Archive for the ‘Health’ Category


The Climate for Beer

September 21, 2010

It has come to my attention that “the world’s most highly cited ecologists and environmental scientists typically consume more than double the amount imbibed by the general population.”

Come again? That’s a pretty startling finding, if true.

The results reveal that consumption for this group averages around 7 alcoholic beverages per week, about 2.5 drinks over the weekly consumption of the average American. Though a fifth of the group does not drink, more than half consume 10 or more alcoholic beverages a week, 20% consume 12 or more and 10% consumer 21 or more. The largest consumer downed 31 per week.

I suppose there are several reasons why this might be so. For one, it might just be the case that these dudes get out of the house more often than the average couch potato. Better to get work done over beer than to get it done over Dexter.

For another, it could also be the case that these folks have a far better sense than the average joe of what’s worth a person’s time. Beer is definitely worth a person’s time, but I wouldn’t expect uneducated corn eaters to know this. They likely spend their weekends soberly watching Nascar and going to church.

For a third, it’s conceivable that these environmental scientists just live in really fancy places, like Colorado and California, where beer flows like water and microbreweries spring up like mushrooms.

Just a guess, of course.

Here’s the abstract of the article:

In science, a relatively small pool of researchers garners a disproportionally large number of citations. Still, very little is known about the social characteristics of highly cited scientists. This is unfortunate as these researchers wield a disproportional impact on their fields, and the study of highly cited scientists can enhance our understanding of the conditions which foster highly cited work, the systematic social inequalities which exist in science, and scientific careers more generally. This study provides information on this understudied subject by examining the social characteristics and opinions of the 0.1% most cited environmental scientists and ecologists. Overall, the social characteristics of these researchers tend to reflect broader patterns of inequality in the global scientific community. However, while the social characteristics of these researchers mirror those of other scientific elites in important ways, they differ in others, revealing findings which are both novel and surprising, perhaps indicating multiple pathways to becoming highly cited.

And here’s the relevant passage:

Our findings regarding alcohol consumption are surprising. Though a fifth of the groupdoes not drink, most drink more than Americans do generally. Furthermore, greater than54% consume 10 or more alcoholic beverages a week, 20% consume 12 or more drinks perweek, and 10% consume 21 or more drinks per week. Though national differences indrinking habits make direct comparisons between these groups difficult, the fact that oursample is both much more productive and much more highly cited, and drinks three timesmore alcohol than the less productive, less frequently cited group used in Grim’s comparison(i.e. Moravians) does give rise to pause, suggesting the need for more and betterinformation before a firm link between alcohol consumption and scientific accomplishmentcan be established. Certainly much more attention needs to be paid to possible intermittingvariables which may make this relationship appear stronger than it is in fact, particularlygiven evidence indicating the opposite relationship between beer consumption, scientificproductivity, and scientific quality at national levels (Lortie 2009).

Sickle Cell Mos-keeters

April 28, 2010

Reposting this guest-commentary (by Patrick Moffitt) from the Center for Environmental Journalism. As someone who has lived through two Russian summers, and thus witnessed the aggressive onslaught of the post-Soviet mosquito, I will tell you that, upon reflection, I find the core assertion of this article not surprising in the least. I recall one time in particular, as I was walking through a park during White Nights, that I could feel the mosquitoes batting into my legs with the force of thousands of blades of hostile grass. I have, as well, slept several nights in country Dachas, burying my head under the sheets in a vain attempt to keep the buzzing parasites from doing the nasty in my ear canal.

The malaria climate connection however raises important ethical questions. Malaria is too often framed as a “climate disease” by NGOs, regulatory agencies, media and some scientists. (See here and here.) This carefully constructed message implies the control of malaria requires that we control carbon dioxide emissions. This message is untrue, unethical and immoral.

Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease that we allow, by our inaction, to kill one million people and infect another 250 million to 350 million each year. (See this report from the World Health Organization.) These are not modeled deaths. Nor are they possible deaths related to some future carbon scenario. These dead had names, were loved, and are mourned. And nearly 80% of these dead are African children under the age of five.

Malaria, for some reason, seems to be the bugaboo of the anti-environmental community. Rachel Carson has certainly taken her lumps for allegedly “causing” the deaths of millions, a view that has been heavily disputed in many places, though usually on empirical grounds.

My view is that this is a straw man. Nobody but the most extremely silly in the environmental community actually argue that all pesticides and all spraying to eradicate a scourge like the mosquito is unacceptable. Most people take a considerably more measured approach. Even in Boulder, bastion of environmentalism, we spray for West Nile Virus. Frankly, as a one-time victim of meningitis, I’d like to see a bit more spraying for West Nile in Boulder. Alas, as luck has it, we have plenty of extremely silly people who fetishize one concern to the neglect of another. People do that with vaccines too.

It is, however, an important point: that not all environmental disasters are attributable to climate change, and once in a while it is important to just address questions in a more traditional context.

I’m not sure if there are more effective pesticides on the market than DDT, but certainly, if there’s an outbreak of malaria, it makes sense to spray. It just doesn’t make sense to spray indiscriminately. And it’s the spraying indiscriminately, it seems to me, that rankles the feathers of otherwise silent environmentalists.


The Grand In-dis-quisition

April 3, 2010

Anne Kornblut apparently has too much high-fructose syrup coursing through her spidery veins, as she couldn’t endure the torture of Obama’s intricate answer to a citizen’s question. Apparently, answers matter not for their accuracy, but for their length. Check out this preposterous column in today’s Washington Post. (Next time Tom Yulsman suggests that the internet is killing journalism, I’ll maybe point him in the direction of this very ridiculous column.)

“We are over-taxed as it is,” Doris said bluntly.

Obama started out feisty. “Well, let’s talk about that, because this is an area where there’s been just a whole lot of misinformation, and I’m going to have to work hard over the next several months to clean up a lot of the misapprehensions that people have,” the president said.

He then spent the next 17 minutes and 12 seconds lulling the crowd into a daze. His discursive answer – more than 2,500 words long — wandered from topic to topic, including commentary on the deficit, pay-as-you-go rules passed by Congress, Congressional Budget Office reports on Medicare waste, COBRA coverage, the Recovery Act and Federal Medical Assistance Percentages (he referred to this last item by its inside-the-Beltway name, “F-Map”). He talked about the notion of eliminating foreign aid (not worth it, he said). He invoked Warren Buffett, earmarks and the payroll tax that funds Medicare (referring to it, in fluent Washington lingo, as “FICA”).

And who says size doesn’t matter? But she goes on, fumbling stupidly to find something to criticize:

Always fond of lists, Obama ticked off his approach to health care — twice. “Number one is that we are the only — we have been, up until last week, the only advanced country that allows 50 million of its citizens to not have any health insurance,” he said.

A few minutes later he got to the next point, which seemed awfully similar to the first. “Number two, you don’t know who might end up being in that situation,” he said, then carried on explaining further still.

My, that second point sure does seem “awfully similar to the first.” In fact, they’re so similar that they’re entirely and obviously distinct. Number one is primarily about the aggregate numbers. Number two is about blind and bad luck.

Kornblut would fail a simple philosophy paper, I’m afraid. I’m not even sure I’d let any of my first-year undergraduates get away pronouncements so stupid.

Alas, the press isn’t in the business of analysis much, so Kornblut retains her column. Schade.


To Your Health

March 23, 2010

Two nights ago, like many in the US, I opened a bottle of wine to celebrate our embarrassing milestone of having finally joined the rest of the industrialized world in passing healthcare reform. Today it’s law. Yay us.

FWIW, I likely would’ve opened the wine anyway, but passage of healthcare reform somehow made that wine twice as enjoyable. Plus, that I would’ve opened the bottle of wine anyway lends all the more credibility to my reported elation, as I wasn’t in it for the wine. (Or something to that effect.)

As anybody who has been following this issue knows, getting here has been no easy undertaking. Even as you read this, the nattering naybobs of nincompoopitude are donning their tri-cornered hats and reenacting a fantasy era in American mythology, albeit this time with beer guts and bulging Lloyd Marcus (?) t-shirts. Now that challenges to the new law are coming out of the woodwork, it raises the important question: what does this terrible, awful, no good, very bad healthcare bill do?

If, for some reason you haven’t seen this yet, here’s a list of the “Top 10 immediate benefits” from Representative John B Larson. And here’s a nice, slightly harder to read, overview of some of the immediate benefits.

  1. Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;
  2. Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool;
  3. Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;
  4. Lower seniors’ prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole;
  5. Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;
  6. Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;
  7. Require plans to cover an enrollee’s dependent children until age 26;
  8. Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;
  9. Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;
  10. Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

Now what about any of these is so hard to understand? Let’s go through a few of them…

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Physicalists Unite

February 4, 2010

Researchers have discovered that if they install a magnetic demon in your brain-damaged head they can peer into your deepest and dirtiest thoughts. Or, at least, they’re partway there. Instead, they’ve got some other interesting news. All those people in a permanent vegetative state? Yeah. Not so much.

Holy hell.



November 19, 2009

Talking Points Memo has some interesting commentary on the filibuster.


And Now, For My Next Trick

November 10, 2009

Here’s a nice example of an appeal to fear, intermingled with an appeal to pity, as well as several other fallacies, including outright falsehoods. But eh, what’s an outright falsehood when freedom’s on the line? The Daily Show, as usual, is on the case.


Our Microbrews are Better Anyway

November 10, 2009

Looks like Rep. Betsy Markey of Fort Collins, Colorado — congressional guardian of the struggling hamlet to our north — voted against Saturday’s historic healthcare bill, HR 3962. While Boulder’s guy, Jared Polis, has had a few choice words about the healthcare legislation himself, he did, in the end, support HR 3962. (My god. What the hell is up with that website? It’s like the Game of Life on LSD.)

While it’s true that Fort Collins has a few things going for it — over, perhaps, the banana theocracy to our south — Betsy Markey only may or may not be one of those things. Not sure. The verdict is still out.

Whatever the case, there is a feisty rivalry between our two towns on many issues, extending well-beyond healthcare: academics, sports, energy alternatives, and beer. Fat Tire, for some reason, gets a lot of the Colorado press, but I am here to notify readers from outside the state of Colorado that the colonists at New Belgium only represent the teensy tip of an iceberg well-worth exploring. Fort Collins does have the fantastic Odell’s brewery (their IPA is unreal). But Boulder (and nearby hamlets Lyons and Longmont) boast a whopping 13 or more microbreweries.

If you ever end up in Boulder, be sure to give Avery’s IPA and Maharaja a sample. Apart from Avery, we have Lefthand, Boulder, Mountain Sun, Walnut, Upslope, Oskar Blues,  Twisted Pine, among others. And, of course, Denver has its annual Great American Beer Festival.

None of this post is intended to make any sense, except to signal that I’ve somehow found a way to weave commentary on the health care bill, climate legislation, and beer together in one pathetic entry. Carry on.


Is Justice Good for Your Sleep?

November 4, 2009

A paper I co-authored with my dear sister (a demographer at the State University of New York at Stony Brook) on the social determinants of sleep is now out in the journal Social Theory and Health.

Here’s the abstract:

Is justice good for your sleep?
(And therefore, good for your health?)

Authors: Benjamin Hale and Lauren Hale

In this paper, we present an argument strengthening the view of Norman Daniels, Bruce Kennedy and Ichiro Kawachi that justice is good for one’s health. We argue that the pathways through which social factors produce inequalities in sleep more strongly imply a unidirectional and non-voluntary causality than with most other public health issues. Specifically, we argue against the ‘voluntarism objection’ – an objection that suggests that adverse public health outcomes can be traced back to the free and voluntary choices of individual actors. Our argument proceeds along two lines: an empirical line and a conceptual line. We first show that much of the empirical research on sleep supports the view that those with fewer opportunities are those who have poorer sleep habits. We then argue that sleep-related decisions are not of the same nature as most other lifestyle choices, and therefore are not as easily susceptible to the voluntarism objection.



October 26, 2009

One question that has been bothering me of late is the insistence by Senate majority leaders that they achieve the magical 60 votes to secure cloture and avoid a filibuster on legislation containing any variant of the public option. I had occasion at a friend’s housewarming party this weekend to run this past several colleagues of mine.  (Out of respect for them, they shall remain nameless. Much of the beer-and-pretzels discussion revolved around adult diapers, sweat lodges, Strom Thurmond, and the New York Yankees, so I’d hate to sully anyone’s good name. Suffice it to say, all of those I spoke with are reasonably familiar with the policy process.)

Word on the blogostreet is that the Obama Admin is pushing back on Harry Reid to accept a less robust public option because they think he doesn’t have enough votes for the more robust plan. Inside the Senate itself, it appears that folks like Russ Feingold are encouraging Reid to ignore the supermajority altogether. Some democrats are even threatening to filibuster any bill that does not have a public option. Nate Silver takes up a related issue, and Jane Hamsher points the finger at Harry Reid to ask what he’s hiding. The theme is also picked up herehere, and probably elsewhere.

“Why do folks care so much about the supermajority?” I asked, popping candy corns in my mouth.

I hate candy corns. But I continued…

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