Archive for October 2009
Widely reviled by assholes who interrupt every conversation about it with “Oh, I don’t have a TV,” Charles Kenny makes the case that the spread of television in the developing world can have positive effects:
The introduction of cable or satellite services in a village … goes along with higher girls’ school enrollment rates and increased female autonomy. Within two years of getting cable or satellite, between 45 and 70 percent of the difference between urban and rural areas on these measures disappears. In Brazil, it wasn’t just birthrates that changed as Globo’s signal spread — divorce rates went up, too.
(via Idea of the Day)
It’s something of a bold claim, but there’s a fair amount to like in this profile of Jerry Morris, the first man to show that heart health and physical activity went hand-in-hand. This idea, though I imagine somewhat overstated, left me spinning:
His paper (“Coronary heart-disease and physical activity of work”) finally appeared in The Lancet in 1953. His hypothesis, as he still called it, was greeted with general disbelief. What could exercise possibly have to do with heart attacks? True, there had always been a vague belief that exercise was good for the soul. Mens sana in corpore sano (“a healthy mind in a healthy body”), the Roman poet Juvenal had written nearly two millennia before Morris, possibly with satirical intent, and the Victorians fetishised team spirit and muddy playing fields. But before Morris, nobody knew that exercise stopped people dying.
You’ve probably heard the apocryphal anecdote that the Great Wall of China (and sometimes New York City’s garbage dump) are the only human creations visible from space. Wired Science shows a number of man made open pit mines visible from low-earth orbit and explains a few details of how they supply us with many of the metals whose provenance we rarely question.
This could be considered a counterpoint to yesterday’s story, but those vaccines-cause-autism crusaders (who also loathe the Paul Offit profiled in the piece) may finally be having an impact:
“I used to say that the tide would turn when children started to die. Well, children have started to die,” Offit says, frowning as he ticks off recent fatal cases of meningitis in unvaccinated children in Pennsylvania and Minnesota. “So now I’ve changed it to ‘when enough children start to die.’ Because obviously, we’re not there yet.”
(via Andrew Sullivan)
Shannon Brownlee and Jeanne Lenzer offer another of the innumerable “correlation is not causation” arguments, this one against flu vaccinations and antivirals (e.g. Tamiflu):
The estimate of 50 percent mortality reduction is based on “cohort studies,” which compare death rates in large groups, or cohorts, of people who choose to be vaccinated, against death rates in groups who don’t. But people who choose to be vaccinated may differ in many important respects from people who go unvaccinated—and those differences can influence the chance of death during flu season. Education, lifestyle, income, and many other “confounding” factors can come into play, and as a result, cohort studies are notoriously prone to bias.
On seeing the headline I dismissed the idea as on-par with (falsely) pleading insanity, but this seems reasonable:
Another, more successful approach to the Asperger’s defense highlights its sufferers’ propensity for obsessive, repetitive behavior. McKinnon says he couldn’t stop hacking into government computers in his search for evidence of alien spacecraft. Is it fair to punish him for the combined impact of 100 separate crimes just because his compulsion played out in so many episodes?
There’s little new in this Lexington column, but this bit was good:
Belief in conspiracy theories can be comforting. If everything that goes wrong is the fault of a secret cabal, that relieves you of the tedious necessity of trying to understand how a complex world really works. And you can feel smug that you are smart enough to “see through” the official version of events.
Very much so, though I would extend this basic formula far beyond conspiracies, which are just one version of absurdly simplified world views. My mother offhandedly dismisses everything Democrats do as a method get further into her pocket book. Many lefties I know see every Republican as greedy and warmongering. A lot of people dismiss everything the Chinese government does as either aggressive or Communistic. And don’t get them started on the Mexicans (who hail from all countries south of the United States, naturally).
Because of my fairly strong revulsion at any mustache worn for any reason (but especially irony), this piece’s title caught my attention. That said, I’m ambivalent about the argument itself:
There’s an unapologetic ruggedness to the mustache that’s been gradually chastened and civilized out of popular American culture. Americans just aren’t as comfortable with masculinity as they were 30 years ago.
Pictures of things on Earth from above always interest me. Pictures of the earth from above that teach me a little science along the way satisfy me.
While tidying up, I found this draft post from June of 2008. It was still interesting to me, and the link still works, so here it is:
I found Andrew Solomon’s piece on the various stripes of autism activists fascinating, and this idea intriguing:
These activists argue that autism is not an illness but an alternative way of being. The preferred terminology among disability activists is to speak of a “person with deafness” rather than a “deaf person,” or a “person with dwarfism” rather than a dwarf. But Sinclair has said that “person-first” terminology denies the centrality of autism and has compared “person with autism” to describing a man as a “person with maleness.”