Archive for August, 2008

As Obama Makes History, the Internet Records It

By Melissa Lafsky | August 29, 2008 12:48 pm

The crowd was bursting at the seams in Invesco Field last night—MSM reports have put attendance anywhere from 75,000 to more than 84,000—but for those not packed into the confines of Mile High Stadium, Obama’s historic acceptance speech was alive and well on the Internet. The Democratic nominee’s address—made on the 45th anniversary of civil rights leader Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech—was streamed live on MSM sites, posted to YouTube with astonishing speed, and blogged at length. But one real winner for the night, in addition to the Democratic candidate, was Twitter.

The micro-blogging site, which has been gradually but surely infiltrating the political realm, had a huge night, with Wired‘s Sarah Lai Stirland reporting that “[m]ore than 6,500 tweets poured through the service in just 20 minutes…most of them brief, two-line assessments of Obama’s performance.” While Obama may not have the most comfortable lead in the polls, he does lead the world’s most followed Twitterer list by a wide margin, with 67,969 followers, though he wasn’t the only Democrat to inspire tidal waves of Tweets—Bill Clinton’s speech the night before also drove viewers to their computers and cell phones.

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MORE ABOUT: obama, Twitter

How Green Is My Army?

By Melissa Lafsky | August 28, 2008 5:14 pm

marinesIrony, meet paradox. The U.S. military, that paragon of technology-aided destruction, is setting its sights on environmental sustainability. Which isn’t a bad idea, given that the Defense Department alone uses a whopping 1.5 percent of all energy consumed in the U.S. (which, until recently, was the world’s single biggest emitter of greenhouse gases).

The Environmental News Network reports that the Army has begun working to reduce the carbon footprint at its bases, and is taking measures to cut its CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2015. Its efforts include spraying troops’ tents with foam insulation to reduce energy used for air conditioning (which, in places like Djibouti, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, can be a significant power-drain) and building combat training ranges out of recycled shipping containers.

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Carrots Might Work Better Than Sticks (Plus They're Low in Calories)

By Melissa Lafsky | August 28, 2008 2:46 pm

Theories on fighting the obesity epidemic can be divided into two camps: punishing or restricting bad behavior (like oh, say, banning new fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods) and rewarding good behavior. So far, the bulk of what’s actually been done falls in the first category. Arguably, the most effective options would lie somewhere in the second.

Enter a new law enacted in Alabama, in which state employees who are obese or who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high glucose will have to pay $25 a month more in health insurance if they don’t lose weight and get healthy by 2010. True to form, the law punishes the chronically obese with financial penalties—exactly as it has punished smokers, who’ve been paying a $24 surcharge for their habit. The state isn’t leaving it all to the employees; state officials say they’ll offer programs such as Weight Watchers and gym discounts to help people drop pounds and avoid the penalty.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Nutrition & Obesity
MORE ABOUT: incentives

War and Science Don't Mix: Invasion Disrupts Georgian Research

By Melissa Lafsky | August 27, 2008 4:08 pm

warWhile Russian warships head to Abkhazia and arguments begin over who started it all, the conflict in Georgia has “paralyzed” scientific research in the country, according to Nature News. The director of the Georgia National Science Foundation said that 72 research projects, or 30 percent of all the foundation’s current work, have been halted because of the conflict.

In an example of terrible timing, the invasion hit smack in the middle of a new ramp-up in the country’s science-funding system, following a resurgence of young and skilled Georgian scientists. The GNSF had planned to double its national science budget next year, from $8 million to $16 million—which spells a lot of research and travel grants. But given the huge costs of post-war reconstruction (not to mention the hit Georgia’s economy will take from its loss of foreign investors), that money is now likely headed for recovery efforts.

Since we’re heaping on the bad news:

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science in Wartime
MORE ABOUT: russia, war

The Trials of Teaching Evolution in 2008

By Melissa Lafsky | August 27, 2008 11:51 am

The New York Times has a report this week on the hoops teachers are jumping through to teach evolution in public schools. Specifically, it follows the efforts of David Campbell, a Florida biology teacher who does an astonishing job of compromising, tip-toeing, and cajoling, all to get his students to accept—and maybe even learn—the process of evolution.

Overall, the piece paints a bleak picture for teachers, made all the worse by the lack of a clear nationwide mandate for teaching the subject. Despite all the scientific evidence we have, some states are still stacking obstacles in the path of instructors who want to devote class time to human evolution. This summer, Louisiana passed a law protecting the right of local schools to teach “alternative” (i.e., non-scientific) theories for the origin of species, while the Florida Department of Education didn’t explicitly require its public schools to teach evolution—or, as the legislature calls it, “the organizing principle of life science”—until February of 2008.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, Science & Religion
MORE ABOUT: education

How Much Food Do Humans Waste? Try Half

By Melissa Lafsky | August 26, 2008 3:03 pm

buffetIn the midst of a food crisis, with grocery prices spiraling upwards across the globe, there’s nothing worse than hearing that every day, a massive amount of food gets tossed in the trash.

But since we’re not here to obscure reality as an excuse to make everyone feel better, here’s the truth: According to a new report by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute, about half of all the food produced worldwide goes to waste. The report states that the amount of food we produce is more than enough to feed the world’s population, but between our inefficient (or nonexistent) distribution systems and our ridiculous practice of tossing out perfectly good food, a big chunk of humanity goes hungry while another eats itself into an epidemic.

More depressing highlights:

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MORE ABOUT: food, water

Sweet Irony at the "Green" DNC Convention

By Melissa Lafsky | August 25, 2008 2:44 pm

Last week we discussed the “heavy greening” efforts touted by planners behind both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. So how are the ultra-environmentally-friendly efforts in Denver faring so far? Here’s a report from blogger Carol Keeley on the bag of freebies presented to all credentialed journalists:

The media swag bag was surreal. Examples: a flat white plastic UPS truck that contains mints; an AT&T DNC ringtone gift card; a shitload of advertising for all things green, using shameless quantities of paper and plastic; a card with an embedded radio; Joint Juice; a metal pin of a bicycle advertising a phone company; a metal pin of a windmill; a plantable card; a card announcing that Coca-Cola is the Official Recycling Provider at the Pepsi Center; a plastic water bottle; and Dale Carnegie’s Golden Book, which includes his bio plus tips from How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Et tu, DNC committee?

MORE ABOUT: DNC, global warming

Note to Politicians: Medical Prevention May Cost More Than Treatment

By Melissa Lafsky | August 25, 2008 1:26 pm

doctorsThroughout the 2008 campaign, both Obama and McCain have been pushing preventative-care programs as a solution to exploding health care costs. Which seems sensible enough given that, from a logic standpoint, it sounds like a flawless cost-saving strategy: We take measures to stamp out diseases and other health problems before they start, and save ourselves the costs (both in care and increasingly precious doctor hours) of treating them later.

The only problem is that preventative care may not save money at all. A recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine found that rather than cutting costs, preventative-care plans often wind up costing more than treatment. Written by Tufts health-policy researchers Joshua Cohen and Peter Neumann and Harvard professor of health policy Milton Weinstein, the paper declares that “[s]weeping statements about the cost-saving potential of prevention … are overreaching” since “[s]tudies have concluded that preventing illness can in some cases save money but in other cases can add to health care costs.”

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MORE ABOUT: preventative care

Weekly Science & Politics News Roundup

By Melissa Lafsky | August 22, 2008 2:26 pm

• Are Olympic cheaters slipping through the cracks?

• Turns out it’s not just the uninsured who are getting screwed by medical bills: Those with insurance are under water as well.

• Dear presidential candidates: No matter which of you wins, you’ll be receiving a $9 billion bill for global warming. Please pay accordingly.

• Do degenerating brain cells make us hungrier (and thus fatter) as we age?

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MORE ABOUT: addiction, sports

And So It Begins: U.S. Sees Big Measles Spike in Unvaccinated Kids

By Melissa Lafsky | August 22, 2008 12:14 pm

vaccineWe’re not one to say “I told you so” (oh, who are we kidding) but reports are in from the CDC that the number of measles cases in the U.S. has risen to its highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of the reported cases involving children whose parents chose not to have them vaccinated for the disease.

Granted, the number of cases is low, 131 total, but that’s only from January through July of 2008—and that increase is significant, considering that 2007 saw a grand total of 42 cases. Thus far, none of the newly infected have died, though 15 were hospitalized. To make matters worse, the AP reports, at least 17 children contracted whooping cough (which can be fatal to children) at a private school in the San Francisco Bay area, and 13 of them weren’t vaccinated against the disease.

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MORE ABOUT: autism, children, vaccines
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