Archive for August, 2008

RNC and DNC Compete to Have the "Greenest Convention"

By Melissa Lafsky | August 21, 2008 5:25 pm

The 2008 conventions are fast approaching, and the host cities—Denver for Democrats followed by Minneapolis/St. Paul for the RNC—are bracing themselves for the mass influx of reporters, supporters, and political insiders. Which leads to the inevitable question: What is each party doing to keep the events environmentally conscious?

For its part, the RNC has sprung into action to keep its energy use and waste to a minimum. The St. Paul Pioneer Press via Politico reports that their efforts will include the following:

[H]ybrid electric trucks delivering soft drinks to the Xcel Energy Center. Almost 300 containers for used cans, bottles, paper and all other things recyclable. A thousand bicycles available for convention-goers to get around the Twin Cities. Recycled desk chairs, cubicles and carpeting. Even 45,000 biodegradable discount cards for visitors.

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MORE ABOUT: mccain, obama

Should Obesity Be Treated Like an Addiction?

By Melissa Lafsky | August 20, 2008 6:12 pm

The definition of addiction has been expanding all over the place, with rehab programs springing up for Internet addicts and class action lawsuits hinging on whether gambling falls under the addiction umbrella. Given the latest obesity studies proclaiming the eventual corpulence of everyone in America, it’s worth asking: Is overeating an addiction, and should it be treated like one?

So far, research on obesity has followed pretty much the same line as research on gambling, Web surfing, and other compulsive behaviors: When the brains of an overeater, compulsive gambler, etc. are examined, their increases and reductions in dopamine receptors follow similar patterns to those in drug addicts.

Now, a new drug developed to treat drug addition has also been shown to cause rapid weight loss. Called vigabatrin, the drug is currently in the clinical test phase for cocaine and methamphetamine dependence.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health Care, Nutrition & Obesity
MORE ABOUT: addiction

Obama Would Win Easily…If the Election Were a Web Poll

By Melissa Lafsky | August 20, 2008 1:29 pm

voteIt’s no secret that, when it comes to Internet savvy, the two presidential candidates are about as different as BASIC and LINUX. And nowhere does their Web contrast play out more than in their respective campaigning. The Economist reports that in June, Obama raised $52 million in total, $31 million of which came from donations of $200 or less that were mostly generated by his Web site. He also has 1.3 million Facebook supporters to McCain’s 200,000, and also keeps regularly updated profiles on MySpace, LinkedIn, and other social networks.

And then there’s video. While YouTube has been embraced by just about everyone as a great way to spread viral campaign messages, Obama has his own video team on the payroll. So far, the group has shot more than 2,000 hours of footage and uploaded around 1,110 videos on his YouTube channel–more than four times the content on McCain’s channel. And all that work has paid off: The Illinois Senator’s videos have been viewed 52 million times to McCain’s 9.5 million.

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Who's the Fattest of Them All? Obesity Rates Rise in 37 States

By Melissa Lafsky | August 19, 2008 6:09 pm

fatWell, so much for that whole “curb obesity by 2010” plan: The latest report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says that obesity rates rose in 37 states in the past year, while not a single state saw a decrease. For 19 of the 37, this was their third straight year on the obesity rising list.

So which states were the fattest? The South has typically gotten slapped with the “most obese” label, and 2008 is no exception. Mississippi nabbed the top slot, with 31.7 percent of its adults qualifying as obese. West Virginia and Alabama were next, with obesity rates of 30.6 percent and 30.1 percent respectively. No surprise, Mississippi also had the highest rates of physical inactivity and hypertension, and tied for second highest in diabetes. Colorado was the only state in the union with an obesity rate of less than 20 percent—but is still higher than 15 percent, the government’s target for every state by 2010.

And what has the federal government been doing to help turn the tide of this ever-rising trend? The report mentions the following efforts (and shortcomings):

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Nutrition & Obesity
MORE ABOUT: epidemics

Politicians in Space! Obama, McCain Clash on NASA Funding

By Melissa Lafsky | August 19, 2008 1:47 pm

spaceWe’re only too happy when the political debate turns to science, even if it means scrapping over who said what.

The latest altercation began earlier this week when Obama announced that he was revising his position on the U.S. space program to include a “comprehensive space plan that includes $2 billion in new funding to reinvigorate NASA” as well as a “promise to make space exploration and science a significantly higher priority,” according to the Washington Post. Details of the plan include finishing the International Space Station, supporting aeronautics research, and flying an additional shuttle mission to carry a $1.5 billion particle detector to the ISS.

The plan marks a shift from Obama’s position earlier in the campaign, when he proposed delaying NASA’s Constellation program in order to fund an $18 billion education plan—a proposal that was soon dropped. Still, McCain wasted no time in blasting his opponent for changing his position (“flip-flopping” accusations never seem to get old in politics) and proclaiming that by contrast, McCain himself would “ensure that space exploration remains a top priority and that the U.S. continues to lead the world in this field.”

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Micro-Lending Site Offers Treatment Options for Autism, But at What Price?

By Melissa Lafsky | August 18, 2008 4:48 pm

ABC News has a report on the Lend4Health blog, which offers a person-to-person lending system for parents who can’t afford and/or whose insurance won’t cover autism treatments for their children. The concept follows the model of and other individual loan sites. But the idea behind it—loans exclusively for treatments of a particular disorder—is unique among micro-lenders.

The system was created by Tori Tuncan, a mother of two who decided to take action after hearing one too many stories about insurers denying coverage for autism therapies. Tuncan acts as the money go-between, reviewing pictures, bios, references, and the treatments desired by potential borrowers, and then doling out micro-loans at her discretion.

It’s true that this kind of system could be a potential lifesaver for patients who desperately need certain procedures or treatments, but are caught in insurance company red tape and can’t come up with the money. But the current setup of one person deciding what treatments are worth funding, and handing out funds accordingly, sets a dangerous precedent. Tuncan is not a doctor and has no medical training. In fact, it’s unclear if she has any particular knowledge about the complexities of autism therapies, or the controversies surrounding them.

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MORE ABOUT: autism

Annual Creationism Conference Takes "Scientific" Approach

By Melissa Lafsky | August 18, 2008 12:15 pm

worlEarlier this month, the Sixth International Conference on Creationism took place in Pittsburgh. Sponsored by the Creation Science Fellowship and the Institute for Creation Research, the week-long event billed itself as a “highly technical, peer reviewed symposium, with planned rebuttals and discussions.” Papers submitted for the conference were put through a “technical review process” that included the following criteria:

Is the Summary’s topic important to the development of the creation model?

Does the Summary’s topic provide an original contribution to the creation

Is this Summary formulated within a young-earth, young-universe framework?

Does this Summary provide evidence of faithfulness to the grammaticohistorical/normative interpretation of Scripture?

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

Senate Dems Close to Saying Yes to Offshore Drilling

By Andrew Moseman | August 15, 2008 3:36 pm

oil rigIt sounds more and more like some offshore oil drilling is going to happen.

Congress can’t be like “mountain sheep, standing back and butting heads” over drilling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today. Reid, on a conference call with T. Boone Pickens about their National Clean Energy Summit to be held Tuesday in Las Vegas, praised the recent Senate compromise that would allow some drilling as near as 50 miles from shore.

There are a number of well-known problems with offshore drilling: It probably won’t make any sizable dent in the oil market, the oil wouldn’t be available for the better part of a decade, and there’s already a shortage of oil rigs to do the drilling, plus any leaks or other environmental hazards that drilling could create. But a compromise on drilling could be necessary to get what Reid repeatedly praised today as the real key to promoting alternative energies technologies—tax credits. As we covered on Monday, the renewal of solar power tax credits is being held up in the Congress by the current drilling deadlock.

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MORE ABOUT: offshore drilling, oil

A U.S. and Russia Collision Could Spell Bad News for NASA (And Florida)

By Melissa Lafsky | August 14, 2008 3:19 pm

NASAAs diplomatic relations with Russia plummet faster than a barrel over Niagara Falls, politicians and scientists are starting to worry about the effects the frosting relationship could have on our space program. As 80beats reported, the principle concern is the Russian Soyuz vehicle, which will be the U.S.’s only means of sending crew and cargo to the International Space Station once NASA retires the space shuttles in 2010.

Replacement shuttles won’t be available in the U.S. until 2015, which means that right now access depends on a $719 million deal with Russia to purchase rides on the Soyuz through 2011. On a larger scale, we’re looking at a Russian monopoly on sending humans into space—a leverage point that may affect the U.S.’s ability to take action against the country in the next few years.

The biggest Cassandra foretelling space trouble is Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who has announced that he “fears Russia’s aggressive action against Georgia may have some serious consequences,” such as “Russia denying us rides or charging exorbitant amounts for them.” Granted, it’s worth noting that Florida houses the massive Kennedy Space Center, and the money funneled into the state for space and research operations totaled $1.68 billion in 2006. Needless to say, a significant slowdown or axing of future missions due to political deadlock will put quite a damper on his state’s economy.

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Does the Pill Keep You from Finding a Good Mate?

By Melissa Lafsky | August 13, 2008 5:13 pm

The big story today: A new study from the University of Liverpool found that birth control pills could be messing with women’s ability to find genetically dissimilar partners, thereby upping the chances of infertility, miscarriage, and offspring with weakened immune systems.

The key issue, according to Craig Roberts, an evolutionary psychologist who led the study, is body odor:

Humans choose partners through their body odor and tend to be attracted to those with a dissimilar genetic make-up to themselves, maintaining genetic diversity. Genes in the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), which helps build the proteins involved in the body’s immune response, also play a prominent role in odor through interaction with skin bacteria. In this way these genes also help determine which individuals find us attractive.

The pill has been shown to affect the sense of smell in the past, and while the exact reason for this side effect isn’t known, researchers have speculated that, since the areas of the brain that control both the sense of smell and the ovaries are located near one another, taking a pill that alters one could alter both.

The problem with the odor effect, argue the authors, is that it alters subjects’ preferences for genetically dissimilar men—a loaded idea, given that it hints there might be serious repercussions from the world’s most popular form of birth control. The odor-changing theory has been around for a while, and until now most of the data on MHC differences were gathered from rodents.

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MORE ABOUT: abortion, contraception
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