Brooklyn, NY, cyclists re-paint removed bike lanes:
Since I have been really terrible at updating the blog (but pretty good at keeping up with the facebook blog posts) I've added the widget below so that facebook cross posts to the blog.
You shouldn't need to join facebook but can just click on the links in the widget to access the articles. If you have any problems or comments please mail me at arandjel 'AT' eva.mpg.de.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Brooklyn, NY, cyclists re-paint removed bike lanes:
Friday, March 26, 2010
Scientists try to explain near-death experiences.
By Lisa Miller
I first encountered this idea as I was researching my new book, Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlife. I was having lunch with my friend and colleague Christopher Dickey, who told me that his father, the writer James Dickey, had a fantasy of heaven in which all of his closest friends were sitting around a swimming pool, chatting. "There was nothing special about the pool itself," wrote Chris in Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son. "Nobody walked on the water. And he never told me who the friends were ... But what he took away from the dream was a sense of contentment, of being at ease with himself and the world, as if he had gotten a preview of heaven. He called that place 'The Happy Swimming Pool.' " Chris believes that everything we think we know about heaven happens in the moments before death. After that, there's nothing.
Science cannot definitively proof or disprove Chris's theory, but some scientists are willing to take guesses. And these guesses are based, in part, on a growing body of research around near-death experience (NDE). According to a 2000 article in The Lancet, between 9 and 18 percent of people who have been demonstrably near death report having had such an experience. And surveys of NDE accounts show great similarities in the details. People who have had NDEs describe—like some religious visionaries—a tunnel, a light, a gate, or a door, a sense of being out of the body, meeting people they know or have heard about, finding themselves in the presence of God, and then returning, changed.
Andrew Newberg is an associate professor in the radiology department at the University of Pennsylvania who has made his reputation studying the brain scans of religious people (nuns and monks) who have ecstatic experiences as they meditate. He believes the "tunnel" and "light" phenomena can be explained easily. As your eyesight fades, you lose the peripheral areas first, he hypothesizes. "That's why you'd have a tunnel sensation." If you see a bright light, that could be the central part of the visual system shutting down last.
Newberg puts forward the following scenario, which, he emphasizes, is guesswork. When people die, two parts of the brain, which usually work in opposition to each other, act cooperatively. The sympathetic nervous system—a web of nerves and neurons running through the spinal cord and spread to virtually every organ in the body—is responsible for arousal and excitement. It gets you ready for action. The parasympathetic system—with which the sympathetic system is entwined—calms you down and rejuvenates you. In life, the turning on of one system prompts the shutting down of the other. The sympathetic nervous system kicks in when a car cuts you off on the highway; the parasympathetic system is in charge as you're falling asleep. But in the brains of people reporting mystical experiences—and, perhaps, in death—both systems are fully "on," giving a person the sensation both of slowing down, being "out of body," and of seeing things vividly, including memories of important people and past events. Does Newberg believe, then, that visions of heaven are merely chemical-neurological events? He laughs nervously. "I don't know." He laughs again. "It's, um … I don't think we have enough evidence to say."
Since at least the 1980s, scientists have theorized that NDEs occur as a kind of physiological self-defense mechanism. In order to guard against damage during trauma, the brain releases protective chemicals that also happen to trigger intense hallucinations. This theory gained traction after scientists realized that virtually all the features of an NDE—a sense of moving through a tunnel, and "out of body" feeling, spiritual awe, visual hallucinations, and intense memories—can be reproduced with a stiff dose of ketamine, a horse tranquilizer frequently used as a party drug. In 2000, a psychiatrist named Karl Jansen wrote a book, Ketamine: Dreams and Realities, in which he interviewed a number of recreational users. One of them, who called himself K.U., describes one of his drug trips this way: "I came out into a golden Light. I rose into the Light and found myself having an unspoken interchange with the Light, which I believed to be God." Dante said it better, but the vision is astonishingly the same.
Adapted from the forthcoming book Heaven: Our Enduring Fascination With the Afterlifeby Lisa Miller. To be published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
The case was referred to the Skukuza police station and it emerged that two wildlife poaching suspects being held at that station had already alerted his family to the possibility that he might have been killed by wild animals in the park. They later confessed to police and park rangers that they had entered the park illegally on March 12 to lay snares. The three men returned to the park the next day to check if any animals had been caught. “That night they came across hippos which charged them, and the men rain in different directions. The two suspects managed to escape the hippos and eventually get out of the park, but the third man never arrived home.”
The police subsequently referred the matter to park rangers who mounted a search operation in the area described by the suspects.“After two days of patrol, the rangers managed to pick up a few pieces of clothes and eventually a human skull on Saturday, March 20.”
Mukwevho said the two alleged accomplices were being held at Skukuza police station. Parks spokesperson William Mabasa expressed condolences to the family for the loss of their loved one.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
A short but poignant TED talk by Sam Harris on why we absolutely do not need religion to answer moral questions. For more info visit the TED website.
Thanks to Cleve H or the link!
What Do You See?
by Ian Bullock
A plainclothes cop walks into a diner and finds no less than five gun-wielding criminals holding up the crowded joint. “We’re not just going to let you walk out of here,” the cop says. “Who’s we, sucka?” says one of the criminals. “Smith and Wesson and me,” says the cop. He draws his Smith & Wesson and – in a crowded diner – shoots four of the criminals and advances on the last gunman, who’s holding a pistol to a hostage’s head. One itchy trigger finger and the hostage could be dead. The cop glares at the criminal. “Go ahead, make my day.” The cop is “Dirty Harry” Callahan, but really he could be any Hollywood hero. The movie is Sudden Impact, but really it could be any movie or book or manifestation of Western culture.
With a few modern updates, Western culture has been re-creating the same story over and over again since Homer collected The Odyssey more than two and a half thousand years ago. Since the Greeks, the ideal of the unique and strong individual has become so prevalent in Western culture that we have stopped realizing that it is even part of our culture. Often we mistake our perceptions of the world for how the world really is.
Psychologists have long known that North Americans overestimate their own distinctiveness, especially in comparison with East Asians. When asked to describe themselves, Americans and Canadians tend to talk about their individual personality and personal outlook more than Japanese do. North Americans tend to settle arguments in terms of right and wrong, whereas East Asians tend to seek compromises. Dirty Harry is an extreme and violent example, but he is emblematic of Western culture and he sums up our single-minded, goal-oriented behavior with aplomb. “When I see an adult male chasing a female with the intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That’s my policy.”
New research shows that culture even affects our cognition. A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology claims that Americans and Japanese intuit the emotions of others differently based on cultural training. “North Americans try to identify the single important thing that is key to making a decision,” explains Dr. Takahiko Masuda, the study’s author, over the phone from his office at the University of Alberta. “In East Asia they really care about the context.” He studied the eye movement of Americans and Japanese when analyzing a picture of a group of cartoon people. When asked to interpret the emotion of the person in the center, the Japanese looked at the person for about one second before moving on to the people in the background. They needed to know how the group was feeling before understanding the emotion of the individual. The Americans (and Canadians in subsequent studies) focused 95% of their attention on the person in the center. Only 5% of their attention was focused on the background, and this, Dr. Masuda points out, didn’t influence their interpretation of the central figure’s emotion. For North Americans the foreground is all-important.
Dr. Masuda is quick to point out that Americans and Japanese are physiologically the same. The difference in eye movement is tied to the roots of our respective cultures. When trying to explain the natural world, the Ancient Greeks – the founders of Western civilization – tended to focus on central objects and sought to explain their rules of behavior. Funnily enough, Aristotle thought a rock had the property of “gravity.” It didn’t occur to him that a system was working its powers on the rock. The Chinese on the other hand took a more holistic approach. They believed that everything occurred within a context, or a field of forces, and thus they unraveled the relationship between the moon and the tides.
These differences in philosophy can be explained, at least in part, by the environments that spawned them. “We are surrounded by socially created information, which affects our perception,” Masuda explains. And perception affects our culture. Research shows that North American cities are less cluttered than East Asian cities, which means that North Americans can spend more time considering salient objects. When Americans or Canadians visit East Asia, they are often overwhelmed by the amount of information they have to process. I have experienced this phenomenon personally. The first time I bused from Incheon Airport into Seoul, South Korea, I was dumbfounded by the number of buildings, advertisements, lights, cars and people and had to turn away from the window to stop my head from spinning. Dr. Masuda first arrived in North America when he was 26. Compared to Japan, which was crowded with people and objects and “complex pieces of information,” he felt North American cities to be lonely places.
Masuda stresses that no way of perceiving the world is better than another and refuses to interpret his studies too broadly. He has yet to conduct his tests in Africa or South America. But it seems to me that Masuda’s study is important: It reminds us that there is more than one way of seeing the world.
North Americans have a tendency toward isolating singular goals and working doggedly towards them. And we have achieved some remarkable accomplishments. We put a man on the moon, invented the telephone and the airplane and achieved a thousand more seemingly impossible tasks. We congratulate ourselves on our individualism in our movies, our art, our personal relationships and, of course, our politics. But as we do so, we perpetuate this trait – perception informs culture, culture informs perception – until we mistake the way we see the world for the only way to see the world.
As alluring as the Dirty Harry approach may be, is it time to put away our Smith & Wesson and start considering the other customers in the diner? The problems we face today – the environmental degradation of our planet, global recession, religious fundamentalism – don’t fit inside borders or simple categories. Context is unavoidable. We need to start looking for it.
Thanks to Naim M. for the link
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Photo: An orangutan is seen with an tranquilizer dart in his side - to make him sleep before rangers relocate him to another place on Borneo island, away from this palm oil plantation.. Photo taken on November 19, 2008. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)via landcoalition.org
by Jeremy Hance
Candy and food giant Nestle is finding itself between a rock and a hard place. The online campaign against Nestle continues: today protesters once again posted thousands of negative messages on the company's Facebook page, most demanding that Nestle cut out palm oil linked to deforestation from its products. At the same time, a new problem has cropped up for Nestle: Indonesian oil palm planters are threatening to boycott Nestle products.
Proving that the issues surrounding oil palm and deforestation are nothing if not complex: Facebook protestors say they will boycott Nestle if it doesn't cut out all links to Sinar Mas, a company that Greenpeace has linked to deforestation, whereas the Indonesia Palm Oil Growers Association are preparing a boycott if Nestle stops buying from Sinar Mas, according to the Jakarta Globe.
"About 10 million oil palm farmers in 20 Indonesian provinces have stated their readiness to boycott Nestle products. Apkasindo [Indonesian Palm Oil Growers Association] is now preparing to draw up a list of Nestle products on the market," Asmar Arsjad, Apkasindo secretary general, said over the weekend, adding that if Nestle stops buying from Sinar Mas it would hurt palm oil producers.
Adding fuel to fire, Antara News reports that Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil producers are threatening to stop exports of crude palm oil to the US and the EU if negative campaigns over their environmental practices continue. Palm oil, the world's most productive oil seed, has come to be used in everything from food products to cosmetics.
Nestle has already promised it will stop purchasing from Sinar Mas due to a report from Greenpeace showing that the Indonesian company was involved in destruction of rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations. However, Nestle still buys indirectly from Sinar Mas, since one of its suppliers, Cargill, buys from the Indonesian company.
Greenpeace and thousands of online protestors are demanding that Nestle sever all ties with Sinar Mas, direct or indirect. The company has responded that it will purchase only sustainable palm oil by 2015—a comment that angered most.
The online protest against the multi billion-dollar corporation, which began last Wednesday, took on a life of its own after the company had a Greenpeace video criticizing the company removed from YouTube, citing copyright violations. This action, seen by many as censorship, caused the video to go viral: it has been watched hundreds of thousands of times since. Statements made by Nestle on their Facebook fan page, which many viewed as rude, only worsened the situation for the company.
At the crux of the conflict is the importance of the world's rainforests for mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity. Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world due largely to deforestation. Between 1990 and 2005, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 hectares of virgin forest. The country's forest cover has declined from 82 percent in the 1960s to less than fifty percent today.
One of the world's most biodiverse countries, many of Indonesia's species are gravely threatened by deforestation, including both the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans; Asian elephants; Sumatran tigers; Javan and Sumatran rhinos; several species of tarsiers; the small wild cattle, anoa; and the proboscis monkey to name a few.
In all, Indonesia is home to over 30,000 recorded species of plants and over 3,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Yet, the deputy assistant of biodiversity conservation at the State Environment Ministry, Utami Andayani, recently told the Jakarta Post that likely only half of Indonesia's species are known to science.
A resort hotel on one of Dubai’’s man-made islands said on Thursday it has freed a whale shark whose captivity had been criticised by environmentalists. The Atlantis hotel on the city-state’’s Palm Jumeirah island said it released the 4m female shark into the Persian Gulf, but did not provide documentation.
Whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, are considered a threatened species.
Atlantis Vice President Steve Kaiser said in a written response to questions the animal has been fitted with a satellite tracking tag to record its position for research purposes. He said the shark was in good health when it was released on Thursday morning off the east side of the palm-shaped island, one of several artificial islands off the city-state’’s coast. Outsiders were not invited for the safety of the shark, he said.
“The health and well-being of the animal has always been our number one priority,” Kaiser said in response to questions from The Associated Press about the release. “The seasonal elements affecting water temperature, salinity and migratory patterns were perfect for enhancing her survival in the open ocean.”
Employees outside the hotel’’s massive aquarium, which contains 65 000 fish, stingrays and other sea creatures, said they had been instructed not to speak to the media about the shark. The hotel is run by Bahamas-based Kerzner International in partnership with a division of Dubai’’s struggling state-run conglomerate Dubai World.
Environmentalists began calling for the shark’’s release shortly after the hotel announced it had rescued it from the shallow waters off Dubai’’s coast in 2008. The huge fish also brought the luxury marine-themed hotel’’s centrepiece aquarium considerable publicity. A hotel gift shop continued to sell Atlantis-branded toy models of the whale shark late on Thursday afternoon.
Environmentalists” concerns centred on keeping a young, potentially reproducing female shark in a confined space and out of its natural habitat. A local newspaper, Gulf News, has called the confinement “cruel, beyond belief,” and launched a campaign urging freedom for the shark it nicknamed “Sammy”.
Emirates Wildlife Society/World Wildlife Fund spokesperson Lisa Perry said she was glad to hear the shark had been freed, but questioned the lack of information about its release. “The chances of its survival are better now when it’’s in the wild than when it’’s in captivity,” Perry said. “But I”m concerned of what the condition of the animal was before its release.”
Whale sharks, considered harmless to humans, can live up to 100 years and grow to 14m long. They are normally found in parts of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Atlantis” Dubai outpost has been targeted by environmentalists in the past. In 2007, activists protested the sale of dolphins that were shipped 30 hours by plane from the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. The dolphins are now housed in a man-made lagoon where they swim with hotel guests.
Monday, March 22, 2010
by Kai Tabacek
from the guardian.co.uk
The head of operations for Nestlé Jose Lopez has told Guardian Sustainable Business that he expects to eliminate all traces of palm oil from Sinar Mas from its supply chain by mid-May, providing the allegations by Greenpeace linking the company to deforestation stand up.
Since Wednesday, Nestlé has been at the centre of a PR firestorm after Greenpeace alleged that its palm oil supplier Sinar Mas is involved in illegal rainforest clearance in Indonesia. Nestlé has since cancelled its contract with Sinar Mas, but says that it is still receiving palm oil from the firm through its supplier Cargill.
Cargill is one of the world's largest privately held corporations, exporting palm oil to more than 30 countries.
In a statement on its UK website, Nestlé said it had sought assurances from Cargill about its supply chain. "Cargill has informed us that Sinar Mas needs to answer Greenpeace's allegations by the end of April," the statement continued.
José Lopez told Guardian Sustainable Business that Cargill are investigating the case, and if found at fault, Sinar Mas would be cut out of Cargill's supply chain by Mid-May. "We definitely expect that to happen," he said.
John Sauven, Greenpeace UK's executive director, responded saying that action needs to be taken immediately. "Cargill need to delist Sinar Mas from their global supply chain and Nestlé need to make a decision not to buy Sinar Mas palm oil directly or indirectly."
Greenpeace's allegations have prompted calls for Nestlé to bring its target for sourcing all of its palm oil from sustainable sources forward from 2015. On this point, Mr Lopez said "as soon as quantities are available we will be doing that … but we are not going to promise things we can't deliver."
The greenpeace ad:
from The BBC.co.uk
The UN's wildlife trade organisations have turned down Tanzania's and Zambia's requests to sell ivory amid concern about elephant poaching. The countries asked the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting to permit one-off sales from government stockpiles.
The ivory trade was banned in 1989, but three sales have since been granted to nations showing effective conservation.
A Kenyan proposal to ban all such sales in future years was also defeated.
Most conservation groups were delighted that the Tanzanian and Zambian bids were turned down. But they argue that illegal poaching is the main issue facing African elephants, rather than the occasional legal sale. "Poaching and illegal ivory markets in central and western Africa must be effectively suppressed before any further ivory sales take place," said Elisabeth McLellan, species programme manager with WWF International.
The meeting in Doha, Qatar also turned down a bid to ban trade in red and pink corals from the Mediterranean Sea.
Big thanks to Dieter L for the link and good news!
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
by Ben Webster and Frank Pope
Their sheer size and strength have made them among the most celebrated of endangered species, yet they have all been betrayed — by vested interests at a UN meeting on wildlife protection.
Proposals to ban trade in bluefin tuna and polar bears were overwhelmingly rejected yesterday at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meeting in Doha, Qatar.
A plan for a 20-year ban on ivory sales, to protect African elephants, is also likely to fail in the coming days — partly because Britain and other members of the EU are refusing to support it. Delegates are instead expected to approve a weak compromise, which would encourage poaching by allowing the sale of ivory being stored by several African nations.
Feelings were running high yesterday about the failure of measures to protect endangered tuna. Only 20 of the 120 countries at the meeting voted to ban trade in the bluefin. Intensive lobbying by Japan, which consumes 80 per cent of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin, meant that a snap vote was held before any debate on scientific reports that show a catastrophic decline in the largest of the tuna family.
Campaigners reacted with dismay. Oliver Knowles, of Greenpeace, said: “It is an own goal by Japan. By pushing for a few more years of this luxury product it has put the future of bluefin, and the future of its own supply, at serious risk. The abject failure of governments here at Cites to protect Atlantic bluefin tuna spells disaster for its future, and sets the species on a pathway to extinction.”
France, Italy and Spain catch most of the tuna consumed by the global market. In 2009 a quota of 19,950 tonnes of tuna was set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, but many fish are caught live in nets, transferred to farms and fattened before slaughter.
Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, said: “The market for this fish is just too lucrative and the pressure from fishing interests too great for enough governments to support a truly sustainable future for the fish.”
The Cites process, which requires a two-thirds majority for a proposal to be adopted, is vulnerable to well-funded lobbying by countries and industries that depend on trade in a species. The vested interests exploit uncertainties in the estimates of population numbers, and strike backroom deals to secure the votes of developing countries where endangered species are far down the list of political priorities.
A US proposal to protect polar bears fell victim to arguments put forward by Inuit groups that their livelihoods depended on hunting the animals. The vote on protecting elephants is due on Monday, and is viewed by wildlife groups as the last opportunity to protect many of Africa’s most threatened herds.
The few remaining elephants in Sierra Leone were killed in October by poachers serving the thriving black market in ivory, which fetches up to $1,500 (£980) a kilo in the Far East. In the Zakouma National Park in Chad, poaching has cut the population from 3,885 in 2006 to only 617 last year. The number of elephants lost to poaching in Kenya has quadrupled in the past two years. Kenya is one of seven African nations proposing a 20-year moratorium on sales of stockpiled ivory.
International trade in ivory was banned in 1989, but since then Cites has agreed several “one-off sales” of stockpiled ivory on condition that the proceeds were spent on elephant conservation. Britain supported a one-off sale of 105 tonnes in 2008, arguing that it would reduce poaching by satisfying demand. But Kenya says that the one-off sales have expanded the market in China and Japan for ivory ornaments, and that this in turn has encouraged poaching.
Asian-run crime syndicates are able to pass off illegal ivory as coming from stockpiles sold with Cites approval.
Tanzania and Zambia want to sell 112 tonnes of ivory, and have submitted proposals that would allow the sale to take place by reducing their elephants’ level of protection under Cites trade rules.
Britain will join the rest of the EU in voting against Kenya’s proposal. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was still considering whether to support a lowering of the Cites protection for Tanzanian and Zambian elephants.
Robbie Marsland, UK Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “We are disappointed that the UK Government, and European Union member countries as a whole, have not gone into this meeting with a much stronger message against the ivory trade and in favour of elephant protection.
“This leaves the door open to future trade, which would result in further illegal poaching.”
Nick Herbert, the Shadow Environment Secretary, said the Government should be pressing for the destruction of stockpiles of ivory. “No one proposes stockpiling seized drugs or weapons to sell for profit, and ivory should be treated in just the same way. Instead of flooding the market with more ivory and legitimising the trade these stockpiles should be destroyed. We should be choking demand for ivory, not stoking it.”
A Defra spokesman said: “The UK will not consider other sales of ivory until the effects of last year’s one-off sale of ivory, intended to reduce demand for illegal poached ivory, have been fully analysed. This will take at least a further six years.”
A report last week by an international team of 27 scientists and conservationists concluded that previous one-off sales had contributed to a rise in poaching and failed to deliver the promised conservation benefits, resulting in “only short-term profitability to the few individuals who ran the scheme”.
Thanks to Cleve H for the link
Their Own Worst Enemies
by Sharon Begley
It's a safe bet that the millions of Americans who have recently changed their minds about global warming—deciding it isn't happening, or isn't due to human activities such as burning coal and oil, or isn't a serious threat—didn't just spend an intense few days poring over climate-change studies and decide, holy cow, the discretization of continuous equations in general circulation models is completely wrong! Instead, the backlash (an 18-point rise since 2006 in the percentage who say the risk of climate change is exaggerated, Gallup found this month) has been stoked by scientists' abysmal communication skills, plus some peculiarly American attitudes, both brought into play now by how critics have spun the "Climategate" e-mails to make it seem as if scientists have pulled a fast one.
Scientists are lousy communicators. They appeal to people's heads, not their hearts or guts, argues Randy Olson, who left a professorship in marine biology to make science films. "Scientists think of themselves as guardians of truth," he says. "Once they have spewed it out, they feel the burden is on the audience to understand it" and agree.
That may work if the topic is something with no emotional content, such as how black holes form, but since climate change and how to address it make people feel threatened, that arrogance is a disaster. Yet just as smarter-than-thou condescension happens time after time in debates between evolutionary biologists and proponents of intelligent design (the latter almost always win), now it's happening with climate change. In his 2009 book, Don’t Be Such a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style, Olson recounts a 2007 debate where a scientist contending that global warming is a crisis said his opponents failed to argue in a way "that the people here will understand." His sophisticated, educated Manhattan audience groaned and, thoroughly insulted, voted that the "not a crisis" side won.
Like evolutionary biologists before them, climate scientists also have failed to master "truthiness" (thank you, Stephen Colbert), which their opponents—climate deniers and creationists—wield like a shiv. They say the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political, not a scientific, organization; a climate mafia (like evolutionary biologists) keeps contrarian papers out of the top journals; Washington got two feet of snow, and you say the world is warming?
There is less backlash against climate science in Europe and Japan, and the U.S. is 33rd out of 34 developed countries in the percentage of adults who agree that species, including humans, evolved. That suggests there is something peculiarly American about the rejection of science. Charles Harper, a devout Christian who for years ran the program bridging science and faith at the Templeton Foundation and who has had more than his share of arguments with people who view science as the Devil's spawn, has some hypotheses about why that is. "In America, people do not bow to authority the way they do in England," he says. "When the lumpenproletariat are told they have to think in a certain way, there is a backlash," as with climate science now and, never-endingly, with evolution. (Harper, who studied planetary atmospheres before leaving science, calls climate scientists "a smug community of true believers.")
Another factor is that the ideas of the Reformation—no intermediaries between people and God; anyone can read the Bible and know the truth as well as a theologian—inform the American character more strongly than they do that of many other nations. "It's the idea that everyone has equal access to the divine," says Harper. That has been extended to the belief that anyone with an Internet connection can know as much about climate or evolution as an expert. Finally, Americans carry in their bones the country's history of being populated by emigrants fed up with hierarchy. It is the American way to distrust those who set themselves up—even justifiably—as authorities. Presto: climate backlash.
One new factor is also at work: the growing belief in the wisdom of crowds (Wikis, polling the audience on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire). If tweeting for advice on the best route somewhere yields the right answer, Americans seem to have decided, it doesn't take any special expertise to pick apart evolutionary biology or climate science. My final hypothesis: the Great Recession was caused by the smartest guys in the room saying, trust us, we understand how credit default swaps work, and they're great. No wonder so many Americans have decided that experts are idiots.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
A French TV documentary features people in a spoof game show administering what they are told are near lethal electric shocks to rival contestants.
Those taking part are told to pull levers to inflict shocks - increasing in voltage - upon their opponents. Although unaware that the contestants were actors and there was no electrical current, 82% of participants in the Game of Death agreed to pull the lever. Programme makers say they wanted to expose the dangers of reality TV shows. They say the documentary shows how many participants in the setting of a TV show will agree to act against their own principles or moral codes when ordered to do something extreme.
The Game of Death has all the trappings of a traditional TV quiz show, with a roaring crowd chanting "punishment" and a glamorous hostess urging the players on. Christophe Nick, the maker of the documentary, said they were "amazed" that so many participants obeyed the sadistic orders of the game show presenter. "They are not equipped to disobey," he told AFP. "They don't want to do it, they try to convince the authority figure that they should stop, but they don't manage to."
The results reflect those of a similar experiment carried out almost 50 years ago at Yale University by social psychologist Stanley Milgram. Participants took the role of a teacher, delivering what they believed were shocks to an actor every time they answered a question incorrectly. Mr Nick says that his experiment shows that the TV element further increases people's willingness to obey. "With Milgram, 62% of people obeyed an abject authority. In the setting of television, it's 80%," he told Reuters.
The documentary was broadcast on the state-owned France 2 channel on Wednesday evening.
Thanks to Linn G for the link
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
From Africa GeographicAerial photo taken by the Wildlife Conservation Society of elephants
slaughtered for their ivory in Zakouma National Park. From earthweek.com
The CITES Secretariat today recommended that Tanzania’s elephant and ivory proposal be rejected, citing concerns about poaching and enforcement. However, in a disappointing evaluation of the Panel of Experts reports, the Secretariat recommended supporting the Zambian ivory-trade proposal, and also supports the downlisting of elephants to Appendix II.
“Parties need to apply their own rigorous evaluations of the Panel of Experts reports as neither proposal meets the biological criteria for downlisting,” said Jason Bell-Leask, Director IFAW Southern Africa. “Both populations have suffered significant declines over the past three decades and there is evidence to suggest that these populations are still recovering from intensive poaching in the 1980’s.”
Tanzania and Zambia have submitted proposals seeking permission for a one-off sale of 112 tons of ivory. These two countries hoped to open the door for future ivory trade by ‘down-listing’ their elephant populations, which would mean that these elephants will losse the highest levels of protection. At the last CITES conference in 2007, Parties agreed to a nine-year moratorium on any further trade in ivory.
“IFAW is calling for all Parties to respect the moratorium – downlisting is simply a pre-cursor to trade and should not be considered in light of the massive escalation of seizures of illegal ivory and poaching we have seen since the last CoP,” said Bell-Leask.
The African Elephant Coalition of 23 African elephant range countries oppose the proposals for the downlistings and one-off sales, insisting that the nine-year resting period provides all African range states the opportunity to cooperatively secure elephants in their habitat.
From WWF (panda.org)
New analysis points to ivory enforcement failures in parts of Africa, Asia
Doha, Qatar – Urgent law enforcement action by governments in Central and West Africa and South-east Asia is crucial to addressing the illicit ivory trade, according to a new analysis of elephant trade data. Detailed regional summaries of the data held in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS), the world’s largest database on ivory seizures, highlight the failure of law enforcement in key elephant range States facing an increasing threat from organised crime and the presence of unregulated markets.
The re-analysis comes as 175 governments meet in Qatar for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), where they will consider ivory trade issues. "It's clearer than ever that governance shortfalls and weak enforcement allow illicit ivory trade to go unchecked in West and Central Africa and in South-East Asia, where large domestic ivory markets openly sell ivory illegally," said Tom Milliken of TRAFFIC, who undertook the ETIS analysis. "What's needed is urgent action by government enforcement agencies in these regions and strong collaboration with counterparts in Asia where many of the current seizures are being made." “If there was adequate political will, a commitment to law enforcement would shut down the illegal markets and check corruption. That isn’t happening.” Milliken said. ETIS is compiled by TRAFFIC on behalf of CITES, and comprises more than 15,400 ivory seizure cases compiled over the last 21 years.
The re-analysis of the data was made by region rather than by country, and was carried out to align the data with MIKE (Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants), another of the CITES tools used to monitor poaching, which also shows that the Central African region is losing the most elephants. "Until this strengthened law enforcement happens, ivory will continue to leak out of Africa” said Elisabeth McLellan, Species Manager, WWF International. "We're not talking small-time smugglers here, we're talking hardened, organized criminal gangs," McLellan said.
Friday, March 12, 2010
WWF and TRAFFIC welcome a World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies (WFCMS) statement urging its members not to use tiger bone or any other parts from endangered wildlife.
The statement was made at a symposium Friday in Beijing and notes that some of the claimed medicinal benefits of tiger bone have no basis. The use of tiger bones was removed from the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) pharmacopeia in 1993, when China first introduced a domestic ban on tiger trade.
“Tiger conservation has become a political issue in the world. Therefore, it’s necessary for the traditional Chinese medicine industry to support the conservation of endangered species, including tigers,” said Huang Jianyin, deputy secretary of WFCMS.
Illegal trade in Asian big cat products is a key issue at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of Parties meeting at Doha, Qatar. China is among the 175 countries that are signatories to this international treaty governing wildlife trade.
“CITES governments should be encouraged by this statement and use the opportunity they have at this meeting to pass measures, that if properly enforced, can help put an end to tiger trade,” said Dr. Colman O’Criodain, Wildlife trade analyst, WWF International.
The statement also calls on all WFCMS’ members to promote tiger conservation and encourages them to abide by all relevant international and national regulations on wildlife trade.
“The Societies’ public declaration is a clear signal that the traditional Chinese medicinal community is now backing efforts to secure a future for wild tigers,” said Professor Xu Hongfa, head of TRAFFIC’s programme in China.
As an international traditional Chinese academic organization, the WFCMS stated that it had a duty to research the conservation of endangered species, including tigers.
“We will ask our members not to use endangered wildlife in traditional Chinese medicine, and reduce the misunderstanding and bias of the international community,” said the WFCMS’ Huang Jianyin. “The traditional Chinese medicine industry should look for substitutes and research on economical and effective substitutes for tiger products, which will improve the international image and status of traditional Chinese medicine and promote TCM in the world.”
The WFCMS is an international academic organization based in Beijing, with 195 member organizations spanning 57 nations where traditional Chinese medicine is used. It aims to promote the development of traditional Chinese medicine, which is a primary form of healthcare delivery in China, and widely regarded as an important part of China’s rich cultural heritage.
WWF and TRAFFIC are calling for a permanent ban on all trade in tiger parts and products, and for a curtailment of commercial captive breeding operations.
Wild tigers are especially in the spotlight as 2010 marks the celebration of the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese lunar calendar. This year is seen as a unique opportunity to galvanize international action to save this iconic species.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
A new study shows that people are more likely to cheat and steal after buying green products.
By Sharon Begley
There have probably been environmental hypocrites ever since the first caveman professed his love of wildlife right before going out and slaughtering giant herds of megafauna, but it's never been clear exactly what underlies the hypocrisy. Sure, it's easier to say than to do (to laud walking and carpooling but drive an SUV), and we're all good at exceptionalism (everyone else should cut back on jet travel, but it's really important that I take my private jet to the meeting on climate change). Still, hypocrisy is so rife, there surely has to be more to it.
In the case of environmental hypocrisy, that "more" may be the virtuous glow we get from doing one little green thing: it casts an outsize moral halo. That is, we feel so righteous when we buy organic food or a compact fluorescent bulb or a Prius that our internal moral cup runneth over. According to this model, which is called compensatory ethics (see the PDF of the first paper on this Web site), people have an inner sense of how morally virtuous they need to feel to support their self-image. If a few actions (including espousing actions for other people) are enough to justify how we like to think of ourselves, then we do not need to perform any additional virtuous actions. It's as if we accumulate moral points for ethical actions, and having accumulated "enough" we are free to act amorally, or even immorally. That's why reminding people of what wonderful humanitarians they are causes them to give less to charity.
"Virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors," writes Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto in a paper scheduled for publication in the coming months in Psychological Science.
Two new experiments suggest there is something to this. Mazar and Zhong had 156 volunteers (University of Toronto students) visit online stores that carried mostly green products, or only a few. After browsing for a while, some of the volunteers played the dictator game: they were given $6, and told they could propose to divide the money with a partner any way they liked. The caveat: the partner could accept or reject the proposed division, and if he rejected it, then no one would get any money. Proposing a 5-to-1 split was therefore likely to send both parties home empty-handed, whereas a 3-3 split, or even a 4-2, was more likely to pay off.
Volunteers who saw lots of green products proposed more generous splits than those who saw conventional ones, by $2.12 to $1.59—one third more. That reflects the well-established priming effect, in which subtle cues shape our behavior (if we see pictures of upscale restaurants, we tend to improve our table manners; seeing Apple's logo makes people more creative, at least in lab experiments). Simply seeing green products, which symbolize high ethical standards and selflessness, causes people to unconsciously adjust their behavior to be more ethical and generous, in this case by sharing more money.
Buying green products—some of the volunteers were given $25 to spend in the green store, while others were given $25 to spend in the conventional store—had an entirely different effect. Volunteers who bought up to $25 worth of ecofriendly stuff from the green store shared less money ($1.76) than those who purchased from the conventional store ($2.18). (Just to be clear, the volunteers were not given a choice about which online store to patronize.) For the green buyers, altruism in the dictator game decreased. More alarming, when the green buyers were then given a chance to cheat on a computer game, and lie about it to the scientists in order to win more money—basically, to steal—they did. Buyers of conventional products did not. And in an honor system in which they took money from an envelope to pay themselves their winnings, the green buyers stole six times more than the conventional buyers did.
"In line with the halo associated with green consumerism…people act more altruistically after mere exposure to green products," Mazar and Zhong write in their upcoming paper. But they "act less altruistically and are more likely to cheat and steal after purchasing green products than after purchasing conventional products." Or, as Mazar put it to me, "we are more likely to transgress morally after we have bought ourselves some moral offsets" (analogous to carbon offsets: buy enough so you can drive that Hummer). It was especially striking that the moral balancing occurred in an area of life—being generous with money, cheating on a computer game—that has nothing to do with green behavior. "This suggests that if we want to change people's behavior for the better, we have to be sure it doesn't backfire," says Mazar—starting, perhaps, by eliminating the halo of self-congratulatory, smug virtuousness that surrounds green behavior.
The usual caveats for this kind of experiment apply. One hundred fifty-six university students may not be representative of society as a whole. The situation was artificial: playing the dictator game and the computer game, not helping a blind man across the street or volunteering at a soup kitchen. The amount of money at stake in the computer game where cheating and stealing were possible was small—less than $1. Still, as Mazar points out, the money was completely real to the volunteers, and she believes the findings do apply in the real world.
There is no telling how powerful the boomerang effect of compensatory ethics might be. If someone has just bought free-trade, shade-grown coffee, is he more likely to shove you out of his way? If she's just lugged her e-waste to the recycling center, is she more likely to cut in line at the bank? Just to be safe, I'm not letting my husband anywhere near our tax return after he weatherstrips our doors this weekend.
Sharon Begley is NEWSWEEK's science editor and author of Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves.
By Jody Bourton
Why do hammerhead sharks have such a famously strange-shaped head? One hypothesis is that having eyes on either side of such a wide 'hammer' allows the sharks to see better. But even this idea divides scientific opinion, as researchers argue over whether the hammerhead design makes it more or less difficult to see. The mystery may now be solved by a study showing that a hammerhead gives sharks outstanding binocular vision and an ability to see through 360 degrees. The finding is published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.
Debate over why hammerheads are shaped as they are goes back centuries, and arguments over their visual capabilities goes back decades, says Dr Michelle McComb from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida, US. For example, in 1948, zoologist Gordon Walls, a leading authority on vertebrate eye evolution, suggested that the position of a hammerhead shark's eye precluded it from having binocular vision. Yet in 1984, leading shark expert Leonard Campagno countered by suggesting that the distance between a hammerhead's eyes would actually give it excellent binocular vision. Binocular vision occurs when the fields of two eyes overlap, allowing the accurate perception of depth and distance. It is especially important for predators which need to judge the distance to their prey. However, despite its apparent importance, "frontal vision in hammerhead sharks has been speculated about for decades but never tested," says Dr McComb.
So she and colleagues Professor Timothy Tricas from the University of Hawaii in Manoa, US and Stephen Kajiura, also from Florida Atlantic University, decided to do exactly that. They placed a variety of shark species, each with a different shaped head, into an aquarium tank.They then placed sensors on the shark's skin to measure its brain activity, specifically testing whether the animal would react to beams of light shone from different locations around the tank. By doing so, they could measure each shark's field of vision. "This study confirmed that hammerhead sharks have anterior binocular vision," says Dr McComb. That means they can see directly ahead while swimming and can accurately judge distance, particularly to any prey they hunt.
What's more, the researchers show that the degree of overlap between the two eyes increases with head width. In sharks with a usual head, such as the lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris), the field of vision of each eye overlaps by just 10 degrees. Scalloped hammerheads (Sphyrna lewini) have a relatively wide head, and their eyes overlap by 32 degrees. However, the eyes of a winghead shark (Eusphyra blochii), which Dr McComb describes as a 'swimming boomerang' because its head width is almost half its body length, overlap by 48 degrees. "As the hammerhead head has expanded, the degree of binocular overlap has increased with it," Dr McComb explains.
The results surprised the researchers. "I believed hammerheads would not have binocular vision, because their eyes were pointing out on the sides of the head," admits Dr McComb."However, it turns out that the positioning of the eyes was really the key." The eyes of hammerhead sharks are tilted slightly forward, she says, allowing the field of vision of each to significantly overlap. "This study has confirmed that vision may have played a role in the evolution of one of the ocean's most bizarre inhabitants," Dr McComb says. "This has been a scientific question which has persisted since hammerheads were first described over 200 years ago."
The shape of the hammerhead brings further benefits, the researchers discovered. By moving their head sideways as they swim, the sharks can see much of what is behind them. More extraordinary is that the position of the eyes allows the sharks to see through 360 degrees in the vertical plane, meaning the animals can see above and below them at all times. As well as improving their ability to catch prey, "this may be beneficial to smaller sharks that are potential prey to larger sharks," says Dr McComb.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
By TARA PARKER-POPE
Dieters are often advised to stop drinking alcohol to avoid the extra calories lurking in a glass of wine or a favorite cocktail. But new research suggests that women who regularly consume moderate amounts of alcohol are less likely to gain weight than nondrinkers and are at lower risk for obesity.
The findings, reported this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, are based on a study of 19,220 United States women aged 39 or older who fall into the “normal weight” category based on their body mass index. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston tracked the women’s drinking habits over 13 years. About 60 percent of the women were light or regular drinkers, while about 40 percent reported drinking no alcohol.
Over the course of the study, 41 percent of the women became overweight or obese. Although alcohol is packed with calories (about 150 in a six-ounce glass of wine), the nondrinkers in the study actually gained more weight over time: nine pounds, on average, compared with an average gain of about three pounds among regular moderate drinkers. The risk of becoming overweight was almost 30 percent lower for women who consumed one or two alcohol beverages a day, compared with nondrinkers.
The findings are certain to be confusing for women who continue to receive conflicting messages about the health benefits and risks of alcohol. Although moderate drinking is associated with better heart health, regular drinking also increases breast cancer risk.
The trend toward less weight gain among drinkers doesn’t appear to hold true for men. A 2003 study of British men showed that regular drinkers gained more weight than nondrinkers. Studies suggest that drinking alcohol has different effects on eating habits among men and women. Men typically add alcohol to their daily caloric intake, whereas women are more likely to substitute alcohol for food. In the Archives study, women who drank alcohol reported fewer calories from food sources, particularly carbohydrates.
In addition, there may be differences in how men and women metabolize alcohol. Metabolic studies show that after men drink alcohol, they experience little if any metabolic change. But alcohol appears to slightly speed up a woman’s metabolism.
The link between consumption of red wine and less weight gain was particularly pronounced in the Archives study. Some studies have suggested that resveratrol, a compound present in grapes and red wine, appears to inhibit the development of fat cells and to have other antiobesity properties.
The findings don’t mean women should rush to drink alcohol to lose weight. Other research shows that once a person is already overweight, her alcohol metabolism is more efficient, and so an overweight woman may gain more weight from alcohol than a lean woman. The data do, however, suggest that for many women facing weight problems, the extra calories are probably not coming from alcoholic beverages.
Thanks to Linda V for the link!
First of all, its really interesting that the main point of the paper, which was to test whether or not prey DNA could be amplified from BONOBO feaces was possible, was omitted or barely reported on, in any of the media outlets.
Even more interesting is how eagerly journalists have been to jump on this new discovery even though the authors admit (in the title even!) that it may be an artefact. In fact, one blogger even goes on to attack Grit Schubert (who is an excellent scientist, woman and an author on the very paper that put the meat eating gorilla hypothesis forth) for suggesting that gorillas do not eat meat and accusing her of being a scientist all too ready to cover up "the facts". There is over 20 years of consistent, behavioural data from field researchers from multiple sites across the western gorilla range who have been painstakingly following gorillas EVERY DAY and have never observed them to consume meat. Relying on some inconclusive genetic results over mountains of behavioural data is not biased, it's rational.
I think Linda Vigilant puts it best in her PLosOne comment:
Did we learn anything from this study?
It is interesting that a study can be published in a peer-reviewed journal even though the title admits that the results may all be artefacts. It would not be hard to do a controlled study on this topic. There are groups of well-habituated chimpanzees where one could collect fecal samples after they have been observed to consume meat, and conversely there are well-studied wild gorillas that have never been observed to consume vertebrate prey. And to control for contamination of the fecal samples in the field, once could try amplifications from soil samples. Then it might be possible to actually say whether molecular analysis of primate diets using feces is useful or not, and perhaps even produce some believable results.
Full disclosure, Linda Vigilant and Grit Schubert are colleagues of mine at the MPI-EVA - MA
Monday, March 8, 2010
The "What are you carrying?" video can be found HERE
Thanks to Chrissie E for the link
A population of Sumatran orangutan has been found in Batan Toru forest in North Sumatra, but their number had not yet been determined. The population, found in areas located in South Tapanuli, North Tapanuli and Central Tapanuli, is believed to be the first found this year. Last year, an orangutan population was found in Dairi regency. Nasir Siregar, a resident of Sipirok in South Tapanuli, said he found four big orangutan nests in the forest. "Based on their location, it's unlikely the nests are made by animals other than orangutans," he said.
Spokesman for the Orangutan Conservation Services Program (OCSP) in Sumatra, Erwinsyah, said on Wednesday that at the sites found last year, the orangutans were estimated to number around 200. "We still don't know the number of Sumatran orangutans *in the wild*," he said. Data from Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation in 2005 cited 7,334 Sumatran orangutans were found in the wild, mostly in Aceh and small part of them in south of North Sumatra.
Friday, March 5, 2010
By Pallab Ghosh
A review from the UK Met Office says it is becoming clearer that human activities are causing climate change. It says the evidence is stronger now than when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change carried out its last assessment in 2007. The analysis, published in the Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews Climate Change Journal, has assessed 110 research papers on the subject. It says the earth is changing rapidly, probably because of greenhouse gases.
In 2007 the IPCC's report concluded that there was "unequivocal" evidence that the Earth was warming and it was likely that it was due to burning of fossil fuels. Since then the evidence that human activities are responsible for a rise in temperatures has increased, according to this new assessment by Dr Peter Stott and colleagues at the UK Met Office.
The study, which looks at research published since the IPCC's report, has found that changes in Arctic sea ice, atmospheric moisture, saltiness of parts of the Atlantic Ocean and temperature changes in the Antarctic are consistent with human influence on our climate. "What this study shows is that the evidence has strengthened for human influence on climate and we know that because we've looked at evidence across the climate system and what this shows very clearly is a consistent picture of a warming world," said Dr Stott.
The study brings together other research from a range of disciplines. "We hadn't [until now] looked in detail at how the climate system was changing," says Dr Stott. "[Our paper looks at] not just the temperatures but also the reducing Arctic sea ice and it includes changing rainfall patterns and it includes the fact that the atmosphere is getting more humid. "And all these different aspects of the climate system are adding up to a picture of the effects of a human influence on our climate."
The Met Office study said that it was harder to find a firm link between climate change and individual extreme weather conditions - even though models predicted that extreme events were more likely. According to the report: "Extremes pose a particular challenge, since rare events are by definition, poorly sampled in the historical record and many challenges remain for robustly attributing regional changes in extreme events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes."
The Met Office study comes at a time when some have questioned the entire basis of climate science following recent controversies over the handling of research findings by the IPCC and the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.
Dr Stott denies that the study has been published as part of a fight back by the climate research community. "We started writing this paper a year ago. I think it's important to communicate to people what the science is showing and that's why I'm talking about this paper."
Story from BBC NEWS: