Category Archives: Science

Zika outbreak spreads, with high anxiety in Asia


We begin with the latest map, issued Friday by the  Pan American Health Organization showing the countries of Latin America where Zika virus has been contracted locally:

BLOG Zika regional map

Next, from euronews, a report on the latest news from the nation at the epicenter of the crisis:

Brazil in crisis as Zika fears mount

Program notes:

In exactly six months, the summer Olympic Games will open in Rio de Janeiro. Even though some 500 millions de dollars have been axed to balance the budget, the installations are between 80 and 90 percent complete.

But there are other dangers, beyond financial, are threatening the first South American city to host the event.

Since May last year the Zika epidemic has spread from Brazil’s north-east bringing fear in almost equal measure because of the number of microcephaly cases.

From RT, more news from Brazil:

Olympic organizers deny Games under threat due to Zika virus

Brazil’s Sports Minister George Hilton issued a statement on Thursday in which he criticized the press for suggesting South America’s first-ever Olympics may be called off.

UPDATE: And there’s reason for that anxiety, as the Independent reports:

Zika: Pregnant British holidaymakers with bookings to Caribbean and US face uncertainty amid risk of virus spreading

Airlines and holiday companies allowing pregnant women to switch destinations, but only if they are booked to one of the affected countries

From the San Francisco Chronicle, would-be U.S. travelers are having second thoughts:

Zika fears spur rash of calls to clinics about travel safety

Medical experts in the Bay Area say they’ve been fielding calls from residents inquiring about the safety of traveling to countries primarily in South and Central America and the Caribbean, where Zika is widespread.

VOA News covers the latest warning from the Centers for Disease Control:

New Warning From CDC on Zika Virus Transmission

Program notes:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a new warning for men about transmitting the Zika virus, which is spreading rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, creating a crisis for pregnant women. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports very little is actually known about the virus.

More from Agence France Presse:

US urges condoms or abstinence to avoid Zika virus

US health authorities on Friday urged people to use condoms or refrain from sex if they live in or have travelled to areas where the Zika virus is circulating

From Reuters, troubling news from another country:

More than 3,100 pregnant women in Colombia have Zika virus: government

 More than 3,100 pregnant Colombian women are infected with the mosquito-borne Zika virus, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday, as the disease continues its rapid spread across the Americas.

UPDATE: The latest from Colombia via teleSUR English:

First Abortion in Colombia Possibly as Result of Zika

A woman struggled to find a doctor willing to provide an abortion after it was discovered her fetus suffered from microcephaly

Channel NewsAsia covers Aussie angst:

Australia to step up Zika testing as two new cases reported

Australia will intensify testing for the Zika virus in Queensland state where Aedes mosquitoes are found, authorities said on Saturday, adding that two new cases among local residents were the result of travel to affected countries.

Kiwi worries from the New Zealand Herald:

Kiwi teen may have Zika virus after holiday

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that is suspected of causing serious birth defects in unborn babies. The World Health Organisation has declared the latest outbreak a public health emergency and there have been 10 confirmed cases – all contracted overseas – in New Zealand this year.

And here in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control maps states where Zika cases have been reported:

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 3, 2016]

Laboratory-confirmed Zika virus disease cases reported to ArboNET by state or territory — United States, 2015–2016 [as of February 3, 2016]

Next, Zika concerns in Arkansas, via KATV ABC 7 in Little Rock:

CDC testing two new possible Zika cases from Arkansas

  • The Arkansas Department of Health reports it has sent two additional samples to the Centers for Disease Control to test for the Zika virus.
  • One case of the Zika virus has already been confirmed in Arkansas.
  • In Florida, a fifth county has been added the state of emergency list after 12 confirmed cases.

On to Illinois with ABC7 Chicago:

Zika virus cases expected to rise in IL after spring break

Three cases of the Zika virus have been reported in Illinois, and doctors expect more as people travel to the Caribbean on spring break.

WPDH radio in Poughkeepsie, NY, covers cases in the Empire State:

Breaking: Another Zika Virus Case Discovered in Hudson Valley

The Zika Virus was reported in another Hudson Valley individual today. This brings the total number of New Yorkers with the virus up to 11, with two of them right here in our area.

Finally, from CCTV English, another development:

Indian firm developing two possible Zika vaccines

Heavens above: Super suns far, far away


From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

BLOG Stella

Massive Stars in NGC 6357
Image Credit & Copyright: CHART32 Team, Processing – Johannes Schedler

Explanation: Massive stars lie within NGC 6357, an expansive emission nebula complex some 6,500 light-years away toward the tail of the constellation Scorpius. In fact, positioned near center in this ground-based close-up of NGC 6357, star cluster Pismis 24 includes some of the most massive stars known in the galaxy, stars with nearly 100 times the mass of the Sun. The nebula’s bright central region also contains dusty pillars of molecular gas, likely hiding massive protostars from the prying eyes of optical instruments. Intricate shapes in the nebula are carved as interstellar winds and energetic radiation from the young and newly forming massive stars clear out the natal gas and dust and power the nebular glow. Enhancing the nebula’s cavernous appearance, narrowband image data was included in this composite color image in a Hubble palette scheme. Emission from sulfur, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms is shown in red green and blue hues. The alluring telescopic view spans about 50 light-years at the estimated distance of NGC 6357.

Facebook: Stay away for a good night’s sleep


And since we’re on an academic and media jag today, another scientific study of note, from the University of California at Irvine newsroom:

UCI researchers link compulsive Facebook checking to lack of sleep

Study correlates tiredness, bad mood, distractibility and social media browsing

If you find yourself toggling over to look at Facebook several dozen times a day, it’s not necessarily because the experience of being on social media is so wonderful. It may be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.

In a recently completed study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine demonstrated that lack of sleep – in addition to affecting people’s moods and productivity – leads to more frequent online activities such as browsing Facebook.

“When you get less sleep, you’re more prone to distraction,” said lead researcher Gloria Mark, a UCI informatics professor. “If you’re being distracted, what do you do? You go to Facebook. It’s lightweight, it’s easy, and you’re tired.”

Sleep deprivation can lead to loss of productivity throughout the economy. It can cause workplace mishaps and make drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Experts in the field of human-computer interaction want to know how sleep loss impacts people so they can design better technologies and products.

“There have been lots of studies on how information technology affects sleep. We did the opposite: We looked at how sleep duration influences IT usage,” said Mark, who will present the findings at a leading computer-human interaction conference in May.

She and her colleagues collected data from 76 UCI undergraduates – 34 males and 42 females – for seven days during the spring 2014 quarter. The study controlled for students’ gender, age, course load and deadlines and relied on sensors to objectively gauge their behavior, activities and stress levels.

Students’ computers and smartphones were equipped with logging software, and time stamps recorded when subjects switched from one application window to another and when they spoke on the phone or texted. They were asked to fill out a sleep survey each morning and an end-of-day survey at night.

Participants also filled out a general questionnaire and sat for an exit interview. Periodically throughout the week, they received probing questions from researchers regarding their mood, the perceived difficulty of whatever task was at hand, and their level of engagement in their work.

Central to the study was a concept known as “sleep debt,” the accumulated difference between the amount of sleep needed and the amount experienced.

Mark said the study’s findings show a direct connection among chronic lack of sleep, worsening mood and greater reliance on Facebook browsing. She also found that the less sleep people have, the more frequently their attention shifts among different computer screens, suggesting heightened distractibility.

Mark’s UCI collaborators on the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, were Yiran Wang from the Department of Informatics and Melissa Niiya and Stephanie Reich from the School of Education.

Climate change: Penalizing those least responsible


While it’s the industrialized nations hat produce the most emissions of greenhouse gases, it’s the poorer nations and other low-emissions countries that will bear the biggest cost as climate change accelerates, according to a new scientific study, as exemplified in these maps:

(a) Climate change equity for 2010. (b) Climate change equity for 2030. Countries with emissions in the highest quintile and vulnerability in the lowest quintile are shown in dark red (the climate free riders), and those countries with emissions in the lowest quintile and vulnerability in the highest quintile are shown in dark green (the climate forced riders). Intermediate levels of equity are shown in graduating colours, with countries in yellow producing GHG emissions concomitant with their vulnerability to the resulting climate change. Data deficient countries are shown as grey. Maps generated using ESRI ArcGIS.

(a) Climate change equity for 2010. (b) Climate change equity for 2030. Countries with emissions in the highest quintile and vulnerability in the lowest quintile are shown in dark red (the climate free riders), and those countries with emissions in the lowest quintile and vulnerability in the highest quintile are shown in dark green (the climate forced riders). Intermediate levels of equity are shown in graduating colours, with countries in yellow producing GHG emissions concomitant with their vulnerability to the resulting climate change. Data deficient countries are shown as grey. Maps generated using ESRI ArcGIS.

Details from the Wildlife Conservation Society:

SECOND HAND SMOKE: Nations That Produce Fewer Greenhouse Gases Most Vulnerable to Climate Change, Study Says

  • Conversely, nations that produce most greenhouse gases less vulnerable
  • Study shows “enormous global inequality” between emitters versus impacted nations
  • Countries like U.S., Canada, Russia, and China are climate “free riders,” which dis-incentivizes mitigating their emissions
  • Problem will worsen in coming decades

A new study by University of Queensland and WCS shows a dramatic global mismatch between nations producing the most greenhouse gases and the ones most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The study shows that the highest emitting countries are ironically the least vulnerable to climate change effects such as increased frequency of natural disasters, changing habitats, human health impacts, and industry stress.

Those countries emitting the least amount of greenhouse gases are most vulnerable.

The majority of the most vulnerable countries are African and Small Island States. These countries are exposed to serious environmental change such as oceanic inundation or desertification. They are also generally the least developed nations, having few resources available to cope with these issues.

“There is an enormous global inequality in which those countries most responsible for causing climate change are the least vulnerable to its effects,” said lead author Glenn Althor of University of Queensland.  “It is time that this persistent and worsening climate inequity is resolved, and for the largest emitting countries to act.”

“This is like a non-smoker getting cancer from second-hand smoke, while the heavy smokers continue to puff away. Essentially we are calling for the smokers to pay for the health care of the non-smokers they are directly harming,” said co-author James Watson of University of Queensland and WCS.

The study found that 20 of the 36 highest emitting countries – including the U.S. Canada, Australia, China, and much of Western Europe – were least vulnerable.  Eleven of the 17 countries with low to moderate emissions were most vulnerable to climate change. Most were found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  The authors say the finding acts as a disincentive for high-emitting “free-rider” countries to mitigate their emissions.

The number of acutely vulnerable countries will worsen by 2030 say the authors as climate change related pressures such as droughts, floods, biodiversity loss and disease mount.

“The recent Paris agreement was a significant step forward in global climate negotiations” said study co-author Richard Fuller.  “There now needs to be meaningful mobilization of these policies, to achieve national emissions reductions while helping the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change”.

The study appears today in the journal Scientific Reports [and though it’s from Nature, there’s no paywallesnl].

Heavens above!: A cold, sterile goddess in space


While in Roman mythology, Ceres was very much a being of warmth and fecundity, associated with the earth as inventor and goddess of agriculture and the harvest, her modern-day counterpart is associated with the bitter cold and sterility of space.

From NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day:

BLOG Ceres

Dwarf Planet Ceres

Image Credit & License: NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS,DLR,IDA – Composition: Justin Cowar

Explanation: Dwarf planet Ceres is the largest object in the Solar System’s main asteroid belt, with a diameter of about 950 kilometers (590 miles). Ceres is seen here in approximately true color, based on image data from the Dawn spacecraft recorded on May 4, 2015. On that date, Dawn’s orbit stood 13,642 kilometers above the surface of the small world. Two of Ceres’ famous mysterious bright spots at Oxo crater and Haulani crater are near center and center right of this view. Casting a telltale shadow at the bottom is Ceres’ cone-shaped, lonely mountain Ahuna Mons. Presently some 385 kilometers above the Cerean surface, the ion-propelled Dawn spacecraft is now returning images from its closest mapping orbit.

Quote of the day: Parsing an existential threat


From Naomi Klein in an interview on the deep implications of climate change by Michael Winship for BillMoyers.com [emphasis added]:

We have to change the kind of free trade deals we sign. We would have to change the absolutely central role of frenetic consumption in our culture. We would have to change the role of money in politics and our political system. We would have to change our attitude towards regulating corporations. We would have to change our guiding ideology.

You know, since the 1980s we’ve been living in this era, really, of corporate rule, based on this idea that the role of government is to liberate the power of capital so that they can have as much economic growth as quickly as possible and then all good things will flow from that. And that is what justifies privatization, deregulation, cuts to corporate taxes offset by cuts to public services — all of this is incompatible with what we need to do in the face of the climate crisis. We need to invest massively in the public sphere to have a renewable energy system, to have good public transit and rail. That money needs to come from somewhere, so it’s going to have to come from the people who have the money.

And I actually believe it’s deeper than that, that it’s about changing the paradigm of a culture that is based on separateness from nature, that is based on the idea that we can dominate nature, that we are the boss, that we are in charge. Climate change challenges all of that. It says, you know, all this time that you’ve been living in this bubble apart from nature, that has been fueled by a substance that all the while has been accumulating in the atmosphere, and you told yourself you were the boss, you told yourself you could have a one-way relationship with the natural world, but now comes the response: “You thought you were in charge? Think again.” And we can either mourn our status as boss of the world and see it as some cosmic demotion — which is why I think the extreme right is so freaked out by climate change that they have to deny it. It isn’t just that it is a threat to their profits. It’s a threat to a whole worldview that says you have dominion over all things, and that’s extremely threatening.

Child abuse history common in Canada’s military


A fascinating new study from the University of Manitoba reveals that nearly half of Canada’s soldiers have been exposed to child abuse, as significantly higher percentage than for the general population.

Given that Canada’s military, like that of the U.S., is composed of volunteers rather than conscripts, and membership is self-selected, we cannot but wonder what the comparable numbers might be for America’s soldiers.

One risk clearly established by the research was an elevated suicide rate, but we can’t help but wonder about possible ramifications in the conduct of soldiers in the field.

From the University of Manitoba newsroom:

Almost half of all military personnel in Canada have a history of child abuse exposure, UM study finds

According to a study publi$hed in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, military personnel in Canada are more likely to have had exposure to child abuse than individuals in the general Canadian population. Furthermore, the study found that such exposure to child abuse was associated with an increased risk of suicidal behaviour. The risk had a stronger effect on the general population than military personnel, and the effect of exposure to child abuse was stronger than the effect of actual deployment-related trauma.

Tracie O. Afifi is associate professor in the departments of community health sciences and psychiatry at the University of Manitoba. She and her coauthors examined the association between child abuse exposure and suicidal behaviour (ideation, planning and attempts) among representative groups of military personnel and the general population in Canada. The authors analyzed data from 24,142 respondents (ages 18 to 60) in two nationally representative data sets. The study found that child abuse exposure was higher in the regular forces (47.7 percent) and reserve forces (49.4 percent) compared with the Canadian general population (33.1 percent).

Child abuse exposures were associated with increased odds of suicidal ideation, suicidal plans and suicide attempts in the general population and in the Canadian Armed Forces, although the study found that many of the associations were weaker in military personnel compared with civilians.

Afifi notes: “Suicide is an important public health problem among both military and civilian populations. The ability to accurately anticipate who will think about, plan, and attempt suicide is a difficult task.”

Deployment-related trauma was associated with past-year suicidal ideation and plans but by comparison, child abuse exposure was more strongly and consistently associated with suicide-related behaviors.

Afifi says she does not know why the research found that almost half of all military personnel in Canada have a history of child abuse exposure.

“But escaping from child abuse exposure at home or otherwise improving life circumstances with career and education opportunities available through the military may be the cause,” she suggests.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

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