslide appears to have gone beyond the legal limits, into the area that slid, according to a report in The Seattle Times.

Yes, but who wants to listen to warnings by pesky scientists, to pay heed to predictions by environmental nags, or allow an intrusive government to limit private property rights? That’s how these issues get cast. And that’s why reports like the ones done on the Stillaguamish get shelved. The people living near Oso say nobody ever informed them of the past predictions. . .

Continue reading.


Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 6:37 pm

Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health, Data Show

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The governmental policy implications are obvious, I think. Sabrina Tavernise writes in the NY Times:

In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.

Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.

The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.

“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 4:12 pm

Why the environmental fight is lost

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The outcome of the war on the environment is now obvious, and the environment loses. The reason is simple: you can go time after time after time defending the environment, and yet if just one time you lose—as in this article—and you have lost forever. Eventually, they’ll get a win, and when they do, a bit more environment is destroyed. And the natural environment is limited—and growing smaller annually through the process described: the occasional yet inevitable failure on some issue.

That, of course, is quite apart from the major devastation of climate change—but some in Congress, in a spectacular example of burying-head-in-sand, are determined to put an end to any discussion of that issue.

UPDATE: See also this article in Salon.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 1:15 pm

Talking to infants and the impact of pre-K education

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post on outcomes from pre-K education, along with findings on the effects of talking to babies from the time they’re born.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Education, Science

Fight crime: Legalize marijuana

with 4 comments

Obviously legalizing marijuana fights crime in one sense: buying and using marijuana stops being a crime, so that’s a plus right there. But it turns out that other crimes (homicide and assault, for example) also drop when marijuana is legally available. Nicole Flatow reports at ThinkProgress:

Legalizing medical marijuana did not cause an increase in any category of crime in states that have done so, according to a new study. In fact, medical marijuana laws have been associated with decreases in some violent crime, particularly homicides and assaults. The study by University of Texas at Dallas researchers is the latest piece of research to debunk assertions that marijuana legalization is linked to crime.

“In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes,” write the authors in a study published in PLOS One.

In fact, they surmise, “[g]iven the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reductions in violent crimes that can be detected at the state level.”

The study analyzes Federal Bureau of Investigation arrest data between 1990 and 2006 in 11 states where medical marijuana became legal during that time period, controlling for the drug crimes that would be directly affected by legalization. But it does not draw conclusions about the reason why crime held steady and even dropped in some categories.

Legalization proponents in the law enforcement community have argued that creating a legal market would reduce violent crime because it is the gangs and drug cartels driven by the black market that are responsible for the bulk of the violent activity related to drugs. If this reasoning contributed, then legalization of recreational pot could lead to a more significant reduction in these violent crimes, since medical marijuana is limited to those with a doctor’s prescription.

The researchers noted that the drops in assaults and homicides were small (about 2.4 percent), and could have been caused by other variables not accounted for. But this is one of several studies to find that medical marijuana laws yield no increases in crime. A 2012 study found that medical marijuana dispensaries don’t lead to increases in crime in the neighborhoods where they are located. And a 2013 University of Chicago study found that medical marijuana laws were associated with a decrease in fatalities, contrary to the concerns of some about driving under the influence.

These findings strongly suggest that marijuana legalization should proceed quickly.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2014 at 12:56 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Science

Male dancing that appeals to women

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Not this:

This appeals much more to women:

Explanation in this brief article.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2014 at 11:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Science


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