Later On

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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Fighting Global Warming: Cheap and Free?

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Paul Krugman has a hopeful column, although the hope part depends on rational responses from governments…  so perhaps not so hopeful. Still, it’s something:

This just in: Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news?

I’ve just been reading two new reports on the economics of fighting climate change: a big study by a blue-ribbon international group, the New Climate Economy Project, and a working paper from the International Monetary Fund. Both claim that strong measures to limit carbon emissions would have hardly any negative effect on economic growth, and might actually lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are serious, careful analyses.

But you know that such assessments will be met with claims that it’s impossible to break the link between economic growth and ever-rising emissions of greenhouse gases, a position I think of as “climate despair.” The most dangerous proponents of climate despair are on the anti-environmentalist right. But they receive aid and comfort from other groups, including some on the left, who have their own reasons for getting it wrong.

Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.

On one side, there has been dramatic progress in renewable energy technology, with the costs of solar power, in particular, plunging, down by half just since 2010. Renewables have their limitations — basically, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an economy getting a lot of its power from wind farms and solar panels is a hippie fantasy, you’re the one out of touch with reality.

On the other side, it turns out that putting a price on carbon would have large “co-benefits” — positive effects over and above the reduction in climate risks — and that these benefits would come fairly quickly. The most important of these co-benefits, according to the I.M.F. paper, would involve public health: burning coal causes many respiratory ailments, which drive up medical costs and reduce productivity. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2014 at 3:38 pm

Obama quails (again)

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Obama is taking steps against excessive use of antibiotics by signing an executive order. Because of evolution, which actually does work, natural selection favors pathogens that can resist the antibiotics used, so such pathogens proliferate. In this case, however, the selection is not really “natural”: since humans are administering the antibiotics (in large numbers), we are in effect artificially selecting pathogens for antibiotic resistance—that is, we are engaged in a stupendously large program to breed pathogens that we cannot kill with our current medications.

Why one earth would we do such an insane thing? Money! You can make a lot of money by breeding superstrong pathogens that we cannot kill. Of course, eventually such pathogens will become a real problem, with people once again dying from small infections, but the beauty part is by then the money will have been made!

That is actually the “thinking” (if one can call it that) behind the great pressure to continue the super-pathogen breeding program.

Of course, Obama all to frequently seems incapable of committing himself to effective action. He may indeed have good intentions, but they are frittered away in compromises, half-measures, and backing down. Kerry Grens writes in The Scientist:

President Obama yesterday (September 18) signed an executive order and announced a National Strategy to fight antibiotic resistance. His administration also offered up a $20 million reward for developing a fast diagnostic test that could identify highly resistant bugs.

The National Strategy is a five-year plan including goals such as slowing the spread of drug-resistant bacteria; accelerating the development of new antibiotics, vaccines, and drugs; and enhancing the surveillance of antibiotic resistance. The President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology (PCAST) also released its report outlining similar strategies.

“What’s new here is there is a highly federal focus that’s highly coordinated,” Eric Lander, the cochair of PCAST and founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, told CNN. “We are endorsing a variety of specific goals in order to get our arms around this problem. If we’re producing antibiotics at a greater rate than we’re losing them, then we win in the long run.”

Those in the infectious disease community appeared pleased by the attention on antibiotic resistance.“The President’s engagement and actions in fighting antimicrobial resistance are a great step forward, but follow-up with resources and leadership in implementation will be critical,” Jesse Goodman, the director of the Center on Medical Product Access, Safety and Stewardship at Georgetown University Medical Center, said in a statement e-mailed to The Scientist.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), however, expressed disappointment in the lack of focus on antibiotic use on farms. “Just as the administration is taking steps to deal with abuse of antibiotics in humans, it must take steps to curb the overuse of antibiotics in animals, which consume about 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States. Shying away from taking these needed steps will not yield the ‘substantial changes’ that PCAST says are necessary,” Mae Wu, health attorney at the NRDC, said in a statement. The FDA has spearheaded efforts to get drugmakers to change their labeling to help curb the use of antibiotics for beefing up livestock.

Emphasis added. And Obama? He went home. He will do nothing about the core of the problem, just kind of tap around the edges.

I am so disappointed in this Administration. Plenty of fire in the belly for going after whistleblowers, protecting torturers, making more and more of government secret, letting the NSA and CIA do whatever they want, and so on—but actual constructive change? I think he used it all up in the Affordable Care Act.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2014 at 3:30 pm

How to help your kids under 6 have a stronger memory

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It’s too late for you, unfortunately. Via Kevin Drum, this article by Melissa Dahl at New York magazine explains how to do it. From the article:

. . . To understand this apparent gender divide in recalling memories, it helps to start with early childhood — specifically, ages 2 to 6. Whether you knew it or not, during these years, you learned how to form memories, and researchers believe this happens mostly through conversations with others, primarily our parents. These conversations teach us how to tell our own stories, essentially; when a mother asks her child for more details about something that happened that day in school, for example, she is implicitly communicating that these extra details are essential parts to the story.

And these early experiments in storytelling assist in memory-making, research shows. One recent studytracked preschool-age kids whose mothers often asked them to elaborate when telling stories; later in their lives, these kids were able to recall earlier memories than their peers whose mothers hadn’t asked for those extra details.

But the way parents tend to talk to their sons is different from the way they talk to their daughters. Mothers tend to introduce more snippets of new information in conversations with their young daughters than they do with their young sons, research has shown. And moms tend to ask more questions about girls’ emotions; with boys, on the other hand, they spend more time talking about what they should dowith those feelings.

This is at least partially a product of parents acting on gender expectations they may not even realize they have, and the results are potentially long-lasting, explained Azriel Grysman, a psychologist at Hamilton College who studies gender differences and memory. “The message that girls are getting is that talking about your feelings is part of describing an event,” Grysman said. “And for boys, emotions are something to be concerned with when they are part of a larger issue, but otherwise not. And it’s quite possible, over time, that those tendencies will help women establish more connections in their brains of different pieces of an event, which will lead to better memory long-term.”

Because a memory doesn’t exist the way we tend to imagine it; it’s not a singular, fully formed thing buried in some small corner of the mind. Instead, it’s “a pattern of mental activity, and the more entry points we have to what that pattern might be, the more chances we have to retrieve it,” Grysman said. Researchers call those entry points “retrieval cues,” and they can be as seemingly mundane as what you were feeling, what you were eating, or what you were wearing.

The more entry points you’ve got about an event, the more likely you are to remember it. It’s how Grysman advises his students to study for tests. “I tell them to try to make links between the material they’re studying and other parts of their lives, and those other parts of their lives serve as entry points,” he said.

So Grysman’s theory, which he explored in an extensive review of the literature published last year, is that those early conversations with your parents implicitly told you which details are important to remember about the things that happen to you, and which are not. And because parents’ conversations with girls include references to both more information and more emotion, they’re setting their daughters up to have stronger memories over their lives. . .

UPDATE: The more I thought about this—and I did think about it, given that I have 3 grandsons 2 and under—the more it seemed that it would be easy to provide an environment for young children that will strengthen their memory. For example, in asking “What happened to you today?”, you can ask follow-up questions to provide more points of access while also helping the children know what details to notice. For example:

Who was involved? What did they say? What were their emotions/feelings? (E.g., happy, sad, laughing, crying) What did you hear? (Was there any music?) What colors?  and so on.

By asking about smells, tastes, sounds, sights, and so on, children get to pay attention to their senses. By asking about emotions and feelings, they learn to pay attention not only to their own feelings (something that must be learned), but also learn to think about (analyze, to some degree) the feelings of others and what causes those feelings. And so on.

Now I want a do-over: to have my children very young once more and to listen better to their stories and ask them more about what they notice.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 September 2014 at 11:35 am

Quotes from an interesting article on marijuana use and its effects on h.s. graduation

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Lancet just published a study that showed some negative correlation between frequent marijuana use and various negative outcomes—e.g., lower h.s. graduation rates. No causality was posited, but of course unthinking marijuana opponents (is that redundant?) leapt  on the dat as conclusive. (Headline in Australian paper: “Cannabis use catastrophic for young brains”.)

Christopher Ingraham takes a calmer look in an excellent report (with useful graphs) in the Washington Post. From the article:

. . . From 2006 to 2012, monthly marijuana use among high school seniors increased by more than 4 percentage points*, from 18.3 percent to 22.9 percent. If indeed marijuana use were the educational catastrophe that opponents predict, you’d expect to see downward pressure on national graduation rates as more kids took up the habit. But in actuality, the opposite happened: over the same period, as kids were smoking more, graduation rates jumped 8 percentage points.

This should not be at all construed to imply that increasing rates of marijuana use are somehow causing higher graduation rates. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. And these numbers don’t even constitute an argument against the Lancet study findings – it’s perfectly plausible that any negative consequences of marijuana use are too small to show up in a simple national trendline like this.

But it’s a useful corrective against the facile notion that “more weed = less graduation.” In reality, there are a whole host of factors that influence graduation rates, from income to demographics and beyond. Marijuana use may indeed exhibit some pull on the graduation numbers at the national level. But this effect, if it exists, is likely dwarfed by all the other factors at play.

I also looked at the relationship between state-level marijuana use rates, as measured in the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, and state-level graduation rates. There was zero correlation. For instance, Vermont teens were about twice as likely as Utah teens to use marijuana in 2009. But Vermont’s graduation rate was about 12 percentage points higher than Utah’s that year. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

18 September 2014 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Science

Long-term aftereffects of dousing our environment with lead

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Read about it here.

And they tried to bring it back when George W. Bush was president.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2014 at 1:52 pm

Incarceration rate by age

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Take a look at this:

Incarceration Rate by Age

A clear pattern: in the incarceration steadily rises for older Americans. Why are older Americans so much more likely to be incarcerated?

Answer here. From the link:

. . .  The US started phasing out gasoline lead in 1975, which means that children born after 1975 were exposed to steadily less lead. And the effect was cumulative: the later they were born, the less lead they were exposed to and the less crime they committed when they grew up. However, children born before 1975 were unaffected by all this. They were born in a high-lead era, and since all that matters is exposure during early childhood, the damage had already been done.

In 2013, this means that the statistics show a reduction in crime rates in adults under the age of 40, and the younger the cohort the lower the crime rate. Unsurprisingly, this also means they’re incarcerated at lower rates. The chart above shows this fairly dramatically.

But it also shows that incarceration rates have stayed steady or increased for older men. Those over the age of 40 had their lives ruined by lead when they were children, and the effect was permanent. They’re still committing crimes and being sent to prison at the same rate as ever. It’s hard to explain both these trends—lower prison rates for kids, higher prison rates for the middle-aged—without taking lead into account. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

17 September 2014 at 11:05 am

Posted in Daily life, Law, Science

Maybe eye-witness testimony should simply not be allowed

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We don’t allow polygraph results in a trial—and polygraphs must be more reliable than this:

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2014 at 2:15 pm

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