September 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM

SELF-FULFILLING HYPOCHONDRIA:

Should You or Shouldn't You? New Evidence in the Great Mammogram Debate (Kayt Sukel, 9/11/12, Pacific Standard)

A new study conducted on approximately 1,800 women in the Netherlands, France, and the United Kingdom, however, suggests that the extra radiation from annual mammograms and other diagnostic testing may actually raise the risk of developing the disease in those with a particular genetic risk.

The study, led by Flora van Leeuwen, head of the Department of Epidemiology at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, examined women who tested positive for a BRCA1/2, a gene variant linked to a five-fold increase in the risk for breast cancer. They found a strong correlation between exposure to diagnostic radiation before the age of 30 with an increased risk of developing the disease.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM

...AND CHEAPER...:

The Sky Is the Limit for Wind Power : The amount of power to be reaped from tapping low- and high-altitude winds dwarfs global demand (David Biello, September 2012, Scientific American)

Wind turbines on land and offshore could readily provide more than four times the power that the world as a whole currently uses. Throw in kites or robot aircraft generating electricity from sky-high winds and the world could physically extract roughly 100 times more power than presently employed--and the climatic consequences remain minimal.

Two new computer-model analyses suggest there are few limits to the wind's potential. Although "there are physical limits to the amount of power that can be harvested from winds, these limits are well above total global energy demand," explains climate-modeler Kate Marvel of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who led the analysis published September 9 in Nature Climate Change.

Demand that will shrink as demographics implode.
Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM

EXCEPT THAT...:

What If 9/11 Had Never Happened? (Niall Ferguson Sep 4, 2011, Newsweek)

[L]et's play a game like the one my friends at the Muzzy Lane software company are currently designing, which has the working title "New World Disorder." The game simulates the complex interaction of economics, politics, and international relations, allowing us to replay the past.

Let's start in January 2001 and thwart the 9/11 attacks by having Condi Rice and Paul Wolfowitz heed Richard Clarke's warnings about Al Qaeda. The game starts off well. Al -Qaeda is preemptively decapitated, its leaders rounded up in a series of covert operations and left to the tender mercies of their home governments. President Bush gets to focus on tax cuts, his first love.


...Saddam was never going to survive W's presidency, for exactly the same reason that taxes were going to be cut.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM

JUST SO STORIES ALL THE WAY DOWN:

IT AIN'T NECESSARILY SO : How much do evolutionary stories reveal about the mind? (ANTHONY GOTTLIEB, SEPTEMBER 17, 2012, The New Yorker)

When Rudyard Kipling first published his fables about how the camel got his hump and the rhinoceros his wrinkly folds of skin, he explained that they would lull his daughter to sleep only if they were always told "just so," with no new variations. The "Just So Stories" have become a byword for seductively simple myths, though one of Kipling's turns out to be half true.

The Leopard and the Ethiopian were hungry, the story goes, because the Giraffe and the Zebra had moved to a dense forest and were impossible to catch. So the Ethiopian changed his skin to a blackish brown, which allowed him to creep up on them. He also used his inky fingers to make spots on the Leopard's coat, so that his friend could hunt stealthily, too--which now seems to be about right, minus the Ethiopian. A recent article in a biology journal approvingly quotes Kipling on the places "full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows" where cats have patterned coats. The study matched the coloring of thirty-five species to their habitats and habits, which, together with other clues, is hard evidence that cats' flank patterns mostly evolved through natural selection as camouflage. There are some puzzles--cheetahs have spots, though they prefer open hunting grounds--but that's to be expected, since the footsteps of evolution can be as hard to retrace as those of a speckly leopard in the forest.

The idea of natural selection itself began as a just-so story, more than two millennia before Darwin. Darwin belatedly learned this when, a few years after the publication of "On the Origin of Species," in 1859, a town clerk in Surrey sent him some lines of Aristotle, reporting an apparently crazy tale from Empedocles. According to Empedocles, most of the parts of animals had originally been thrown together at random: "Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders . . . and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads." Yet whenever a set of parts turned out to be useful the creatures that were lucky enough to have them "survived, being organised spontaneously in a fitting way, whereas those which grew otherwise perished." In later editions of "Origin," Darwin added a footnote about the tale, remarking, "We here see the principle of natural selection shadowed forth."

Today's biologists tend to be cautious about labelling any trait an evolutionary adaptation--that is, one that spread through a population because it provided a reproductive advantage. It's a concept that is easily abused, and often "invoked to resolve problems that do not exist," the late George Williams, an influential evolutionary biologist, warned. When it comes to studying ourselves, though, such admonitions are hard to heed. So strong is the temptation to explain our minds by evolutionary "Just So Stories," Stephen Jay Gould argued in 1978, that a lack of hard evidence for them is frequently overlooked (his may well have been the first pejorative use of Kipling's term). Gould, a Harvard paleontologist and a popular-science writer, who died in 2002, was taking aim mainly at the rising ambitions of sociobiology. He had no argument with its work on bees, wasps, and ants, he said. But linking the behavior of humans to their evolutionary past was fraught with perils, not least because of the difficulty of disentangling culture and biology. Gould saw no prospect that sociobiology would achieve its grandest aim: a "reduction" of the human sciences to Darwinian theory.

This was no straw man. The previous year, Robert Trivers, a founder of the discipline, told Time that, "sooner or later, political science, law, economics, psychology, psychiatry, and anthropology will all be branches of sociobiology." The sociobiologists believed that the concept of natural selection was a key that would unlock all the sciences of man, by revealing the evolutionary origins of behavior.

The dream has not died.

Of course, all the arguments against evolutionary psychology apply to all of Darwinism,.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM

NO CULTURE, NO ART:

'China's art world does not exist' (Ai Weiwei, 9/10/12, guardian.co.uk)

Widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in the country. For more than 60 years, anyone with a dissenting opinion has been suppressed. Chinese art is merely a product: it avoids any meaningful engagement. There is no larger context. Its only purpose is to charm viewers with its ambiguity.

The Chinese art world does not exist. In a society that restricts individual freedoms and violates human rights, anything that calls itself creative or independent is a pretence. It is impossible for a totalitarian society to create anything with passion and imagination.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM

TAX WHAT YOU DON'T WANT:

Taxes Show One Way to Save Fuel (EDUARDO PORTER, 9/12/12, NY Times)

Consider how a gas tax would work. Because it would make gas more expensive at the pump, we would drive less. When time came to replace the old family S.U.V., we would be more likely to consider a more fuel-efficient option. As more Americans sought gas-sipping hybrids, carmakers would develop more efficient vehicles.

This is not theory. We've seen it happen. In 2008, when the price of gas shot abruptly past $4 a gallon, Americans cut back sharply on their driving. Total miles driven on American highways declined for the first time since 1980 and gas use fell more than 4 percent. General Motors ditched the Hummer, and gas-guzzling pickups were briefly dislodged from the perch they had occupied since 1992 as the nation's most popular light vehicle.

Driving levels started creeping back up as soon as gas prices started receding, but a gas tax would be permanent and would lead to even bigger changes in habits. And the cost is lower than it seems. Economists point out that the energy savings would not change if the government returned all the revenue raised by a gas tax to Americans -- perhaps through rebates for low-income people who spend a bigger share of their money on gas.

The weakness with the fuel-economy rules is that they don't affect people's behavior the way higher gas prices do. They apply only to new vehicles -- not the ones on the road now -- so it takes quite a long time to alter our overall gas use. And they carry perverse incentives: because new vehicles go farther on a gallon of gas, they give us a reason to drive more, leading to more congestion, accidents, pollution and gas consumption.

The incentives to carmakers can also be weird. The original standards for fuel economy in the 1970s exempted light trucks, which were a small share of the market. That decision was critical to the explosive growth of the S.U.V. In 1973, light trucks amounted to 3 percent of new vehicle sales. Today they account for half.

Who knows what distortions the new rules will bring? The standards vary according to the footprint of the car -- the length between the axles multiplied by the width. So maybe cars will be boxier in the future.

Automakers will make the most efficient cars they can that customers will buy. A gas tax that goads drivers to choose gas-sippers takes advantage of this fact. A mileage standard does not.