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Science and the Next President

by Lulu Mcgrew

The other day, I brought up the topic of politics and science and their somewhat tenuous relationship with each other.

Seems like I am not the only one thinking about the political structure and in particular, how a president can influence good policy by using, nay relying on good science.

The New York Times blog, Dot Earth, reported today healthcare administration programs that 178 scientific, academic, and business-related organizations have sent letters to both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama urging them to not only appoint a science adviser as soon as they are inaugurated, but also to elevate that position to a Cabinet-level position.

I couldn’t agree more. George Bush has been a cautionary example of when a President uses his faith rather than science to write and implement policy. Without getting into a discussion regarding Bush’s “faith-based initiatives” to solve all of society’s ills, with the next President (cough, Obama, cough), we need more “science-based inititatives.”

Courtesy of The Onion

I am going to go one step further, and suggest that our next POTUS will also focus on science education. This nation is losing ground not only because our politicians deem science as suspicious, but also because we are not educating the next generation of scientists to help our future presidents and by extensions our nation, and by another extension, the world.

I took a national science policy course in 2003, and it was frightening how many ph.D’s in science are awarded to foreign students that do not stay in the US, but rather take that education back to their home country. Not that there is anything wrong with educating any and bulk candles all students that seek the training and knowledge, but it really underscored the fact that science is just not a priority in this nation.

We need not only a president that values science, but also a nation that values science. It is more of a cultural shift that is needed, and perhaps by elevating that next science adviser to a Cabinet-level position will be a step in the right direction.

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				<div class=Posted in Education, General, News, Politics and Science on October 31st, 2008

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Science Politics — Not Political Science

by Lulu Mcgrew

There is nothing I find more oxymoronic than the term “political science.” More often than not, politics and science are locked in battle, with politics trumping science.

When Good Science Is Ignored

With the upcoming election, it is hard not to be thinking of politics lately, and if you have read some of my previous posts, you will notice that I tend to think in political terms often when it comes to science. For example, what can the new President and Congress do to compensate for 8 years of bad science by way of the Bush Administration? Do you remember those days, less than 2 years ago, when Bush and his “scientists” claimed that global warming was a hoax, the science was bad, it wasn’t man-made, there wasn’t a consensus among scientists on the issue, it was the fault of alarmist environmentalists, etc, etc, etc…

Seems like global warming isn’t the only crisis that is worsening due to politics trumping good science. I ran across this article recently, and despite our nation’s growing (excuse the pun) obesity problem, it seems that the food industry is trying its hardest to undermine science. And why, you ask? Money, profits, returns to shareholders, call it what you want, I call it greed.

All that processed food Americans eat come from major corporations that all form a, shall we say, club. That club then goes to Congressional leaders asking them to let them market their products, however unhealthy, to kids. And by way of thanks, those corporations have employees that give lots of money to that same Congressional leader that is letting them sell their processed, sugary, salty, so-good-but-oh-so-bad foods. If you don’t think that your favorite snack food is from a major corporation, check out the website. Look around for the parent company, usually at the bottom of the page, next to a year and a copyright symbol or trademark. Better yet, go to the corporate websites for Kraft, Nabisco, or even Kelloggs. You will see how many frozen movie brands are owned by the same company. Even seemingly competing brands, like the so-called healthy brands like Snackwells and the far-from-healthy Oreos, are being marketed by the same company (in this case, Nabisco) or for another example, Hormel not only sells Hormel Chili, but also Stagg Chili. For goodness sake, look at the cola wars. Coke and Pepsi are great examples of corporate-power-gone-wrong.

I remember in high school when a soda vending machine was installed in our cafeteria. And then I read that soda machines went into elementary schools. Soda? Soda is so far-from-healthy that no one should drink it, much less little kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong, every little kid wants soda, and it is not going to kill anybody sparingly or at least in moderation, but we are seeing the effects of children and processed, sugary foods. This nation is fat and our kids are going to suffer for it. And rather than reign in the companies that are pitching their goods at little kids, the Government is putting its head in the sand.

Kind of like with global warming. Will an 8 year absence of reason be too long to rectify when saner heads prevail in our nation’s capital? Will saner heads ever prevail in Washington, or will we, as a people, reject the constant bombardment of advertising at our kids and show that rejection by passing on the high fructrose corn syrup?


His lined, worried face and gnarled hands testify to a abstract art paintings Lear-like history of anxiety and suffering. Burkhart titled the portrait with a dubious sentiment — “The Life of the Spirit Is Elevated by Pain” — but the painting nevertheless is affectingly empathetic.

The fast charging lithium titanate battery is the first of its kind in the China market. It offers a wide range of usage, excellent performance and superior Samsung 18650 batteries safety profile. ABAT applied its proprietary processing in the production of the battery utilizing advanced battery materials from Long Power Systems. Dr. Biying Huang, CEO of Long Power Systems was responsible for the battery material development. Dr. Huang is one of the leading scientists in lithium battery technology in China. She holds several patents in the field. Dr. Huang did her post-doctoral study at MIT in lithium battery materials and electrolytes and worked at a prestigious consulting company in the United States.

According to a juegos report on NPR's All Tech Considered, people believe gaming is the most unwelcoming space for women. That conclusion comes from a new Pew Research poll about the broader subject of online harassment download spiderman games and is based on responses from 2,849 web users (with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points). According to the Pew poll, 73 percent of respondents said that they top mobile games subway surfers games had witnessed some kind of threats or embarrassment online, while 40 percent indicated that they personally experienced being called offensive names. As Pew notes, "the second category of harassment targets a smaller segment of the online public, but involves more happy wheels demo severe experiences such as being the target of physical threats, harassment over a sustained period of time, stalking, and sexual harassment."

Online design tools featuring artificial intelligence have started to compete against us, with profound implications. free woocommerce themes Coupled with a growing workforce, online designers face a great tide of competition unseen since the eighties. It's time to look up and climb to higher ground. Singularity – computer consciousness – has not yet been achieved, but computers are able to make their own resultswave  decisions with smart outcomes. And this reality is entering the design industry. This matters because computers expand competition exponentially not incrementally. What does this mean? One extra designer in the marketplace creates competition up to the level of work one person can do.

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				<div class=Posted in Food, Politics and Science, agriculture, disease, global warming, health on October 29th, 2008

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World of Mammals About to Get A Whole Lot Smaller

by Lulu Mcgrew

Earlier this month, Science Magazine reported that an international collaboration of scientists have published a comprehensive database of everything mammalian. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) pulled together information from all parts of the world as well as going back into records from the 1500’s in order to get a total picture of what is going on in the world of warm-blooded vertabrates.

The database, part of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, updates and expands a survey from 1996 and includes both land and marine species. Taking 5 years to compile, the effort involved more than 1700 researchers from 130 countries. They combed their literature and pooled their unpublished knowledge of ecology, taxonomy, distribution, population trends, threats, and conservation efforts. The species were then classified juegos according to their extinction risk. “We wanted to make this one-stop shopping for scientists and policymakers,” says IUCN and Conservation International mammalogist Jan Schipper, who coordinated the project.

The bad news is that one quarter of those 5487 species are on the fast track to extinction. Half are experiencing declining numbers. Out of the total number, more than 860 species are too poorly known to be properly assessed in terms of population health.

The good news is that since the last published database, 700 new species of mammals have been discovered. Also encouraging is that well-established and funded conservation programs are working for the most part in many areas.

More numbers…

  • 29 of the species in the database may already be extinct, including China’s freshwater dolphin the baiji.
  • 188 species are critically endangered.
  • 1 in 5 species that are not already showing danger of extinction are showing decreases in population.
  • 1139 species are presently threatened with extinction.
  • Habitat loss is the major reason for declining numbers in addition to hunting for land mammals. Marine mammals face the same threats, but also suffer more acutely from pollution issues and fishing including by-catch of species that are not regulated by fishing agencies. The larger the animal, the higher the risk of extinction, such as in such animals as gorillas and rhinos. Marine mammals are facing the biggest threat in the North Atlantic and Pacific as well as in the waters around Southeast Asia.

    The new database “is the most valuable effort to date to summarize the state of conservation and threats to the world’s mammal populations,” says mammalogist Don Wilson of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “By detailing threats at the species level, it will now be possible for management agencies in every country in the world to prioritize their efforts to try to mitigate these threats.”

    With more and more people needing more and more room, I cannot say with any conviction that we can save some of these mammals. That brings up an interesting question: What do we save? What can we save? And who decides?

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				<div class=Posted in Biodiversity, Conservation, General, Mammals, News, biology, marine science, pollution on October 27th, 2008

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    Greenhouse Gas From Microchip Industry Increasing in Atmosphere

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    To be fair, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) is also used to manufacture solar panel photovoltaic cells. That’s irony for you.

    New research coming out from Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego is showing an alarming rise in nitrogen trifluoride, a gas that is “thousands of times more effective at warming the atmosphere.”

    Here’s some more irony for you. NF3 became the microelectronics industry’s gas of choice because back then it was thought of as the environmentally-friendly choice over perfluorocarbons, which are more stable compounds that remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years and also more likely to escape during the manufacturing process.

    So, with NF3, less of it escapes. But the troubling news is that much happy wheels demo more has escaped that previously thought.

    The amount of the gas in the atmosphere, which could not be detected using previous techniques, had been estimated at less than 1,200 metric tons in 2006. The new research shows the actual amount was 4,200 metric tons. In 2008, about 5,400 metric tons of the gas was in the atmosphere, a quantity that is increasing at about 11 percent per year. — Science Daily

    According to the scientists behind the research, recent innovations in measuring NF3 has made monitoring the gas more accurate. The levels of NF3 are all the more troubling, but still less than one-half percent of the total greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere by humans and their insatiable needs for computers with flat screen monitors and LCD tvs. And yes, I am writing this on such a device, so my hypocrisy is not lost on me.

    The research is part of a NASA-funded network of scientists in different parts of the world contributing data. This is from the NASA press release:

    The Scripps team analyzed air samples gathered during the past 30 years, including samples from the NASA-funded Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment network of ground-based stations. The network was created in the 1970s in response to international concerns about chemicals depleting the ozone layer. It is supported by NASA as part of its congressional mandate to monitor ozone-depleting trace gases, many of which also are greenhouse gases. Air samples are collected at several stations around the world. The Scripps team analyzed samples from coastal clean-air stations in California and Tasmania for this research.

    The researchers found concentrations of the gas rose from about 0.02 parts per trillion in 1978 to 0.454 parts per trillion in 2008. The samples also showed significantly higher concentrations of nitrogen trifluoride in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere, which the researchers said is consistent with its use predominantly in that hemisphere. The current observed rate of increase of nitrogen trifluoride in the atmosphere corresponds to emissions of about 16 percent of the amount of the gas produced globally.

    In response to the growing use of the gas and concerns that its emissions are not well known, scientists recently have recommended adding it to the list of greenhouse gases regulated by Kyoto.


    A little background on nitrogen trifluoride (also called nitrogen fluoride, trifluoramine, trifluorammonia):

  • Nitrogen trifluoride does not exist in nature. It is synthetic and man-made.
  • The gas remains in the atmosphere for 740 years.
  • Like all perfluorinated compounds, the “global warming potential for given time horizon” increases over time, rather than decrease like most other gases. According to the IPCC, NF3 has 17,200 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide (CO2) at the one hundred year mark, but the potential increases to 20,700 after 500 years.
  • nitrogen trifluoride can damage kidneys and livers and cause blood toxicity for those who inhale the gas during manufacture.
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				<div class=Posted in Chemicals Used By Industry and Their Effects, Chemistry, General, News, global warming on October 26th, 2008

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    What’s All This I Hear About Clean Coal?

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    Ok, so it is bad enough whenever the Governor of Alaska says “clean, green natural gas”, but it is really bad whenever I hear a politician bring up “clean coal.” As if there were such a thing…


    Coal has got to be the dirtiest of ways we get electricity. It not only destroys the land whence it was mined, but the nasty stuff that is included in coal is just nasty. Coal is a big reason we have mercury poisoning our fish and pregnant women, coal also emits lots of warming carbon dioxide and that lovely smog that hangs over our cities. And remember acid rain? Yeah, coal causes that, too.

    Lately though I keep hearing all about this carbon sequestration plan that will magically render coal clean. If only it were that easy.

    My first question is who is it clean for? The miners? Didn’t think so.

    Did you ever hear of Futuregen? The plans for a new, clean coal technology-using power plant in Illinois were scrapped when the DOE figured out the true costs and nixed paying the bills. So, even if the technology does exist, it is so cost-prohibitive that many experts say the technology will not be commercially viable until 2020 or later. That means that whenever you hear McCain or even Obama talk of clean coal it is still in its pipe dream stage. Although I have a feeling that Obama is not really that into clean coal or expanded nuclear power, he just cannot come across as “anti-American” i.e. Anti-American mining companies and jobs.


    If you want a bit more background on coal and how it should have been made obsolete decades ago, you can check out the Sierra Club’s Coal is Not the Answer campaign. It is a good start, but you should never rely on any one source for information. Do some research for yourself and you will be surprised how far away clean coal actually is. Just yesterday, an Australian news organization published the warnings of the International Energy Agency that clean coal technology is “not progressing.”

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				<div class=Posted in General on October 21st, 2008

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    Fake Crab and Fishsticks Moving to Russian Waters

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    I found this interesting, and disturbing, considering the amount of Pollock that we Americans consume. Recent studies are showing that Alaskan Pollock is moving to colder Russian waters.


    This is from the LA Times.

    Pollock spawn each winter near the Aleutian Islands and then follow their food north as waters warm in the spring. But the food has shifted farther north with receding sea ice, and now pollock, which follow the northwesterly contour of the continental shelf, are shifting their range ever closer to Russian waters.

    Scientists who help manage the fishery are confirming what fishermen report: The fish disappear from the Aleutians area each summer and can mostly be found near Russia.

    Every June and July, federal scientists trawl a grid pattern in the Bering Sea in an area about the size of California. Counting the fish caught in these trawls and matching them against sonar readings, they estimate the size of fish stocks. These assessments help set limits on the next year’s catch to safeguard spawning stock.

    An analysis of 25 years of surveys showed that the ranges of most fish are shifting north as the ice and cool water have retreated, said Franz J. Mueter, a fisheries oceanographer at the University of Alaska.

    “What we found confirmed the obvious,” Mueter said. “As waters warm, a lot of fish on the eastern Bering Sea shelf are moving north.”

    Not all scientists agree. Some suggest that other factors need further study, including different migration patterns of older and younger fish, whether trawl data provide a complete picture of fish populations, and whether these waters are becoming overfished despite the Marine Stewardship Council’s eco-label certifying that the pollock fishery is managed sustainably.

    So the implications of fewer pollock are many, indeed. Firstly, yeah, Americans eat a lot of the stuff, in fast-food, fishsticks (after all the cod disappeared), and imitation crab and lobster. Second, if the fish move to Russian waters, US fisherman will not be catching the pollock, thus putting more strain on other fisheries and the local Alaskan economy. What happens when the US is forced to import more fish? Also, with less fish being caught, prices will most likely go up, like the prices of just about everything lately. More still, do the Russians take fish stocks as seriously (and I can barely keep a straight face writing that) as the Americans? Sure, some scientists were allowed over the border now, but what happens in the future, especially if relations with the Russians continue to become chilly. Not only that, but what will happen to the Stellar sea lion as the pollock are a major part of their diet? Will they also follow the fish, and if so, will they continue to be as protected as they are in Alaskan waters? Yeah, there are lots of problems here.

    Also, what of the larger implication of migrating fish stocks due to warming? How many other species will move out of US waters as we continue to pump carbon into the air and water? As it is right now, there a fewer and fewer fish that are considered “good choices” by environmental groups and oceanographic institutes across the world. Pollock is already in trouble as a commercial fish stock, despite many groups saying that it is sustainable, with recent reports that the recovery of the stocks is not going as swimmingly (couldn’t resist) as possible.

    This is just more bad news for fish and the people and others predators who love to eat them.

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				<div class=Posted in Food, General, climate change, global warming, marine science on October 19th, 2008

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    Math Skills Are Essential and Essentially Failing in US

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    Anyone can tell you, mathematics and science go hand in hand. Even when you don’t think that math is going to come into play, it is math that often times allows even social or “soft” scientists to quantify data and in turn interpret results. I remember my chemistry and physics classes, and math was crucial to those classes. So a new study coming out that details how mathematics is slipping among students in the United States is all that much disturbing for its implications in terms of science.

    From the New York Times today:

    The study suggests that while many girls have exceptional talent in math — the talent to become top math researchers, scientists and engineers — they are rarely identified in the United States. A major reason, according to the study, is that American culture does not highly value talent in math, and so discourages girls — and boys, for that matter — from excelling in the field. The study will be published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society.

    “We’re living in a culture that is telling girls you can’t do math — that’s telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math,” said the study’s lead author, Janet E. Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose son is a winner of what is viewed as the world’s most-demanding math competitions. “Kids in high school, where social interactions are really important, think, ‘If I’m not an Asian or a nerd, I’d better not be on the math team.’ Kids are self selecting. For social reasons they’re not even trying.”

    I saw plenty of this during my school days. I was great at math, on a math team, and also on the science olympiad team. I was also in the top-tier of the math “sections” within my grade, but I bring this up not to brag, but simply to give you some background on where I am coming from, the inside, as it were. I never felt nerdy for being good at math, but then I was never one to really care much for what anyone would think about me, in so much as to call me a nerd. I loved doing math problems. I thought they were fun.

    However, I also remember sixth grade being the grade that suddenly all the girls in my grade became really bad at math. Hmm, what else happens in sixth grade? Right around age 11 or 12? Hmm, could it be puberty? Those same girls that had always been in my math sections were more interested in boys than math. And a girl cannot be smarter than a boy in math!!!! So many girls kind of self-lobotomized in order to get a boyfriend. They never came back to my math classes…

    This is also from the NY Times article.

    Dr. Mertz asserts that the new study is the first to examine data from the most difficult math competitions for young people, including the USA and International Mathematical Olympiads for high school students, and the Putnam Mathematical Competition for college undergraduates. For winners of these competitions, the Michael Phelpses and Kobe Bryants of math, getting an 800 on the math SAT is routine. The study found that many students from the United States in these competitions are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries where education in mathematics is prized and mathematical talent is thought to be widely distributed and able to be cultivated through hard work and persistence.

    Ironically, another article in the NYT talked of the class war vis a vis Sarah Palin and her “sixpack” of mental skills. I found this to be appropriate, as it is all kit and kaboodle of what is going on in the US lately.

    We think it is cool to be stupid.

    How frightening for the US. There is nothing wrong with being smart and being good at math. Trust me, girls, I have never had a hard time getting a date by showing some intelligence. The cool guys are actually attracted to the smart girls, not the dumb ones. But then that argument only serves to underscore the fact that most girls are more worried about getting a date than an A on that algebra test.

    This issue goes deeper than class-bias or even gender. Despite the fact that the United States has a bad case of the “exceptional”, our students in general do not want to stand out or strive for achievement in school other than school sports. This is a fundamental problem in the American culture, as the aforementioned study suggests.

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				<div class=Posted in Education, General, Mathematics, News on October 10th, 2008

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    When Local Pollution Meets Global Warming

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    You may have heard something about India and China and the threat of their current industrialization and how that industrialized pollution in the way of increased emissions of greenhouse gases will affect the world’s climate. It is true that this is and will be a huge problem for all of us, but another issue with industrialization is the more localized pollution that comes with it.

    Image by Nicolle Rager Fuller, National Science Foundation

    India and China are playing catch-up with the rest of the industrialized world. That is one of the Bush’s administrations sticky points when it comes to not signing on to the Kyoto Protocol for all these years. Why should the US and Europe bother to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions when China and India are just starting to pump millions of tons of carbon into the air (and water) via new yet inefficient coal-fired power plants? I know, the admin’s attitude is mind-boggling and childish, but I didn’t vote for him, so it’s not like I can apologize for him and his handlers here. Instead of the US perhaps leading the innovation and technological boom in green industries and then exporting that technology and equipment to India and China, both the US economy would be doing well and China and India could go “green.” But no matter, I don’t have the space here to ruminate on the topic today.

    India and China are currently heavily reliant on coal (so is the US, if you care to know). The problem with coal is that it is very dirty in addition to releasing tons of carbon upon being burned. Coal creates “brown clouds,” that is localized pollution of tiny soot particles that collect and act like their own mini-greenhouse.

    Last year, National Geographic News covered a new study on these brown clouds.

    But the latest study suggests that aerosols can be responsible for regional warming. Specifically, the clouds of aerosols over India enhance atmospheric warming there by 50 percent.

    “We found this brown cloud can cover the entire North Indian Ocean, an area the size of the continental United States,” said lead author Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

    The haze of brown clouds over the region can be up to two miles (three kilometers) thick, Ramanathan said.

    And the haze touches the lower parts of the glaciers in the Himalaya mountain range, said study co-author David Winker, principal investigator of the CALIPSO satellite at NASA’s Langley Research Center.

    This suggests that the brown clouds may be contributing to glacial melting in the Himalaya.

    Now there are differences in aerosols. Some are light colored and some dark. It is the dark aerosols that are the contributors to these brown clouds.

    Brown clouds contain dark aerosols such as soot that are released into the atmosphere by burning organic matter.

    These particles absorb solar energy and then release it to the surrounding air as heat.

    Natural forces such as forest fires can create soot, but so can human actions such as burning fossil fuels.

    But unlike greenhouse gases, light and dark aerosols are not distributed uniformly throughout the globe, said Peter Pilewskie, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who was not involved in the study.

    Averaging the effects of aerosols worldwide masks regional processes that “we need to truly understand when we put all the pieces of the planet together,” Pilewskie said.

    Why does this all matter? The Himalayan ice cap is vital to the survival of China, India, and all their neighbors. And this ice cap, a network of thousands and thousands of glaciers, is melting, and fast.

    The 15,000 Himalayan glaciers that create the “Water Tower of Asia” — the largest block of fresh water outside the Polar Ice Caps — have been melting forever. But they are suddenly melting so fast that they are drying up. It will take decades, but at the rate the earth is warming, they may simply disappear.

    “Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world,” the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned last year. “If the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high if the Earth keeps warming at the current rate.”

    If you are bothered by the “oil wars” we see today, just wait for the “water wars” of the future.

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				<div class=Posted in General, climate change, environmental science, global warming, pollution, water resources on September 30th, 2008

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    Diseases on the Move: Encephalitis

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    You may have heard of a strain of encephalitis: the West Nile Virus, with West Nile encephalitis being the most severe form. West Nile is actually a form of Japanese Encephalitis, a mosquito-borne disease that causes inflammation of the brain. There are other strains of encephalitis including Saint Louis (named for the American city where it was first diagnosed in 1933), La Crosse, Western and Eastern Equine, and tick-borne encephalitis.

    The danger with encephalitis is that with other “vector-borne” or mosquito-borne diseases is that mosquito populations are generally held in check by cold winters around the world. Most mosquito-spread illnesses are mitigated by climate, but as we see the world warming up, tropical zones spreading into previously temperate areas, and winters becoming milder and wetter, mosquitoes that carry diseases are finding favorable conditions in more and more places.

    Mosquito babies love stagnant water.

    As far as the individual strains of vector-borne encephalitis go, they are all quite similar, as the virus is spread from an infected bird or mammal, and the animal’s blood carried by a mosquito will enter the bloodstream of the mosquito’s next victim, possibly a human. The virus, a flavivirus much like Malaria, will then enter the human’s bloodstream, and start to cause all sorts of damage if the disease becomes severe enough. Many times, the human host will not experience severe symptoms, maybe a headache with a fever. Severe symptoms can include neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma and convulsions. Some cases result in death, up to 60% for Japanese encephalitis, but usually death occurs in older people and children. St. Louis encephalitis has a possible death rate of 5 to 30%.

    Treatment for encephalitis is important, despite there being no specific medication to treat the disease. Severe cases are hospitalized, and support treatment is given. There is no vaccine currently approved by such health organizations as the Centers for Disease Control.

    Another problem with some strains of encephalitis, like the La Crosse Strain, is that people are moving into areas that were previously left unpopulated, such as rural and wilderness areas in the Great Lakes region of the United States and into the hardwood forests of Midwest. Luckily, the La Crosse strain is still considered rare, but in areas of the world where growing populations are requiring more and more space, like Asia, encephalitis is more common.

    The range of Japanese Encephalitis

    Historical data of occurences of St Louis Encephalitis in the US from 1964.

    West Nile cases in the US during 2008.

    With a warming world, mosquitoes can be expected to not only survive winters, but find more favorable habitats. With global warming, precipitation increases. With more rain, both in quantity and incidence of storms, water will pool up and most likely not have the time to dry up. This water is like an invitation to mosquitoes. In the grand scheme of things, usually the same watering holes that host mosquito families will host frogs and other creatures that eat the mosquitoes. But mosquitoes can find a home in much smaller pools of standing water, and frogs need water that is more established as their life cycles take longer to move from tadpole to frog. More rain means more mosquitoes without the necessary increase in frogs. And don’t forget…the research lately has been showing that frogs are experiencing their own set of problems and a decrease in their numbers around the globe.

    As with most arboviruses (arthopod-borne), it is important to avoid mosquito bites. Wear insect repellant, build bat boxes around your yard, wear long sleeves and pants when outside, avoid having standing water around your house and yard (even birdbaths and little ponds). Check out the CDC website for more information.

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				<div class=Posted in General, biology, climate change, disease, global warming, health on September 17th, 2008

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    Diseases on the Move: Cholera

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    We have been looking at the danger posed by once-tropical diseases spreading into more temperate zones as the world warms. Hey, that may be a good idea for a new soap opera, As the World Warms. Just remember, you heard it her first.

    First we looked at Malaria and Dengue Fever, and today’s topic is our not-so-friendly stomach flora, Cholera.


    The yellow areas are local cholera outbreaks, and the black dots represent imported reported cases. I believe Alaska is only colored yellow due to it being part of the US.

    Cholera is a water-borne and food-borne (as water is a major component in food production) disease that is spread by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cholera has not been present in the industrialized nations in 100 years, other than the rare case of a traveler returning to a non-cholera country from a nation where cholera is common, for instance India and Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, cholera is currently at “pandemic” status in the poorer parts of the world

    The major problem with getting cholera is that the bacterium causes an intestinal infection which leads to diarrhea. The problem with diarrhea is of course dehydration. If your body er, uh, ejects too much fluid before that fluid can be replenished, you can die. Remember in high school US history classes, when you were studying any of the major wars, and it would come up that not every casualty was due to violence, but that some soldiers died from things like dysentery. Dysentery is a severe intestinal infection that also causes rather horrible diarrhea…a terrible way to die.

    Cholera is easily treated, but that treatment is important to get in the first few hours if the infection is bad enough. But what is bad enough, and how do I know if I get it, you may be asking. Hopefully, you will never have to worry about cholera — at least not in the industrialized world. Effective sewer systems and water treatment processes have for the most part eliminated the presence of cholera in the US and Europe, although the bacterium can exist in these areas. Some people get cholera from eating raw seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, but the chances for that are fairly low, so I don’t want you to panic. I write about cholera because of the relationship between cholera (and other tropical diseases) and a warmer world.

    Cholera is commonly associated with higher sea temperatures.

    From the Environmental Protection Agency’s page on climate change:

    …algal blooms could occur more frequently as temperatures warm — particularly in areas with polluted waters — in which case diseases (such as cholera) that tend to accompany algal blooms could become more frequent.

    Also, warmer waters accompany rising sea levels, which could flood areas and contaminate water meant for agricultural uses and drinking water. Higher need for potable water due to increased population may also strain sewer systems and treatment plants efficacy. I promise I am not trying to scare you, but a warmer climate can change the playing field when it comes to combating pandemics like cholera.

    Here is a cute little rule of thumb when choosing water and food when traveling, or when the US turns tropical.

    Boil it, cook it, peel it, or forget it.

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				<div class=Posted in General, agriculture, biology, climate change, disease, global warming, health on September 15th, 2008

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    Diseases on the Move: Dengue Fever

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    This is post is part of a series that is looking at the impending danger of tropical diseases moving into temperate areas. The cause of this migration is the actual movement or rather expansion of the tropics themselves, thanks to global warming and climate change.

    Dengue Fever

    Dengue fever is also spread by a mosquito, much like malaria. In dengue fever’s case it is the Aedes mosquito that transmits the four different strains of the flavivirus. For the most part, dengue is not super-serial, er, i mean super serious (accidental channeling of the South Park version of Al Gore, sorry), but can become serious in two ways. Dengue is more than capable of *ahem* going viral (goodness, I am full of mischief today), that is becoming an epidemic or even worse, a pendemic; or it may become a more dangerous case of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever. The ‘hemorr-’ prefix is not usually a good one, referring to hemorraging blood.

    Dengue symptoms include severe headaches, severe muscle and joint pain, and a red rash that can cover the entire body. Sometimes there can be gastrointestinal distress (I love that phrase) as well. If the fever gets bad enough, that is when the hemorraging starts, and finally you die. Ok, that was glib, but death does occur in about 5% of untreated cases, one percent for those who do receive proper medical care.

    Dengue fever breaks out in most places, and is endemic to the United States, mostly in the South. Epidemics break out here and there in tropical countries every so often, being recorded as far back at the late 1700’s. And why the 1700’s? Because that’s when Europeans colonized the tropics, and our history is Euro-centric, obviously, because I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that dengue has been around a long, long time. No matter here as I am not letting myself continue on my diatribe about “history.” Moving on…

    Dengue Fever breaks out enough to affect 50 to 100 million people around the world. Only a few hundred thousand get dengue hemorrhagic fever. Usually these cases happen in the tropics, or maybe among travelers that had visited tropical climates. However, the tropical bands that circle this planet between what had traditional been the two “Tropics” of Cancer and Capricorn are spreading north and south into sub-tropical regions and those subtropical regions are likewise spreading up into temperate zones. This may not seem like a big deal to you there in Minnesota, and will hopefully never be a big deal, but just think about how much hotter and wetter your summers have been in the last twenty years? Wetter and hotter means more mosquitoes. No, but seriously, it may not be a big deal for those of you living above the 35th parallel (or south of it in the Southern Hemisphere), but things only seem to be getting hotter…

    I’ll break it down for you. If it doesn’t freeze in the winter, the terrori– mosquitoes win.

    By the way, the Centers for Disease Control think that dengue is pretty dengue serious. Oh my, what is wrong with me today?

    In 2005, dengue is the most important mosquito-borne viral disease affecting humans; its global distribution is comparable to that of malaria, and an estimated 2.5 billion people live in areas at risk for epidemic transmission (Figure 4). Each year, tens of millions of cases of DF occur and, depending on the year, up to hundreds of thousands of cases of DHF. The case-fatality rate of DHF in most countries is about 5%, but this can be reduced to less than 1% with proper treatment. Most fatal cases are among children and young adults.

    Many more cases probably go unreported each year because surveillance in the United States is passive and relies on physicians to recognize the disease, inquire about the patient’s travel history, obtain proper diagnostic samples, and report the case. These data suggest that states in southern and southeastern United States, where Ae. aegypti is found, are at risk for dengue transmission and sporadic outbreaks.

    Here’s Figure 4.


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				<div class=Posted in General, biology, climate change, disease, environmental science, global warming, health on September 8th, 2008

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    Diseases on the Move: Malaria

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    Yesterday, I started a series of posts on tropical diseases that are spreading into areas that until recently had not been present or at least not typically present, like North America and Europe. In short, tropical zones are spreading into previously temperate areas and bringing tropical diseases with them.

    Malaria kills over one million people a year, mostly in tropical areas like Sub-Saharan and Equatorial Africa. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 300 to 500 million people suffer from malaria every year. Symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, vomiting, and sometimes seizures in young children. The earlier that malaria is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances for a full recovery. But as malaria is not seen in such places like Michigan and New Jersey, the symptoms are often mis-diagnosed, meaning that the disease will not be treated properly and the chances of more severe consequences increase. When malaria is left untreated, victims can experience kidney failure, cardiovascular collapse, and slip into a coma. People that don’t live in malaria-prone areas are at higher risk as they have no immunity to the disease. Pregnant woman, children, and anyone with a compromised immune system are also at increased risk of more severe cases of malaria.


    Malaria is spread by Plasmodium (Plasmodium falciparum or Plasmodium vivax) parasite carried by the Anopheles mosquito from human host to human host.

    This is what is looks like when the parasite starts attacking your red blood cells.


    Malaria can be treated with several drugs, and treatment should start within 24 hours of the appearance of the first symptoms. So you can see why proper diagnosis is so important. However, scientists are finding that plasmodium parasites are becoming resistant to many of the older drugs currently on the market mostly in poorer countries and areas of the world afflicted by malaria. Malaria prevention by way of mosquito control is touted as the best way to combat the disease, but now that the range for the anopheles mosquito is spreading, this is becoming increasingly difficult.

    Here is a map that shows the classic range of malaria.

    But as the world warms, and winters become milder, warmer, and wetter, the necessary cold temperatures that kill off the mosquito populations in temperate areas are not quite effective and becoming less so in the fight to keep malaria at bay in temperate North America and Europe. Malaria had been endemic to North America, but stringent preventive measures have effectively wiped out the disease in the US. But with the looming danger of global warming trends, malaria may be posed to once again be endemic in the US.

    By the way, quinine is one of the oldest medicines for treating malaria. Quinine comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, native to South America. Quinine was first made into a powder by the French for ingestion, but really hit its mark when the British mixed it with soda water (and gin, of course). You could say that quinine is what made colonization of certain parts of the world possible, as Africa was once called the “white man’s grave.”

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				<div class=Posted in General, climate change, disease, global warming, health on September 6th, 2008

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    Diseases on the Move: Introduction

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    You may remember years ago when SARS broke out and with it fears that this disease could spread with human hosts as they traveled across the globe? Well, it is true that diseases can spread through the human hosts in this age of trans-global travel, and if that happens, it can be dangerous. But something else is happening to spread diseases that just don’t exist everywhere.

    Tropical diseases don’t usually show up in places like Europe and North America, but they are starting to, and this problem may get worse before it gets better.

    At the heart of the problem is that it is the tropics themselves that are on the move, and with them come certain insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.


    I had written on tropical diseases moving into Europe back in January. And now, I have run across more bad news and this time it is coming from the World Health Organization. The Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already noted that more and more people will be afflicted by tropical diseases, and why? Global warming and climate change. The warmer parts of the world, where many lethal diseases thrive, are expanding their range into formerly temperate regions. And with milder winters, insects and other disease-carrying organisms are not killed off during winter months, and thus expanding their range every year.

    A study published last December in Nature Geoscience reported that tropical zones are moving at a much faster rate than computer models had predicted.

    Scientists have found that, during the past 25 years the equatorial region classified as climatologically tropical has expanded polewards by about 172 miles which has meant that a further 8.5 million sq miles of the Earth are now experiencing a tropical climate, compared to 1980.

    The study was carried out by Dian Seidel of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, her colleagues from the National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, and the universities of Washington in Seattle and Utah in Salt Lake City.

    They found that, during the past quarter-century, the area defined as tropical, based on a list of five recognised climatological criteria, has moved further north and south by about 2.5 degrees of latitude, or about 172 miles in total in both directions. That is greater than the predicted shift of 2 degrees by 2100 predicted under the “extreme scenario” envisaged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. –The Independent

    What is a “tropical” region? Of course, we think of palm trees and mai tais, but that is really not what we are talking about when we discuss tropical diseases. Tropical regions receive more sunlight than anywhere else. If you need a simple definition, you can use a globe and check out the area between the “Tropics” of Cancer and Capricorn. But scientifically-speaking, the tropics are wetter. Warmer air can hold more moisture, and the tropics have the hottest air thus the wettest air. As you move away from the tropics, air cools and thus the “sub-tropics” have less moisture in the air. Meanwhile, that moisture has fallen somewhere before hitting the sub-tropics. So not only is the air in the tropics wet, but there is an awful lot of precipitation in the tropics. That much water can create very inviting environments for such disease-carrying insects like the mosquito.

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				<div class=Posted in General, biology, climate change, environmental science, global warming, health on September 5th, 2008

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    Geothermal Energy: Clean, Free, and Abundant

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    The other night, my boyfriend brought up geothermal energy. Now, he is a pretty smart guy, but even he did not quite know the full extent of what is geothermal energy and all its potential. Than I ran across a post on Inhabitat that covered the new geothermal plant that is being built in New Mexico, so I figured maybe I should write a little something on geothermal for all of my wonderful, smart and attractive readers.

    Geothermal energy pertains to the heat (which is energy, remember) that comes from the interior of the Earth. Usually what happens in geothermal (and nearly all electricity-producing generation plants) is that the heat that comes from the Earth is used to heat water, which turns to steam and drives turbines. When the turbines move, they move a generator, and by the magic of kinetic energy, voila, you create electricity. It’s very basic, and as an example, coal and nuclear power plants run on the same principle, but instead of using an already existing heat source, materials are combusted to create the heat to make steam.

    If you remember your plate techtonics from science class, you must recall that our planet is literally sitting on top of molten rock that is extremely hot. It is true that certain parts of the planet, i.e. Earth’s crust, are closer to that molten rock than others. Remember the Pacific “ring of fire?” It is at these plate boundaries that you find the interior of the Earth is closer to the surface, and therefore available to us humans that can harness that heat.


    The US Department of Energy has put out some numbers on the potential geothermal energy available in the United States. Shallow geothermal sources could provide as much as 120,000 MegaWatts of electricity. If 1 MW can provide electricity for 1,000 people, the full potential of just the shallow geothermal sources could provide electricity for 120,000,000 people. That is almost half the population of the United States.

    Sidenote: During Barack Obama’s speech before the DNC the other night, when he talked about clean coal and nuclear power, I was shouting “geothermal” at the television. My neighbors must think I am crazy.

    Well, now the real trick is getting more power out of geothermal sources. This refers to using lower temperatures, which are easier to tap into because these temps are closer to the surface and therefore requires less drilling deep into the Earth. An outfit in Utah, Raser Technologies, has developed a way to use lower temperatures to heat a liquid with a lower boiling point to turn the turbines. I cannot find the specifics on the Raser website, but hey, they don’t want to give away their trade secret before they can make money on it first, right? What is important is that by finding a way to get heat out of lower temperatures increases the amount of available geothermal energy that we can put into the power grid.

    Back in April, I wrote a post for Celsias about McDonalds’ foray into geothermal heating and cooling systems. Not many people are hip to the fact that we can use the constant temperature below the earth’s surface to regulate the temperatures in our homes, schools, businesses, et cetera. This type of geothermal “energy” entails drilling maybe 200 to 300 feet down into the ground, and running some pipes down there, pumping water through those pipes and depending on what season you are in, the constant temperature of the Earth at that depth can act as a heat sink or a cooling pump. This type of heating and cooling system has been around since the 1940’s, but as the US just loves its fossil fuels, it has not been looked at in the manner it should be. I know I would love to not have to pay my heating bill this winter or any other winter…

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				<div class=Posted in General on August 30th, 2008

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    Say Hello to the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope

    by Lulu Mcgrew

    Two months ago, NASA launched what was then known as the GLAST (Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope), and today, the space agency announced both the new name as well as the successful passing of initial testing for the new telescope. The GLAST is now named for physics pioneer, Enrico Fermi.

    From the GLAST mission website:

    GLAST is a powerful space observatory that will open a wide window on the universe. Gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, and the gamma-ray sky is spectacularly different from the one we perceive with our own eyes. With a huge leap in all key capabilities, GLAST data will enable scientists to answer persistent questions across a broad range of topics, including supermassive black-hole systems, pulsars, the origin of cosmic rays, and searches for signals of new physics.

    Here is one of the first images being produced by the FGST. This is the result of 95 hours of imaging.



    The Fermi takes over for the now-defunct Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, which was in operation from 1991 to June 2000. The Fermi has two major components, the Large Area Telescope (LAT) and the GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM). The Fermi will scan the entire sky each day in about three hours. This “survey mode” will be the primary function of the FGST, but as the telescope is sensitive to some really high levels of gamma-rays, it should be interesting as to what new discoveries will come out of this mission. The telescope will be observing photons that are in the 20 Million electron Volts (MeV) to those over 300 Billion electron Volts (GeV). The high end of that range is still relatively unexplored.

    The LAT covers the higher energies, but the GBM looks for those lower ranges, which means that when the two instruments work together, scientists will get a more complete picture of the mysteries of gamma-ray bursts around the Universe, you know, the bursts that signify the death of a star or when two neutron stars unite into one. Or at least that is what scientists think cause gamma-ray bursts, so the Fermi will be able to shed some light on what indeed causes these violent explosions so far away.

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				<div class=Posted in Astronomy, General, Space on August 26th, 2008

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    About Daily Science Dose

    Welcome to Daily Science Dose, an eclectic collection of meditations and explorations in science, particularly medicine and biology. Here are some of the things Iʼm into: zoology, bird flu and other communicable diseases, marine life (especially invertebrates), brains, and sexual patterns of behavior, both human and non-human. What are you into? Is there something youʼve always wondered about? Drop me a line or leave a comment, and Iʼll see what I can find for you. Together weʼll discover many odd and exciting new facts about the world and the various creatures ambling about, as well as the various creatures ambling about within those creatures. And so on and so on and on and on. Super fun!"

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