Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Copenhagen Diagnosis

Copenhagen Diagnosis

Some of the world's best climate researchers have put together a report, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, which updates the readers on what has happened in climate research since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report.

The report is targeted towards policy makers, the media, and the general public, and as such it "synthesize the most policy-relevant climate science published since the close-off of material for the last IPCC report", allowing policy makers to make informed decisions based on all available (peer-reviewed) material, and not just material available 3 years ago.

If you want to be informed about the current state of climate research, and on our knowledge of AGW, then read this report. It won't include any of the many manufactured controversies, just the pure science, which has been through a proper peer-review process.

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Food Waste in US and its environmental impact

PLoS One has an interesting article The Progressive Increase of Food Waste in America and Its Environmental Impact by Kevin D. Hall et al

Food waste contributes to excess consumption of freshwater and fossil fuels which, along with methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change. Here, we calculate the energy content of nationwide food waste from the difference between the US food supply and the food consumed by the population. The latter was estimated using a validated mathematical model of metabolism relating body weight to the amount of food eaten. We found that US per capita food waste has progressively increased by ~50% since 1974 reaching more than 1400 kcal per person per day or 150 trillion kcal per year. Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and ~300 million barrels of oil per year.

As this study shows, this is a serious issue which should be addressed. One quarter of all freshwater consumption wasted is simply way too much, especially considering the fact that we will encounter increased water shortage in the future.

The oil consumption sounds very high, but given the fact that the US uses approximately 19.5 billion barrels of petroleum per day, it's a very small percentage of the US consumption. Still, everything helps, and reducing this waste would be one step among many to reduce the US consumption of fossil fuel.

Also, as the abstract says, "methane and CO2 emissions from decomposing food, impacts global climate change". Since anthropogenic global warming probably is the most pressing issue of our times, any possible steps towards reducing AGW should be taken.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Will the US finally get universal health care?

I have never hidden my stance on universal health care. I am completely in favor it. What's more, I consider it an atrocity that any western country can have millions of citizens who haven't got basic health care coverage.

It looks like the US has finally realized this as well. Obama made it one of his key issues during the election (as did the other Democratic candidates), and has been working hard to get it through since he stepped into office. What's more, every poll shows that the majority of the US population backs his efforts.

Now, it looks more likely that this effort will become successful.

The US congress has voted 220-215 for expanding health care coverage in the US.

This was a largely partisan vote, with 219 Democrats, and only 1 Republican, voting for the expansions, and 39 Democrats and 176 Republicans voting against the expansion. You can see how the members voted here. Note the names of the people who voted against, especially the Democrats. These are the people who want millions of US citizens to continue not having health care coverage. Remember this during the next election - these people don't have the best interest of the voters in mind.

The battle is not over yet - the bill has to pass the senate - but it is a lot closer now than a few days ago.

There is much not to like about the bill which passed in the Congress. I don't like the reliance on insurance companies, and I hate the anti-abortion amendment, which the anti-choice members of the Congress got introduced. Yet, even with these flaws, there is much to like, e.g. the abolition of preexisting conditions. It's a good first step, and hopefully the Democrats won't stumble now.

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One more strike against a JFK conspiracy

Ever since John F. Kennedy was murdered there have been accusations of a conspiracy with Lee Oswald as the fall guy. At first it was just a small fringe group, but since then, these views have gained more foothold in the mainstream. A major reason for this was Oliver Stone's atrocious 1991 movie JFK, which contained numerous factual errors.

One of the earliest claims of evidence for a conspiracy, is the supposed fakeness of the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald standing in a backyard with the riffle used to kill President John F. Kennedy.

Now, throughout computer analysis of the photo, shows that it's not faked, but rather a real photo.

Iconic Photo Of JFK Assassin Oswald Was Not Faked, Professor Finds

Dartmouth computer scientist Hany Farid has new evidence regarding a photograph of accused John F. Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald. Farid, a pioneer in the field of digital forensics, digitally analyzed an iconic image of Oswald pictured in a backyard setting holding a rifle in one hand and Marxist newspapers in the other.

Oswald and others claimed that the incriminating photo was a fake, noting the seemingly inconsistent lighting and shadows. After analyzing the photo with modern-day forensic tools, Farid says the photo almost certainly was not altered.

Scientists are always careful to not speak in absolutes so "Almost certainly was not" is science-speech for "Was not".

I know that this new evidence will not convince the hardcore conspiracy theorists, since nothing will, but perhaps it can be used to counter their claims, allowing others to understand that there is absolutely no evidence of a broader conspiracy.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Helping people helping others

Ever so often someone sends me something they thought I might want to share with my readers. Most of the time, it's some kind of money making scheme or something, but on rare occasions, it's actually something worthwhile.

Today was one of these occasions.

I was made aware of this collaboration between the Fresh Air Fund and OneSight

One out of four school children in the U.S. has vision problems, and 86% do not get their vision checked before age 12.

Many Fresh Air children do not have access to affordable vision care. Glasses break, are too expensive to replace, or are never prescribed in the first place. And often as a result, children's performance in academics, sports and activities suffers.

For the fifth summer in a row, OneSight offered to bring their traveling optical clinic to all five Fresh Air Fund camp.

Together with OneSight's Vision Vans – and a team of local doctors and volunteers, OneSight provides free eye exams and eyewear to thousands of children in need each year.

This summer at Fresh Air camp, OneSight's staff screened 3,295 children and counselors, gave 1,757 eye exams, and made 1,629 pairs of glasses, with 1,458 of them on-site and 171 specially driven in. The team stayed at Camp Hayden-Marks for two camp sessions, to make sure every child who needed the gift of sight was screened.

If you want to read more about this effort, or perhaps even support it, see this page

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Want to avoid errors? Sleep more

I thought this was pretty well established science, but apparently it's not. A new study has found that sleep deprivation can negatively affect information processing.

A study in the Nov.1 issue of the journal Sleep shows that sleep deprivation causes some people to shift from a more automatic, implicit process of information categorization (information-integration) to a more controlled, explicit process (rule-based). This use of rule-based strategies in a task in which information-integration strategies are optimal can lead to potentially devastating errors when quick and accurate categorization is fundamental to survival.

Results show that sleep deprivation led to an overall performance deficit on an information-integration category learning task that was held over the course of two days. Performance improved in the control group by 4.3 percent from the end of day one to the beginning of day two (accuracy increased from 74 percent to 78.3 percent); performance in the sleep-deprived group declined by 2.4 percent (accuracy decreased from 73.1 percent to 70.7 percent) from the end of day one to the beginning of day two.

According to co-principal investigators W. Todd Maddox, PhD, professor of psychology, and David M. Schnyer, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Texas in Austin, fast and accurate categorization is critical in situations that could become a matter of life or death. However, categorization may become compromised in people who often experience sleep deprivation in fast-paced, high pressure roles such as doctors, firefighters, soldiers and even parents. Many tasks performed on a daily basis require information-integration processing rather than rule-based categorization. Examples include driving, making a medical diagnosis and performing air-traffic control.

I think we've all experience times where we have been sleep deprived, and have our ability to use information be compromised as a result. So the findings of this study shouldn't come as a surprise.

Still, it's good that such things are researched, so it can be quantified how badly peoples' performance is affected. Studies, such as this one, can lead to changes in watch schedules etc. Or, given the fact that the effect is not universal, it could lead to better monitoring of those who have the type of jobs where this might cause problems.

The study is behind the paywall at SLEEP, but the abstract can be found here

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