Thursday, December 18, 2014

Europe's record hot year made at least 35 times more likely by climate change, say scientists

Dec. 17, 2014
Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent

This year is on track to be the warmest ever recorded in Europe, and greenhouse gas emissions played a major role, according to new research. Scientists have analysed centuries of temperature records to conclude that this year’s warmth was made at least 35 times more likely because of climate change.

In the UK, this year’s weather included an unusually warm beginning to autumn, with hot sunny days continuing into late October. A team of researchers at Oxford found that the odds of such a warm year in this country had increased by a factor of 10.

Scientists from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), the University of Melbourne and the Australian National University found that the likelihood of such warm temperatures across Europe was 35 to 80 times greater because of climate change.

Myles Allen, professor at Oxford University, told the Guardian that his group was working on much smaller areas than the other researchers, and was still able to detect a clear signal of climate change. “We are using regional climate models to zoom in on smaller areas than the other groups, and it is interesting that even on the scale of the UK, we are seeing a substantial impact of human influence on climate on the odds of such a warm year,” he said.


A slowdown in the pace of China’s economic growth was to some extent responsible, along with increasing use of renewable energy. But amidst the decrease in emissions growth, there have been opposing signs: in the US, where the shale gas boom has driven down carbon emissions for several years, a swing back to coal – as gas prices have risen – pushed up emissions growth to 2.5% in 2013. Europe’s greenhouse gases fell by 1.4%.


Northern white rhino's death leaves just five in the world

Dec. 15, 2014

A northern white rhinoceros that zoo officials said was only one of six left in the world died on Sunday at the San Diego Zoo safari park.

Angalifu, who was about 44 years old, apparently died of old age.

“Angalifu’s death is a tremendous loss to all of us,” safari park curator Randy Rieches said in a statement. “Not only because he was well beloved here at the park but also because his death brings this wonderful species one step closer to extinction.”


Student raises thousands of pounds for homeless man who offered her money

Abby Young-Powell
Wednesday 17 December 2014

An art student living in Preston has raised over £21,000 for a homeless man, after she says he offered her his last £3 so that she could get a taxi home safely.

Dominique Harrison-Bentzen, who studies at the University of Central Lancashire, says she had lost her bank card and needed to get home after a night out when the homeless man, known only as Robbie, offered money to help.

The 22-year-old says she declined the offer, but was so moved by his gesture that she started a campaign to raise enough money to help him get a flat. She set up a donation page and asked people to each donate £3 for her fundraiser, which involved spending the night on the street, along with supporters who had heard about her story through social media.

Harrison-Bentzen says: “I suddenly realised that I had no money and a homeless man approached me with his only change of £3. He insisted I took it to pay for a taxi to make sure I got home safe.

“I was touched by such a kind gesture from a man who faces ignorance every day, so I set on a mission to find this man. The more I spoke about him the more kind gestures I learned about him, such as him returning wallets untouched to pedestrians and offering his scarf to keep people warm.

“He has been homeless for 7 months through no fault of his own and needs to get back on his feet but cannot get work due to having no address. So that’s when I decided to change Robbie’s life and help him, as he has helped many others.”


After the fundraiser, which ended on Wednesday morning, Harrison-Bentzen posted on Facebook: “This is not only going to change Robbie’s life, but [the lives of] an incredible amount of homeless people in Preston. Yes, we were cold and yes, we were hungry, but people endure that 365 days of the year, so for 24 hours we didn’t complain.”

Harrison-Bentzen says the money will be used to find permanent accommodation for Robbie and help other homeless people in the city. She says: “With Robbie’s blessing, we want to help as many people as we can. Robbie has already suggested some local charities within Preston who have helped not only him but others throughout their hardship.

“The next few days will be spent carefully deciding where to donate the money and how it can be used in the most efficient way to benefit the homeless community within Preston.”


Personality outsmarts intelligence at school


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Contact: Helen Wright
Griffith University
Personality outsmarts intelligence at school
How certain personality traits are more important than intelligence when it comes to success in education

Recent research at Griffith University has found that personality is more important than intelligence when it comes to success in education.

Dr Arthur Poropat from Griffith's School of Applied Psychology has conducted the largest ever reviews of personality and academic performance. He based these reviews on the fundamental personality factors (Conscientiousness, Openness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Extraversion) and found Conscientiousness and Openness have the biggest influence on academic success.


"With respect to learning, personality is more useful than intelligence for guiding both students and teachers," Dr Poropat said.

"In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.

"And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard."


Previous studies have shown that students who think they are smart often stop trying and their performance declines over time, while those who consider themselves hard workers get progressively better.

Dr Poropat said the best news for students is that it's possible to develop the most important personality traits linked with academic success.

"Personality does change, and some educators have trained aspects of students' Conscientiousness and Openness, leading to greater learning capacity.

"By contrast, there is little evidence that intelligence can be 'taught', despite the popularity of brain-training apps."

Hugs help protect against stress and infection, say Carnegie Mellon researchers


Contact: Shilo Rea
Carnegie Mellon University
Hugs help protect against stress and infection, say Carnegie Mellon researchers

PITTSBURGH--Instead of an apple, could a hug-a-day keep the doctor away? According to new research from Carnegie Mellon University, that may not be that far-fetched of an idea.


The results showed that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts. Hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect of social support. Among infected participants, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs both resulted in less severe illness symptoms whether or not they experienced conflicts.

"This suggests that being hugged by a trusted person may act as an effective means of conveying support and that increasing the frequency of hugs might be an effective means of reducing the deleterious effects of stress," Cohen said. "The apparent protective effect of hugs may be attributable to the physical contact itself or to hugging being a behavioral indicator of support and intimacy."

Cohen added, "Either way, those who receive more hugs are somewhat more protected from infection."


Global CO2 emissions increase to new all-time record, but growth is slowing down

Dec. 16, 2014

2013 saw global CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and cement production reach a new all-time high. This was mainly due to the continuing steady increase in energy use in emerging economies over the past ten years. However, emissions increased at a notably slower rate (2%) than on average in the last ten years (3.8% per year since 2003, excluding the credit crunch years).

This slowdown, which began in 2012, signals a further decoupling of global emissions and economic growth, which reflects mainly the lower emissions growth rate of China. China, the USA and the EU remain the top-3 emitters of CO2, accounting for respectively 29%, 15% and 11% of the world’s total. After years of a steady decline, the CO2 emissions of the United States grew by 2.5% in 2013, whereas in the EU emissions continued to decrease, by 1.4% in 2013.


With the present annual growth rate, China has returned to the lower annual growth rates that it experienced before its economic growth started to accelerate in 2003, when its annual CO2 emissions increased on average by 12% per year, excluding the credit crunch years. In 2013, the Chinese per capita CO2 level of 7.4 tonnes CO2/cap just exceeded the mean EU28 level of 7.3 tonnes CO2/cap, which is 50% above the global average. It is still less than half than those of the United States of 16.6 tonnes CO2/cap, which has one of the highest per capita emissions.


China started to take new measures to improve energy efficiency and to make a fuel shift away from coal, including coal consumption targets, an increase in hydropower and structural changes.


The quality of parent-infant relationships and early childhood shyness predict teen anxiety


Contact: Hannah Klein
Society for Research in Child Development
The quality of parent-infant relationships and early childhood shyness predict teen anxiety

Infants who frequently react to unfamiliar objects, people, and situations by becoming afraid and withdrawing are referred to as having a behaviorally inhibited temperament. As these infants grow up, many continue to be inhibited or reticent when they experience new things, including meeting new people. Inhibited children are more likely than their peers to develop anxiety problems, especially social anxiety, as they get older. A new longitudinal study has found that behavioral inhibition that persists across early childhood is associated with social anxiety in adolescence, but only among youth who were insecurely attached to their parents as infants.


Early caregiving experiences have long-term effects on social relationships, achievement


Contact: Hannah Klein
Society for Research in Child Development
Early caregiving experiences have long-term effects on social relationships, achievement

Do the effects of early caregiving experiences remain or fade as individuals develop? A new study has found that sensitive caregiving in the first three years of life predicts an individual's social competence and academic achievement, not only during childhood and adolescence, but also into adulthood.

The study, by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the University of Delaware, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, appears in the journal Child Development. It was carried out in an effort to replicate and expand on findings from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, which showed that early maternal sensitivity has lasting associations with children's social and cognitive development at least through adolescence.

"The study indicates that the quality of children's early caregiving experiences has an enduring and ongoing role in promoting successful social and academic development into the years of maturity," notes Lee Raby, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Delaware, who led the study.

Sensitive caregiving is defined as the extent to which a parent responds to a child's signals appropriately and promptly, is positively involved during interactions with the child, and provides a secure base for the child's exploration of the environment.


Individuals who experienced more sensitive caregiving early in life consistently functioned better socially and academically during the first three decades of life, the study found. The associations were larger for individuals' academic outcomes than for their functioning in peer and romantic relationships. Moreover, early caregiving experiences continued to predict individuals' academic, but not social, functioning after accounting for early socioeconomic factors as well as children's gender and ethnicity. Although families' economic resources were important predictors of children's development, these variables didn't fully account for the persistent and long-term influence of early caregiving experiences on individuals' academic success.


Fine particulate air pollution linked with increased autism risk


Contact: Marge Dwyer
Harvard School of Public Health
Fine particulate air pollution linked with increased autism risk

Boston, MA -- Women exposed to high levels of fine particulate matter specifically during pregnancy--particularly during the third trimester--may face up to twice the risk of having a child with autism than mothers living in areas with low particulate matter, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The greater the exposure, the greater the risk, researchers found. It was the first U.S.-wide study exploring the link between airborne particulate matter and autism.

"Our data add additional important support to the hypothesis that maternal exposure to air pollution contributes to the risk of autism spectrum disorders," said Marc Weisskopf, associate professor of environmental and occupational epidemiology and senior author of the study. "The specificity of our findings for the pregnancy period, and third trimester in particular, rules out many other possible explanations for these findings."

The study appears online December 18, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives and will be available at

Prior studies have suggested that, in addition to genetics, exposure to airborne environmental contaminants, particularly during pregnancy and early life, may affect risk of autism. This study focused specifically on the pregnancy period.


Crows are smarter than you think


Contact: Ed Wasserman
University of Iowa
Crows are smarter than you think
A study involving the University of Iowa finds crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhiting advanced relational thinking

Crows have long been heralded for their high intelligence - they can remember faces, use tools and communicate in sophisticated ways.

But a newly published study finds crows also have the brain power to solve higher-order, relational-matching tasks, and they can do so spontaneously. That means crows join humans, apes and monkeys in exhibiting advanced relational thinking, according to the research.


These relational matching trials were arranged in such a way that neither test pairs precisely matched the sample pair, thereby eliminating control by physical identity. For example, the crows might have to choose two same-sized circles rather than two different-sized circles when the sample card displayed two same-sized squares.

What surprised the researchers was not only that the crows could correctly perform the relational matches, but that they did so spontaneously--without explicit training.

"That is the crux of the discovery," Wasserman says. "Honestly, if it was only by brute force that the crows showed this learning, then it would have been an impressive result. But this feat was spontaneous."


Eleven Richest Americans Have All Received Government Subsidies

Dec. 17, 2014

A new report by Good Jobs First shows how the very wealthy in America have benefited from government subsidies as one element in building their fortunes. According to the study, the 11 richest Americans, and 23 of the 25 richest, all have significant ownership in companies that have received at least $1 million in investment incentives.

The study compares the most recent Forbes 400 ranking of wealthiest Americans with the Good Jobs First Subsidy Tracker database. Not only do Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Larry Ellison, the Koch Brothers, the Waltons, Michael Bloomberg, and Mark Zuckerberg own companies that have received millions or even billions in taxpayer funds, 99 of the 258 companies connected with the Forbes 400 have such subsidies.

As I argued theoretically in Competing for Capital, the new report points out that subsidies for investment increase inequality as average taxpayers subsidize wealthy corporate owners. Location incentives directly put money into their pockets, which then has to be offset by higher taxes on others, reduced government services, or higher levels of government debt. Moreover, as the study notes, despite the huge amount of these subsidies given in the name of economic development, there has not been enough payback to raise real wages even back to their 1970s peak. In other words, if economic development has created so many new jobs, why haven't wages risen?


10 Outrageously Pricey Tax Breaks ‘Gifted’ by Congress

By Eric Pianin and
Rob Garver,
The Fiscal Times
December 18, 2014

The Senate, on its way out at the close of the 113th Congress, approved the extension of more than 50 tax breaks, collectively known as “tax extenders,” which had expired at the end of last year. The provisions cover everything from business research costs to NASCAR tracks and will now apply to tax year 2014.

The extenders will expire again in two weeks, however, and Congress will have to revisit their renewal in the New Year. It’s a process that tax experts abhor, as many incentives inherent in the extenders can’t have their full effect without providing the beneficiaries a degree of certainty about their continuation into the future.


ONE: A break for NASCAR track owners.
Owners of NASCAR tracks and other “motorsports entertainment complexes” may write off the cost of facilities on their taxes over seven years, instead of the standard 39 years for nonresidential property and 15 years for “improvements,” such as roads. This is provided the venue hosts an event within three years of its completion. Est. cost in FY 2015: $11 million.

TWO: Extension of some racehorses’ classification as 3-year property. ••• Est. cost in FY 2015: $74 million.

THREE: Expensing breaks for film and TV productions. ••• Est. cost in FY 2015: $245 million.

FOUR: Research & development tax credit.
This tax credit, which has an extraordinarily broad definition of “research,” generally goes to larger corporations. Companies that have benefited in the past include Microsoft Corp., Boeing Co., United Technologies Corp., Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Harley-Davidson. Est. cost in FY 2015: $3.786 billion.

FIVE: Bonus depreciation. ••• This break was designed to help stimulate the economy during hard times. But surveys have shown it has little or no effect. Est. cost in FY 2015: $45.3 billion.

SIX: Rum excise tax revenues in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. ••• Est. cost in FY 2015: $168 million.


Birds heard deadly storms coming and escaped before they hit

ByMichael Casey CBS News December 18, 2014

Much as humans have early warning systems to predict tornadoes and hurricanes, birds are showing they have their own ways of sidestepping deadly super storms.

Researchers studying golden-winged warblers found that they flew 932 miles out of their way -- from Tennessee down to Florida and as far away as Cuba -- to escape an incoming a powerful storm in April that spawned dozen of tornadoes and killed 35 people.

"It is the first time we've documented this type of storm avoidance behavior in birds during breeding season," said Henry Streby, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley.

"We know that birds can alter their route to avoid things during regular migration, but it hadn't been shown until our study that they would leave once the migration is over and they'd established their breeding territory to escape severe weather," said Streby, who co-authored a study on the findings that appeared Thursday's issue of Current Biology.


"It's exciting and new because they sensed it coming long before all the other things about storms that we thought birds used," Streby said. "We know they use changes in barometric pressure, temperature and wind speed to feel the front of storming coming. But in this case, they evacuated long before any of that stuff happened."

Known as infrasound waves, these are sounds which are indiscernible to the human ear and can travel thousand of miles from their source. Events like volcanic eruptions or ocean waves crashing onto shorelines create higher frequency sounds that humans can hear but they also throw off infrasound waves that can travel great distances.


Streby said his findings could help explain why animals have reportedly acted strange in past disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami. It could also help scientists better understand the stress facing birds, since such evasive action are taxing.

"There's growing research that shows that tornadoes are becoming more common and severe with climate change, so evasive actions like the ones the warbler took might become more necessary," said Streby. "It could come at a cost, though, since such actions place added energetic and reproductive stress on populations that are already struggling."

How to become very rich - cheat

This fuels income inequality and cheats less powerful investors, such as pension funds.

Robert Reich: The Disgusting Way Insider Traders Rig America and How Courts Let Them
December 18, 2014 |

A few years ago, hedge fund Level Global Investors made $54 million selling Dell Computer stock based on insider information from a Dell employee. When charged with illegal insider trading, Global Investors’ co-founder Anthony Chiasson claimed he didn’t know where the tip came from.

Chiasson argued that few traders on Wall Street ever know where the inside tips they use come from because confidential information is, in his words, the “ coin of the realm in securities markets.”

Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which oversees federal prosecutions of Wall Street, agreed. It overturned Chiasson’s conviction, citing lack of evidence Chaisson received the tip directly, or knew insiders were leaking confidential information in exchange for some personal benefit.

The Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 banned insider trading but left it up to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the courts to define it. Which they have – in recent decades so broadly that confidential information is indeed the coin of the realm. [I think saying it is defined "broadly" goes against the normal use of this phrase. Reading the following, I would say the word should have been "narrowly".]

If a CEO tells his golf buddy that his company is being taken over, and his buddy makes a killing on that information, no problem. If his buddy leaks the information to a hedge-fund manager like Chiasson, and doesn’t tell Chiasson where it comes from, Chiasson can also use the information to make a bundle.

Major players on Wall Street have been making tons of money not because they’re particularly clever but because they happen to be in the realm where a lot of coins come their way.

Last year, the top twenty-five hedge fund managers took home, on average, almost one billion dollars each. Even run-of-the-mill portfolio managers at large hedge funds averaged $2.2 million each.


Insider trading has also become commonplace in corporate suites, which is one reason CEO pay has skyrocketed.

CEOs and other top executives, whose compensation includes piles of company stock, routinely use their own inside knowledge of when their companies will buy back large numbers of shares of stock from the public – thereby pumping up share prices — in order to time their own personal stock transactions.

That didn’t used to be legal. Until 1981, the Securities and Exchange Commission required companies to publicly disclose the amount and timing of their buybacks. But Ronald Reagan’s SEC removed these restrictions.

Then George W. Bush’s SEC allowed top executives, even though technically company “insiders” with knowledge of the timing of their company’s stock buybacks, to quietly cash in their stock options without public disclosure.


But now it’s normal practice. According to research by Professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts, between 2003 and 2012 the chief executives of the ten companies that repurchased the most stock (totaling $859 billion) received 58 percent of their total pay in stock options or stock awards.

In other words, many CEOs are making vast fortunes not because they’re good at managing their corporations but because they’re good at using insider information. It’s the coin of their realm, too.


But profiting off inside information that’s not available to average investors strikes many as unfair. The “coin of the realm” on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms is contributing to the savage inequalities of American life.

If Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission wanted to reverse this and remove one of the largest privileges of the realm, they could. But they won’t, because those who utilize those coins also have a great deal of political power.

Shadowy forces controlling online conversations

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link:


At the HITB event, Haroon Meer and his team from South African-based Thinkst, an applied research company that focuses on information security, spoke about how certain parties – whether individuals with mischief in mind, organisations with vested interests, or certain nation-states – have been using false identities to control online conversations.

Unknown forces are making sure their voices are the loudest in online discourse.

In his talk Weapons of Mass Distraction: Sock Puppetry for Fun and Profit, Haroon and his team demonstrated how they successfully gamed systems ranging from mailing lists, online polls, Twitter and Reddit, to major news sites and comment systems. More importantly, they also collected forensic evidence that such tampering has already been going on.

“It’s the concept of rent-a-crowd, brought to the Internet age using sock puppets – essentially accounts that are created online that don’t really represent real people, and are used to sway people’s opinions in forums and other online get-togethers,” he told a rapt audience at HITBSecConf.

“So we thought, if we were an evil corporation or an ‘Evil.Gov,’ what would we do with sock puppets to try and influence hearts and minds? We looked at how we could control the narrative, how we could either get more attention to things or distract people from things, using sock puppets – essentially how we could increase or decrease eyeballs on the things we want.

“We looked at what can be done; what we think will be done; and what we see is already being done,” he added.


Censorship on the Internet can get routed around. But much like how US authorities learned during the protests of the 1960s that brute force was not as effective as infiltration, today’s regimes are learning that the art of deception makes a more effective tool.


“The main reason we care about this is because we think that this sort of censorship is going to be more insidious than straight-up censorship, because it kind of combines a technical hack, and a mental hack of sorts – you actually think you’re free, but you’re being manipulated behind the scenes,” he added.


“So you can use sock puppets to attract people’s attention to something you want them to read, or to distract them from something you don’t want them to read,” said Haroon. “It’s relatively simple, and all too-intuitive.”

Thinkst believes that certain parties can not only use such sock puppetry to manipulate people into paying attention to items, or to distract from reading others, but this technique can also be used to discredit opponents by doing a bad sock puppetry operation on their ‘behalf.’

Online polls are a perennial favourite, easily gamed and very influential too, since major news sites use them.


“One thing’s crystal clear – on social media it is easy to mistake popularity for credibility,” Lotan had said.

“One of things he [Lotan] found was that ‘bought followers’ actually win you ‘organic followers,’ and that those real followers stay on even after your bought followers dropped off,” said Haroon.

“This is kind of intuitive, because if you use Twitter, you’d be more likely to follow someone with a high follower count than someone with a low count,” he added.

“Why does this matter? Because of the way we use Twitter – it’s not like an RSS feed. You don’t go in to catch up on all the day’s tweets, it’s a stream that you dip into.

“If I can convince a lot of people to follow me just by tweeting more, I get to dominate that person’s timeline, and essentially, what I get to do is crowd out other conversations. I can crowd out what I don’t want them to see,” Haroon said, referring to the practice of ‘timeline crowding.’


“To remove a comment from the page, you can just keep flagging it as inappropriate and it will disappear until the admin has looked into it,” he added.

More worrying, his colleague Azhar then showed how you can download an actual user’s token from LifeFyre when he or she is logged into LiveFyre, and then impersonate that user on other sites and post comments on his or her behalf.

“We get to see your history, we get to vote for you, and we can do this with multiple accounts,” said Haroon. “Effectively, we get to do sock puppetry using real accounts.”


Having verified how easy it was to use manipulate online conversations, the Thinkst team then set out to explore whether such techniques were actually being used.

“It’s obvious they are – the most obvious recent example was Common Dreams, a website for news and views from the progressive community,” said Haroon.

“They were getting a lot of anti-Semitic comments on their pages, and were in fact in danger of losing their funding because their funders were not comfortable with such comments.

“After a little investigation, they found it was all linked to a college kid – what he did was post these sock puppet comments, then sent email to organisations to say ‘We’re being seriously oppressed here,’ etc.

“As Marco [Slaviero] has shown, you can effectively mute a voice by flagging it enough times, and we see this all the time, with appeals to others to downvote a comment you don’t agree with, which is what the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) has done,” he added.


Haroon later told DNA that part of OTF grant includes Thinkst building tools that would allow others to detect such sock puppetry on their sites, and to counteract it. The company is in the process of doing so.

Changing Our DNA through Mind Control?

Dec. 16, 2014

Lead investigator Dr. Linda E. Carlson and her colleagues found that in breast cancer patients, support group involvement and mindfulness meditation – an adapted form of Buddhist meditation in which practitioners focus on present thoughts and actions in a non-judgmental way, ignoring past grudges and future concerns -- are associated with preserved telomere length. Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration -- biology professors often liken them to the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres aren't known to cause a specific disease per se, but they do whither with age and are shorter in people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high stress levels. We want our telomeres intact.


The biologic benefits of meditation in particular extend well beyond telomere preservation. Earlier work by Carlson found that in cancer patients, mindfulness is associated with healthier levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a decrease in compounds that promote inflammation. Moreover, as she points out, “generally healthy people in a work-based mindfulness stress reduction program have been shown to produce higher antibody titers to the flu vaccine than controls, and there has been promising work looking at the effects of mindfulness in HIV and diabetes.” Past findings also show that high stress increases the risk of viral infections – including the common cold – as well as depression and cardiovascular disease.


Report: Several Black Witnesses Largely Back Up Officer's Account Of Michael Brown Shooting

I am certainly against police brutality, but I am also against false accusations against anyone.

The Huffington Post | By Ryan J. Reilly
Posted: 10/22/2014

Over a half-dozen black witnesses who have testified before a grand jury deciding whether to indict the police officer who killed Michael Brown have provided testimony that "largely supports" Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s account of events, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Sources told The Washington Post that seven or eight black witnesses gave testimony before the grand jury that was "consistent" with Wilson's account, but that none have spoken out publicly about what they witnessed because they fear for their safety.

Many of the witnesses to Brown's death who have come forward have told the same basic story about Brown's final moments, saying that Brown was attempting to surrender and had his hands in the air when the officer fired the fatal shots. But there have been a string of recent leaks of information that backs up Wilson's account of the confrontation.

The New York Times reported that forensic evidence showed that Brown's blood was on the gun and that other evidence was consistent with Wilson's account of the shooting, and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained an autopsy of Brown that also indicates he may have struggled with the officer for control of his weapon while the officer was still in the vehicle.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Republicans kill Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act

2014's Final Act Of Republican Obstruction, And How The D.C. Press (Again) Looked Away

Dec. 17, 2014

Just over .0001 percent.

In terms of annual spending by the federal government, which totaled $3.5 trillion in fiscal year 2014, the cost for implementing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act each year would have accounted for around .0001 of the U.S. budget. Over five years, the recently proposed veterans mental health bill would have cost $22 million, or $4.4 million each year.

Yet after passing the House on a simple voice vote, a truly remarkable accomplishment in today's historically gridlocked environment, the bill was blocked by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK). Claiming it duplicates already existing services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, that the bill "throws money and it doesn't solve the real problem," and its costs aren't offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, Coburn, a medical doctor himself, on Monday refused to allow the health care bill to be voted on.

And because the Senate session was quickly coming to a close, the bill's backers didn't have time to make a procedural end-run around Coburn. The senator retires this year and veterans' supporters say they'll start the process all over in the next Congress, and spend months trying to pass the bill that would increase the number of psychiatrists at VA hospitals, speed up access to mental health care to veterans, and expands peer support networks. (The Clay Hunt bill is named after a Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011 after being diagnosed with PTSD.)


Exercise Counteracts Genetic Risk for Alzheimer's

If you carried a gene that doubled your likelihood of getting Alzheimer's disease, would you want to know? What if there was a simple lifestyle change that virtually abolished that elevated risk? People with a gene known as APOE e4 have a higher risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in old age. Even before behavioral symptoms appear, their brains show reduced metabolism, altered activity and more deterioration than those without the high-risk gene. Yet accumulating research is showing that carrying this gene is not necessarily a sentence for memory loss and confusion—if you know how to work it to your advantage with exercise.

Scientists have long known that exercise can help stave off cognitive decline. Over the past decade evidence has mounted suggesting that this benefit is even greater for those at higher genetic risk for Alzheimer's. For example, two studies by a team in Finland and Sweden found that exercising at least twice a week in midlife lowers one's chance of getting dementia more than 20 years later, and this protective effect is stronger in people with the APOE e4 gene. Several others reported that frequent exercise—at least three times a week in some studies; up to more than an hour a day in others—can slow cognitive decline only in those carrying the high-risk gene. Furthermore, for those who carry the gene, being sedentary is associated with increased brain accumulation of the toxic protein beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer's.


This link to metabolism may help explain why exercise protects APOE e4 carriers. According to a theory proposed in May by anthropologist David Raichlen and psychologist Gene Alexander, both at the University of Arizona, the answer lies in our evolutionary past. Two million years ago, when our ancestors were much more physically active—for example, perhaps running long distances to hunt prey—only the high-risk gene variant existed, they argue. The gene allowed for better metabolism during intense activity, and its downside, faster cognitive decline, was counteracted by our ancestors' active way of life. As humans adopted more sedentary habits, other variants of the gene appeared, and in modern times we are now seeing the negative effect of the high-risk gene more often than its benefit.


Obamas speak out on racist experiences

I can relate. When I was a computer programmer/analyst, I was sometimes mistaken for a data entry person.

By Peter Grier
Dec. 17, 2014

The Obamas say they’ve experienced the everyday casual racism that blots US life for African-Americans.

Not (for the most part) as president and first lady, of course. Since 2008, they’ve been protected by the symbols of the presidency and by the Secret Service from that sort of thing, they told People magazine in an interview released Wednesday.

“Before that, Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs,” said first lady Michelle Obama to People.

Mrs. Obama said her husband, in his pre-White House days, was also mistaken for a waiter at a black-tie gala and asked to get coffee. President Obama himself said a white person once assumed he was a parking valet.

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys,” he said.


With his People magazine comments, he seems to be making two points. The first is that small racist experiences happen to every black person in the United States. That goes a long way toward explaining why blacks as a whole have much more suspicion about police action and racial progress than do whites, as measured by polls.


Obama’s second point seems to be that there’s been progress on these issues despite the fact that he's suffered racial slights.

“The small irritations or indignities that we experience are nothing compared to what a previous generation experienced,” he told the magazine.


Feed and Freeze

I wrote this song after reading a few years ago that there are children in our country who routinely lose weight in the winter because their families cannot afford both enough food and heat. And of course people need more food when they are cold.

And things are worse now (May 2014), with the cutback of food and unemployment benefits while so many people are still unable to find jobs. There are still almost three people out of work for every job opening. And not all "job openings" are really job openings.

Oct. 2014, still about two people out of work for every so-called job opening.

Feed and Freeze
copyright 2001 Patricia M. Shannon

If I feed my my children, they will freeze
'cause the gas bill is so high.
When they say "Mama, mama, can I have some food",
sometimes I just break down and cry,
sometimes I just break down and cry.

They don't understand that I don't have enough food
for them to have their fill.
I have to pay the heating bill
'cause it's cold enough to kill;
it's cold enough to kill;

We turn the thermostat way down
and wear a lot of clothes.
We hang out at the Waffle House,
but the heating bill just grows and grows,
the heating bill just grows.


They say you'll be a big success
if you work really hard.
But I slave all day at the fast food place
and the minimum wage is my reward,
the minimum's my reward

They say they can't pay anymore,
the economy's too slow;
Profits are down, but they gave a raise
and a bonus to the CEO;
a big bonus to the CEO.


New hope for motel kids

In Anaheim, CA

By Bianna Golodryga December 16, 2014 12:08 AM Yahoo News
By Brad Marshland

Just blocks from “The Happiest Place on Earth,” in one of the richest counties in America, Demond, Ashley, and their four kids have been living in a cramped, run-down motel room for a year and a half. Between the six of them, they share one bed and one small couch. Surprisingly, they aren't welfare cases; Demond and Ashley both work full-time at Walmart. But like thousands of other families in Orange County alone, they struggle to save enough to pay the first-month/last-month/security deposit that landlords require. And so they're stuck.

“It eats up all your money so you can't afford to move,” says Ashley, “Even if you could afford an apartment of your own, with kids, and the rent, you can't save any money to do anything except stay here.” To compound the problem, Ashley's mom had an eviction when Ashley was living with her – a fact that shows up on Ashley's credit history. So Demond and Ashley pay $1300 a month for the dubious privilege of living in a single motel room where the kids aren't even allowed by the management to play in the parking lot.


Bruno Serato came to the U.S. with just $200 in his pocket, worked his way up from dishwasher, and is now the owner of the Anaheim White House Restaurant. For the last ten years, he has worked to improve the lives of motel kids. His non-profit foundation, Caterina's Club, feeds 1,200 poor kids a day with meals cooked in his restaurant kitchen between lunch and dinner, meals delivered by van to nineteen different after-school programs in seven Orange County cities. But even donating his own labor and his own kitchen aren't enough. “Every night when I feed the kids, I'm very happy.” says Serato. But then when the children go back to their motels, his mood changes. “Because I know where they go. Motel area, you have prostitution, drug addict, drug dealer, sexual abuser, pedophile... But you also have the great American families, the ones who work all their lives and end up in a motel room because they lost their home; they lost their job. And they know they can't stay in that room any longer, for the safety of the children.”

Serato's new goal is to move these families out of motels into safer, more stable living situations. According to Caterina's Club, 75% of the men and women living in area motels have jobs. But like Demond and Ashley, they're stuck between bad credit and a lack of sufficient savings to put down a deposit on an apartment. If they could just get over those hurdles, their monthly expenses would be comparable, but would buy so much more.

Through Caterina's Club, Serato has initiated a new program to cover the costs of security deposits needed to move families out of motels. The Welcome Home program selects from a pool of applications for assistance, targeting working families who just need that extra help. Serato himself is not a rich man. During the recession, he had to take out a second mortgage to keep his food program running. But there's more than one way to feel rich. With the help of donors, Serato has placed 65 families into their own homes.


Meth users face substantially higher risk for getting Parkinson's disease


Contact: Phil Sahm
University of Utah Health Sciences
Meth users face substantially higher risk for getting Parkinson's disease

(SALT LAKE CITY)--In addition to incurring serious dental problems, memory loss and other physical and mental issues, methamphetamine users are three times more at risk for getting Parkinson's disease than non-illicit drug users, new research from the University of Utah and Intermountain Healthcare shows.

The researchers also observed that women who use methamphetamine may be nearly five times more likely to get Parkinson's disease compared to women who don't use drugs. Although findings suggest the risk in women may be higher than that in men, additional studies are needed to corroborate a gender difference.


Certain parenting tactics could lead to materialistic attitudes in adulthood


Contact: Christian Basi
University of Missouri-Columbia
Certain parenting tactics could lead to materialistic attitudes in adulthood
Rewarding or punishing children using gifts can lead to financial and marital problems

With the holiday season in full swing and presents piling up under the tree, many parents may be tempted to give children all the toys and gadgets they ask for or use the expectation of gifts to manage children's behavior. Now, a new study from the University of Missouri and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that parents who use material goods as part of their parenting techniques may be setting children up for difficulties later in adulthood.

"Our research suggests that children who receive many material rewards from their parents will likely continue rewarding themselves with material goods when they are grown--well into adulthood - and this could be problematic," said Marsha Richins, Myron Watkins distinguished professor of marketing in the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business at MU. "Our research highlights the value of examining childhood circumstances and parenting practices to understand consumer behaviors of adults."

Richins, who completed the study with Lan Chaplin, associate professor of marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Business Administration, found that three parenting strategies led to greater materialism:

Rewarding children with gifts when they have accomplished something, such as making the soccer team or getting straight As.
Giving gifts as a way to show affection.
Punishing children by taking away their possessions, such as a favorite toy or video game.

When parents use material goods in these ways, their children, when grown, are on average more likely to believe that success in life is defined by the quality and number of material goods an individual owns or that acquiring certain products will make them more attractive. According to Richins, previous research has shown that adults who define themselves or others by their possessions are at a much higher risk for marital problems, gambling, financial debt and decreased well-being. Materialism also contributes to environmental degradation due to overconsumption and waste of goods.


Other aspects of parenting also can have an effect on the development of an adult's attitude toward material goods. For example, the researchers also found that a relationship existed between parental rejection and materialism. Children who felt that their parents either did not have time for them or were disappointed in them were more likely to be materialistic. Additionally, adults who received both material rewards and material punishments as children are more likely to admire people with expensive possessions.

"It's OK to want to buy things for your children, but remember to encourage them to be grateful for all the people and things they have in their lives," Chaplin said. "Each time children express their gratitude, they become more aware of how fortunate they are, which paves the way for them to be more generous and less materialistic. Spend time with your children and model warmth, gratitude and generosity to help curb materialism."


Naming people and objects in baby's first year may offer learning benefits years later


Contact: Janet Lathrop
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Naming people and objects in baby's first year may offer learning benefits years later
UMass Amherst study suggests naming between 6 and 9 months lays 'learning foundation'

In a follow-up to her earlier studies of learning in infancy, developmental psychologist Lisa Scott and colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are reporting that talking to babies in their first year, in particular naming things in their world, can help them make connections between what they see and hear, and these learning benefits can be seen as much as five years later.

"Learning in infancy between the ages of six to nine months lays a foundation for learning later in childhood," Scott says. "Infants learn labels for people and things at a very early age. Labeling helps them recognize people and objects individually and helps them decide how detailed their understanding of the object or face needs to be."


Ocean acidification a culprit in commercial shellfish hatcheries' failures

National Science Foundation
Press Release 14-172
December 15, 2014

The mortality of larval Pacific oysters in Northwest hatcheries has been linked to ocean acidification. Yet the rate of increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the decrease of pH in near-shore waters have been questioned as being severe enough to cause the die-offs.

Now, a new study of Pacific oyster and Mediterranean mussel larvae found that the earliest larval stages are sensitive to saturation state, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) or pH (acidity) per se.

Saturation state is a measure of how corrosive seawater is to the calcium carbonate shells made by bivalve larvae, and how easy it is for larvae to produce their shells. A lower saturation rate is associated with more corrosive seawater.

Increasing CO2 lowers saturation state, the researchers say, and saturation state is very sensitive to CO2.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Domestic abuse may affect children in womb

Contact(s): Alytia Levendosky , Andy Henion
Dec. 16, 2014

Domestic violence can affect children even before they’re born, indicates new research by Michigan State University scientists.

The study is the first to link abuse of pregnant women with emotional and behavioral trauma symptoms in their children within the first year of life. Symptoms include nightmares, startling easily, being bothered by loud noises and bright lights, avoiding physical contact and having trouble experiencing enjoyment.

“For clinicians and mothers, knowing that the prenatal experience of their domestic violence can directly harm their babies may be a powerful motivator to help moms get out of these abusive situations,” said Alytia Levendosky, psychology professor and study co-author.

The study of 182 mothers ages 18-34 found a surprisingly strong relationship between a mother’s prenatal abuse by a male partner and postnatal trauma symptoms in her child. The researchers examined the women’s parenting styles and also took into account risk factors such as drug use and other negative life events, marital status, age and income.

Levendosky said prenatal abuse could cause changes in the mother’s stress response systems, increasing her levels of the hormone cortisol, which in turn could increase cortisol levels in the fetus.

“Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels,” Levendosky said. “That might explain the emotional problems for the baby after birth.”


Cocaine, amphetamine users more likely to take their own lives


Contact: Benjamin Augereau
University of Montreal
Cocaine, amphetamine users more likely to take their own lives

Stimulants use such as cocaine and amphetamine is associated with a nearly two-fold greater likelihood of suicidal behaviour amongst people who inject drugs, say researchers at the University of Montreal and the CHUM Research Centre. Drug addiction had already been identified as a major risk factor for suicide, and it is in fact the cause of ten percent of deaths among drug users.


Herd mentality: Are we programmed to make bad decisions?

On the other hand, there are people who act contrary to the crowd, not because they are acting according to reality, but simply for the sake of being contrary. That is also damaging to the ability to make the right decisions.


Contact: Press Office
University of Exeter
Herd mentality: Are we programmed to make bad decisions?

A natural desire to be part of the 'in crowd' could damage our ability to make the right decisions, a new study has shown.

Research led by the University of Exeter has shown that individuals have evolved to be overly influenced by their neighbours, rather than rely on their own instinct. As a result, groups become less responsive to changes in their natural environment.


Lead author of the report, Dr Colin Torney, from the University of Exeter's Mathematics department explained: "Social influence is a powerful force in nature and society.

"Copying what other individuals do can be useful in many situations, such as what kind of phone to buy, or for animals, which way to move or whether a situation is dangerous.

"However, the challenge is in evaluating personal beliefs when they contradict what others are doing. We showed that evolution will lead individuals to over use social information, and copy others too much than they should.

"The result is that groups evolve to be unresponsive to changes in their environment and spend too much time copying one another, and not making their own decisions. "


How music class can spark language development


Contact: Julie Deardorff
Northwestern University
How music class can spark language development
Get engaged: More involved students show greater gains in speech processing, reading

EVANSTON, Ill. - Music training has well-known benefits for the developing brain, especially for at-risk children. But youngsters who sit passively in a music class may be missing out, according to new Northwestern University research.


The research, which appears online on Dec. 16 in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, also showed that the neural benefits stemming from participation occurred in the same areas of the brain that are traditionally weak in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Even in a group of highly motivated students, small variations in music engagement -- attendance and class participation -- predicted the strength of neural processing after music training," said study lead author Nina Kraus, the Hugh Knowles professor of communication sciences in the School of Communication and of neurobiology and physiology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

The type of music class may also be important, the researchers found. The neural processing of students who played instruments in class improved more than the children who attended the music appreciation group, according to the study.

"Our results support the importance of active experience and meaningful engagement with sound to stimulate changes in the brain," said Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory.


Northwestern and the Harmony Project joined forces several years ago after Harmony's founder, Margaret Martin, approached Kraus seeking scientific evidence behind the striking academic success of the students. Despite a dropout rate of 50 percent or more in their neighborhoods, 93 percent of Harmony Project seniors have gone on to college since 2008.

Previous Northwestern findings based on Harmony Project data have shown that two years of music training - but not one - improved the brains' ability to distinguish similar-sounding syllables, a skill linked to literacy.

"Music, then, can't be thought of as a quick fix," said Kraus.

That previous research, published in September in the Journal of Neuroscience, indicated that the community music program can literally 'remodel' a child's brain in a way that improves sound processing and was the first direct evidence that the music training has a biological effect on children's developing nervous systems.

Children from families of lower socioeconomic status process sound less efficiently, in part because of noisier environments and also due to linguistic deprivation -- or not hearing enough complex words, sentences and concepts. This puts them at increased risk of academic failure or dropping out of school, said Kraus.

"Think of 'neural noise' as like static on the radio, with the announcer's voice coming in faintly," said Kraus.

Music training may be one way to boost how the brain processes sound to remove the interference, said Kraus.

"Speech processing efficiency is closely linked to reading, since reading requires the ability to segment speech strings into individual sound units," said Kraus.

"A poor reader's brain often processes speech suboptimally."

"What we do and how we engage with sound has an effect on our nervous system," said Kraus. "Spending time learning to play a musical instrument can have a profound effect on how your nervous system works."


Skipping meals increases children's obesity and cardiometabolic risk


Contact: Aino-Maija Eloranta
University of Eastern Finland
Skipping meals increases children's obesity and cardiometabolic risk

Children who skip main meals are more likely to have excess body fat and an increased cardiometabolic risk already at the age of 6 to 8 years, according to a Finnish study. A higher consumption of sugary drinks, red meat and low-fat margarine and a lower consumption of vegetable oil are also related to a higher cardiometabolic risk. "The more of these factors are present, the higher the risk," says Ms Aino-Maija Eloranta, MHSc, who presented the results in her doctoral thesis at the University of Eastern Finland.


Children breathing fumes from water-based paints have high risk of asthma, allergies

By Marla Cone, Editor in Chief, Environmental Health News

Children who sleep in bedrooms containing fumes from water-based paints and solvents are two to four times more likely to suffer allergies or asthma, according to a new scientific study.

Scientists measured the compounds – propylene glycol and glycol ethers, known as PGEs – in the bedroom air of 400 toddlers and preschoolers, and discovered that the children who breathed them had substantially higher rates of asthma, stuffy noses and eczema.


If these findings are confirmed by other studies, “it may be another piece of the puzzle as to why atopic diseases like allergy and asthma are on the rise, particularly in kids,” said Laoisa, who was not involved in the research.

“It also is concerning given how ubiquitous these compounds are, particularly at low levels like those found in this study,” he said.


The researchers did not identify the sources of the PGEs. But children living in a house where at least one room was painted right before or after their birth had 63 percent more PGEs in their room than those whose houses had not been repainted. “Thus, repainting might have provided a sustained exposure since the gestational period or shortly following the birth,” the study said.

The airborne compounds can remain inside homes for months, perhaps even years.


New floor covering can lead to breathing problems in babies

Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research
Dec. 15, 2014

New flooring in the living environment of pregnant women significantly increases the risk of infants to suffer from respiratory diseases in their first year of life. This is the result of a study carried out by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the "St Georg" Municipal Hospital, which demonstrates that exposure to volatile organic compounds in the months before and after birth induces breathing problems in early childhood. The scientists therefore recommend that redecoration should be avoided during pregnancy or in the first year of children’s life. According to an article written by the scientists in the scientific journal Environment International this could prevent at a rough estimate around 20,000 cases per year of wheezing requiring medical treatment in infants in Germany alone.


Seasoned policymakers drive the fairest bargain of all


Contact: Christine Clark
University of California - San Diego
Seasoned policymakers drive the fairest bargain of all
First study of real-world negotiators shows they are more concerned with equity than previously believed

Is an experienced policymaker a more rational and a more self-interested bargainer than the average person? That is what nearly all prior research has assumed. But a new study from the University of California, San Diego shows just the opposite.

Appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study by David Victor of UC San Diego and colleagues suggests that top decision-makers care even more about fairness than the general population, and the more experience they have, the more they care about striking a fair bargain.

The study is the first to conduct laboratory bargaining experiments with people who make real-world decisions on the international stage. Participants in the study included former members of the U.S. House of Representatives, top officials in the U.S. cabinet and other government agencies, top strategists at major U.S. corporations, and thought leaders from policy think tanks and non-government organizations tasked with consulting governments on trade and energy policy.


Victor and his colleagues showed that experienced decision-makers were significantly less likely to accept low, unfair offers than college students and a diverse sample of subjects recruited online. They also tended to make higher offers when they were in the proposer role, suggesting real-world diplomats and policymakers care even more about fairness than the general population.

"One of the key assumptions in most theories of international politics is that policymakers are extremely rational and particularly good at looking out for their own interests. But until this research that assumption has never really been tested," said Victor, director of UC San Diego's Laboratory on International Law and Regulation. "Compared with typical general population samples, real-world diplomats are even more prone to act contrary to self-interest by rejecting low offers. They also appear to anticipate this fact, and make more equitable offers to other real-world diplomats."

[Maybe they know from experience that making unfairly low offers to the opposition nets them less in the long run. Why would a strategy that causes the opponents to be less likely to cooperate be considered "rational"?]

"Our findings suggest that fair offers would make all of humanity better off," Victor said. "And they suggest that top policymakers, such as senior diplomats, know this at some level. It might just be easier to solve the world's problems than many experts think."

Past global warming similar to today's, 200,000 years to recover

Note that we are currently emitting ten times as much carbon emissions as the average of that episode. The previous episode started from a warmer base.


Contact: Lee J. Siegel
University of Utah
Past global warming similar to today's
Size, duration were like modern climate shift, but in two pulses

SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 15, 2014 - The rate at which carbon emissions warmed Earth's climate almost 56 million years ago resembles modern, human-caused global warming much more than previously believed, but involved two pulses of carbon to the atmosphere, University of Utah researchers and their colleagues found.

The findings mean the so-called Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum, or PETM, can provide clues to the future of modern climate change. The good news: Earth and most species survived. The bad news: It took millennia to recover from the episode, when temperatures rose by 5 to 8 degrees Celsius (9 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit).

"There is a positive note in that the world persisted, it did not go down in flames, it has a way of self-correcting and righting itself," says University of Utah geochemist Gabe Bowen, lead author of the study published today in the journal Nature Geoscience. "However, in this event it took almost 200,000 years before things got back to normal."


Bowen and colleagues report that carbonate or limestone nodules in Wyoming sediment cores show the global warming episode 55.5 million to 55.3 million years ago involved the average annual release of a minimum of 0.9 petagrams (1.98 trillion pounds) of carbon to the atmosphere, and probably much more over shorter periods.

That is "within an order of magnitude of, and may have approached, the 9.5 petagrams [20.9 trillion pounds] per year associated with modern anthropogenic carbon emissions," the researchers wrote. Since 1900, human burning of fossil fuels emitted an average of 3 petagrams per year - even closer to the rate 55.5 million years ago.

Each pulse of carbon emissions lasted no more than 1,500 years. Previous conflicting evidence indicated the carbon release lasted anywhere from less than a year to tens of thousands of years. The new research shows atmospheric carbon levels returned to normal within a few thousand years after the first pulse, probably as carbon dissolved in the ocean. It took up to 200,000 years for conditions to normalize after the second pulse.

The new study also ruled as unlikely some theorized causes of the warming episode, including an asteroid impact, slow melting of permafrost, burning of organic-rich soil or drying out of a major seaway. Instead, the findings suggest, in terms of timing, that more likely causes included melting of seafloor methane ices known as clathrates, or volcanism heating organic-rich rocks and releasing methane.


Bowen cautioned, however, that global climate already was much warmer than today's when the Paleocene-Eocene warming began, and there were no icecaps, "so this played out on a different playing field than what we have today."

Sudy co-author Scott Wing, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, adds: "This study gives us the best idea yet of how quickly this vast amount of carbon was released at the beginning of the global warming event we call the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum. The answer is just a few thousands of years or less. That's important because it means the ancient event happened at a rate more like human-caused global warming than we ever realized."


The Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum also points to the possibility of runaway climate change enhanced by feedbacks. "The fact we have two releases may suggest that second one was driven by the first," perhaps, for example, if the first warming raised sea temperatures enough to melt massive amounts of frozen methane, Bowen says.


The double-barreled carbon release at the Paleocene-Eocene time boundary pretty much rules out an asteroid or comet impact because such a catastrophe would have been "too quick" to explain the 1,500-year duration of each carbon pulse, Bowen says.

Another theory: oxidation of organic matter - as permafrost thawed, as peaty soils burned or as a seaway dried up - may have caused the Paleocene-Eocene warming. But that would have taken tens of thousands of years, far slower than what the study found, he adds. Volcanoes releasing carbon gases also would have been too slow.

Bowen says the two relatively rapid carbon releases (about 1,500 years each) are more consistent with warming oceans or an undersea landslide triggering the melting of frozen methane on the seafloor and large emissions to the atmosphere, where it became carbon dioxide within decades. Another possibility is a massive intrusion of molten rock that heated overlying organic-rich rocks and released a lot of methane, he says.

Are you genetically predisposed to antisocial behavior?


Contact: William Raillant-Clark
University of Montreal
Are you genetically predisposed to antisocial behavior?
Study of Swedish teenagers reveals how three genetic factors interact

Both positive and negative experiences influence how genetic variants affect the brain and thereby behaviour, according to a new study. "Evidence is accumulating to show that the effects of variants of many genes that are common in the population depend on environmental factors. Further, these genetic variants affect each other," explained Sheilagh Hodgins of the University of Montreal and its affiliated Institut Universitaire en Santé Mentale de Montréal. "We conducted a study to determine whether juvenile offending was associated with interactions between three common genetic variants and positive and negative experiences." Hodgins and her colleagues published the study on December 11, 2014 in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology.


The Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene is a key enzyme in the catabolism of brain neurotransmitters, monoamines, especially serotonin. Catabolism is the breaking down of complex materials and the releasing of energy within an organism. "About 25% of Caucasian men carry the less active variant of MAOA. Among them, those who experience physical abuse in childhood are more likely than those who are not abused to display serious antisocial behaviour from childhood through adulthood," Hodgins explained. "Among females it is the high activity variant of the MAOA gene that interacts with adversity in childhood to increase the likelihood of antisocial behaviour."

The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene modulates neuronal plasticity. The term neuronal plasticity refers to our brain cells' ability to reorganize pathways and connections throughout our lives. "The low expressing variants of BDNF are carried by approximately 30% of individuals and some previous studies had shown that this variant was associated with aggressive behaviour if carriers were exposed to aggressive peers. The third gene we studied was the serotonin transporter 5-HTTLPR," Hodgins said. "The low activity variant of this gene is carried by approximately 20% of individuals. Among carriers of this low activity variant, those exposed to adversity in childhood are more likely than those who are not to display antisocial and aggressive behaviour."

"We found that the three genetic variants interacted with each other and with family conflict and sexual abuse to increase the likelihood of delinquency, and with a positive parent-child relationship to decrease the risk of delinquency," Hodgins explained. "Among carriers of the low activity variants of all three genes, those exposed to family conflict or sexual abuse or both reported high levels of delinquency while those who reported a positive and warm relationship with their parents reported little or no delinquency." Thus, the same genetic variants were associated with high and low levels of delinquency depending on exposure to negative or positive environments.

In conclusion, variants of three common genes, MAOA, BDNF, and 5-HTTLPR, interacted with each other and with negative environmental factors to increase the risk of delinquency and with a positive environmental factor to decrease the risk of delinquency in a large sample of teenagers. "These findings add to those from other studies to show that genes affect the brain, and thereby behaviour, by altering sensitivity to the environment," Hodgins said.

Unemployed vs. job openings

And not all "job openings" are really that.


"Mr. Katz, the Harvard economist, said, however, that some men might choose to describe themselves as unwilling to take low-wage jobs when in fact they cannot find any jobs. There are about 10 million prime-age men who are not working, but there are only 4.8 million job openings for men and women of all ages, according to the most recent federal data."


The purpose of life

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

St. Louis Bosnian woman who claimed hate crime charged with making false report

By Christine Byers
Dec. 16, 2014

ST. LOUIS • A Bosnian immigrant has been charged with making a false police report after claiming three black teenagers threatened to kill her in the Bevo Mill neighborhood because of her ethnicity.

Police said Monday that a surveillance video from a nearby business shows Seherzada Dzanic, 26, of the 4400 block of Gannett Street, just get out of her car and lie in the street shortly before a passing driver found her Dec. 5.


According to court documents, Dzanic said she made up the story because she was suffering from “emotional issues.”


Dotson said, “It doesn’t help the current climate when people use race as the basis to report crime; it further divides our community.” He added, “It’s important to send a strong message that when people manipulate the system, there are consequences.”

Assistant Circuit Attorney Ed Postawko agreed, saying, “That was a good seven to 10 days that could have been spent investigating real crimes.”


Dzanic’s report occurred in the same week that a group of black and Hispanic teens beat Zemir Begic, a Bosnian, to death with a hammer Nov. 30 near Gravois Avenue and Itaska Street.

Police said they have no evidence to show that Begic was targeted because of his ethnicity, although many in the community believe that he was.

Robert Joseph Mitchell, 17, was charged with first-degree murder and armed criminal action in Begic’s death. Three other suspects, one 15 and two 16, are in custody, and authorities are seeking to have them certified as adults in the crime.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Earth's 7th Warmest November Puts 2014 on Pace to be Warmest Year on Record: NOAA

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 5:47 PM GMT on December 15, 2014

November 2014 was the seventh warmest November on record, and the year-to-date-period January - November was Earth's warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880, said NOAA's National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) on Monday. NASA rated November 2014 as the 8th warmest November on record. November ended a 3-month streak with record warm monthly temperatures—August, September, and October 2014 were all the warmest such months on record. Global ocean temperatures during November 2014 were the warmest on record. This marks the seventh month in a row (beginning in May 2014) that the global ocean temperature broke its monthly temperature record. Global land temperatures in November 2014 were the 13th warmest on record. Global satellite-measured temperatures in November 2014 for the lowest 8 km of the atmosphere were the 8th or 2nd warmest in the 36-year record, according to Remote Sensing Systems and the University of Alabama Huntsville (UAH), respectively.


Arctic sea ice extent during November 2014 was the 9th lowest in the 36-year satellite record and was slightly above November 2013 levels, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Geminid Meteor Shower Of 2014: How To Watch The Year's Best Sky Show

By Dominique Mosbergen
Dec. 12, 2014

Listen up, skywatchers. What's expected to be the year’s best meteor shower is set to light up the skies this weekend.

The 2014 Geminid meteor shower will peak overnight on Saturday, Dec. 13 through Sunday, Dec.14. If the sky is dark and clear, viewers in the Northern Hemisphere may be treated to as many as 120 meteors per hour starting around 9 p.m. local time until dawn.

The meteors--small pieces of debris from an asteroid named 3200 Phaethon--should also be visible on Friday and Sunday nights.

No special equipment to catch the meteors is needed. Just find a spot with an unobstructed view of the sky and no glaring lights nearby.

“Go out late in the evening, lie back in a reclining lawn chair, and gaze up into the stars,” Sky & Telescope’s senior editor, Alan MacRobert, wrote in the magazine. “Relax, be patient, and let your eyes adapt to the darkness."

NASA says Saturday's celestial show will be particularly good for youngsters, as the best time for viewing will be in the first half of the night, before the last-quarter moon rises around midnight. Though the moonlight may interfere with meteor-watching, the brightest Geminids will probably outshine the moon. (Head over to the U.S. Naval Observatory's website to find out the moonrise time for your location.)

Unable to make it outside when the meteors show up? The Slooh space camera is scheduled to live-stream the shower on Saturday starting at 8 p..m. EST -- check it out above.

Fast Food Myths and Wages

by Jason Surbey on December 11, 2014

A common myth is that jobs in fast food are held by teenagers, and that fast food establishments can only make it by paying the minimum wage. But the median age of fast food workers in the U.S. is about 28. These workers have responsibilities and financial costs like rent, transportation, school tuition and child care. They deserve a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and plenty of fast food operators agree.

They know that paying higher wages means retaining employees longer which reduces turnover costs. Higher wages can also mean higher morale and better productivity. And these businesses know that higher wages means more money in people’s pockets which spurs consumer spending on the very goods and services they sell. Paying above the languishing national minimum wage of $7.25 per hour creates a win-win for these businesses.

Here are five business owners who pay above the minimum wage because they understand that doing so is good for their workers and good for the bottom line.

“Our training costs would be significantly higher if we paid lower wages and we had the kind of turnover that you typically see in a restaurant.” -Amanda Rothschild, co-owner of Charmington’s Café in Baltimore

“The number one reason we pay our team well above the minimum wage is because we believe that if we take care of the team, they will take care of our customers.” -Randy Garutti, chief executive of Shake Shack

“I think employees feel great to know that we support them and want them to have a comfortable life, and paying them a fair wage is one part of it. We want them to be happy when they come to work every day.” -Nicolas Jammet, co-owner of Sweetgreen

“I’ve always felt that if a business, including and especially my own, couldn’t afford to pay its people at least a living wage, we weren’t earning the right to be in business anyway. And when a business claims that the only way it can pay its operating expenses and stay open is by paying its people so little that they can’t pay their own basic expenses, well that business isn’t really in business anyway.” -John Pepper, founder of Boloco

“Our people work really hard and $15 impacts their lives in a very positive way. The whole notion that it’s all kids starting out and they don’t deserve to be paid much, that’s all specious. We’re paying people $15 an hour so they have a living wage, so they really care about you when you come in the store.” -Harry Moorhouse, co-founder of Moo Cluck Moo

If these businesses can pay a fair starting wage to their workers and be the better for it, then so can others. The current national minimum wage hasn’t been raised in more than five years while basic costs continue to go up. That means people are working harder and harder yet falling behind. Raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 as President Obama has called for would boost the incomes of 28 million Americans. It would mean a real lift for those who need it the most. And it would mean more consumer spending – money that can be put right back into the economy, helping fast food establishments and businesses in all sectors.

The Science of Why We Don't Believe Science

By Chris Mooney | May/June 2011 Issue

"A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.

Festinger and several of his colleagues had infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they were communicating with aliens—including one, "Sananda," who they believed was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin, a Dianetics devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through automatic writing.

Through her, the aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin's followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and rip zippers out of their trousers—the metal, they believed, would pose a danger on the spacecraft.

Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the "boys upstairs" (as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers. Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they'd all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials' new pronouncement: "The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction." Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

From that day forward, the Seekers, previously shy of the press and indifferent toward evangelizing, began to proselytize. "Their sense of urgency was enormous," wrote Festinger. The devastation of all they had believed had made them even more certain of their beliefs.

[I have read the book recounting the study. Very interesting.]


But while Martin's space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there's plenty to go around. And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, "death panels," the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience (PDF): Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call "affect"). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we're aware of it. That shouldn't be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It's a "basic human survival skill," explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.


That's not to suggest that we aren't also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It's just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one's sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.

Together, all of these studies support the theory of "motivated reasoning": The idea that our prior beliefs, commitments, and emotions drive our responses to new information, such that when we are faced with facts that deeply challenge these commitments, we fight back against them to defend our identities. So next time you feel the urge to argue back against some idiot on the internet…pause, take a deep breath, and realize not only that arguing might not do any good, but that in fact, it might very well backfire.

The Darwin Awards: sex differences in idiotic behaviour

I suggest reading the whole article at the following link, but not while eating, to avoid spewing food all over the place when laughing.

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 11 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7094

Ben Alexander Daniel Lendrem, student1,
Dennis William Lendrem, project manager, Institute of Cellular Medicine2,
Andy Gray, consultant orthopaedic trauma surgeon3,
John Dudley Isaacs, director, Institute of Cellular Medicine2

1The King Edward VI School, Morpeth NE61 1DN, UK
2Newcastle University, Newcastle NE2 4HH, UK
3Major Trauma Centre, Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle NE1 4LP


Sex differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency hospital admissions, and mortality are well documented. However, little is known about sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. This paper reviews the data on winners of the Darwin Award over a 20 year period (1995-2014). Winners of the Darwin Award must eliminate themselves from the gene pool in such an idiotic manner that their action ensures one less idiot will survive. This paper reports a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners: males are significantly more likely to receive the award than females (P<0.0001). We discuss some of the reasons for this difference.


However, there is a class of risk—the “idiotic” risk—that is qualitatively different from those associated with, say, contact sports or adventure pursuits such as parachuting. Idiotic risks are defined as senseless risks, where the apparent payoff is negligible or non-existent, and the outcome is often extremely negative and often final.

According to “male idiot theory” (MIT) many of the differences in risk seeking behaviour, emergency department admissions, and mortality may be explained by the observation that men are idiots and idiots do stupid things.16 There are anecdotal data supporting MIT, but to date there has been no systematic analysis of sex differences in idiotic risk taking behaviour. In this paper we present evidence in support of this hypothesis using data on idiotic behaviours demonstrated by winners of the Darwin Award.


To qualify, nominees must improve the gene pool by eliminating themselves from the human race using astonishingly stupid methods. Northcutt cites a number of worthy candidates.17 18 19 20 21 These include the thief attempting to purloin a steel hawser from a lift shaft, who unbolted the hawser while standing in the lift, which then plummeted to the ground, killing its occupant; the man stealing a ride home by hitching a shopping trolley to the back of a train, only to be dragged two miles to his death before the train was able to stop; and the terrorist who posted a letter bomb with insufficient postage stamps and who, on its return, unthinkingly opened his own letter.


We reviewed all Darwin Award nominations, noting the sex of the winner. Our analysis included only confirmed accounts verified by the Darwin Awards Committee. Urban legends and unverified accounts were excluded. Honourable mentions—worthy examples of idiotic behaviour not resulting in elimination from the gene pool—were also excluded from the analysis. Examples include the man who slipped when using a belt sander as an auto-erotic device and lost a testicle. Repairing his scrotum with a staple gun, he was able to salvage his remaining testicle thus failing to eliminate himself completely from the gene pool.


There is a marked sex difference in Darwin Award winners (see figure⇓). Males thus made up 88.7% of Darwin Award winners, and this sex difference is highly statistically significant (χ2=190.30; P<0.0001).