Tag Archives: Science

Judgement Day

By Cato

Step 1: Turn on speakers
Step 2: Open this video in a different window.
Step 3: Read this news story while the previous link plays in the background.


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Could The Shutdown/Debt Ceiling Cost Republicans The House?

Because the American people are a fickle bunch, the usual order of things is that the sitting President’s party loses seats in the House during the midterm election. Conventional wisdom would then lead one to accept the points expressed by The New Republic and Real Clear Politics in their estimation(s) that it’s unlikely Democrats will overturn the Republican majority in 12 months. The rule has exceptions, of course. Clinton’s Democrats actually picked up a few seats in 1998, following Speaker Newt Gingrich’s 21 day government shutdown.

It’s been reiterated quite exhaustingly that one of the main reasons Republicans have been able to keep the House despite losing the national popular vote to Democrats by 1.5% is that they enjoy the considerable majority of gerrymandered districts. In short, Democrats needed to win the House by a margin of more than 7% to become the majority party.

Fast forward to today. If this WaPo/ABC news poll is any indication (and I’d like to think it is), the country soundly puts the blame of the shutdown and the upcoming debt ceiling disaster on the shoulders of the GOP.


But while public opinion of the GOP might be very low, commentators have rightly noted that President Obama garners considerable blame (deservedly or not) for the current Washington impasse. That may be true, but luckily for the President and his party, Obama is not running for re-election in the next 12 months. That point led Public Policy Polling to conduct a set of district-level polls meant for ascertaining Congressional preference — which has, in the past, tracked the national vote pretty closely. So, PPP set out to survey 24 congressional districts held by Republicans, and asked voters there to chose between their current Congressional representative and a Democrat. Here are their results, plotted against last year’s election result:

It’s important to note that we’re talking about surveys taken during a government shutdown explicitly engineered by Congressional Republicans, but the results show that Democrats swung 23 races (below the red line) while Republicans held one race (above the red line). If the results hold (and I don’t expect them to), Democrats will win the House. Comfortably.

I say I don’t expect this to last because, well, Americans have the tendency to forget about things like the shutdown when it comes time to vote. The midterm elections are still a long away off to where Republicans can successfully coerce their constituents to re-elect them to the House. I do expect Democrats to pick up some votes, which is not totally inconsequential since they’d be able to force the chamber to actually vote on resolutions that Boehner refuses to allow.

The survey doesn’t take into account how voters will feel about House Republicans if the Government hits the debt ceiling, but given the plausible disaster that would ensue if such a thing were allowed to happen, when compounded with the shutdown and the [still] terrible sequester, these results could hold true to the midterm, and possibly even increase.

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Forget The Pill, Meet The Pullout Generation

Suprise Yr Pregnant

Over at the Cut, Ann Friedman has a really great piece introducing us to something she calls the “pullout generation”, where large numbers of women — usually in their 30’s — are using the old school pullout method as their primary means of birth control:

These women describe a deliberate transition from the pill to the pullout. They buy organic kale and all-natural cleaning products, and so can’t quite get down with taking synthetic hormones every day. They are more driven by sexual pleasure — they see orgasms as a right, not a privilege — and hate the feel of condoms. They wouldn’t call themselves porn aficionados or anything, but they don’t think it’s demeaning to have a man come on them. They’re sick of supposedly egalitarian relationships in which they bear the sole responsibility for staying baby-free. They’re scared to stick an IUD up there, no matter how many rave reviews the devices get. And despite the fact that non-hormonal contraceptive options remain frustratingly limited, there are new tools at their disposal: With period-tracker apps, charting your menstrual cycle is no longer the domain of hippies and IVF patients. They know when to make him put on a condom. Plus, they can keep a packet of Plan B on hand at all times, ready and waiting should anything go awry.

Far be it for me to advise women how to go about not getting pregnant, but if you’re one of the women who prefers the pullout method, just know that you’re playing with fire — and by fire I mean you’re putting way too much trust and credit in the hands of your male counterpart, who probably has the tendency to forget what to do when the end draws near. If you’re totally certain that you don’t want to have a baby right now, the pullout method should rank pretty low (and I mean at the bottom) on your list of acceptable birth control regimens.

(Photo: Anthony Easton)

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What The Rest Of The World Thinks Of US

U.S Military Forces in Bosnia - Operation Joint Endeavor

Paul Waldman provides timely perspective on how the rest of the world feels about U.S. military action since 1963:

Some of these operations worked out very well, others didn’t. And just to be clear, this history doesn’t tell us whether bombing Syria is a good idea or a bad idea. But if you’re wondering why people all over the world view the United States as an arrogant bully, reserving for itself the right to rain down death from above on anyone it pleases whenever it pleases, well there you go. It doesn’t matter whether you think some or even all of those actions were completely justified and morally defensible. From here, we tend to look at each of these engagements in isolation, asking whether there are good reasons to go in and whether we can accomplish important goals for ourselves and others. But when when a new American military campaign begins, people in the rest of the world see it in this broader historical context.

If you take a longer look at the list he provides (and do some basic math), you’ll find that the United States has launched one significant overseas assault every three years since 1963 — or every 40 months. Kevin Drum laments how little of this resonates with the American people:

Too many Americans have a seriously blinkered view of our interventions overseas, viewing them as one-offs to be evaluated on their individual merits. But when these things happen once every three years, against a backdrop of almost continuous smaller-scale military action (drone attacks, the odd cruise missile here and there, sending “advisors” over to help an ally, etc.), the rest of the world just doesn’t see it that way. They don’t see a peaceful country that struggles mightily with its conscience and only occasionally makes a decision to drop a bunch of bombs. They see a country that views dropping bombs as its primary means of dealing with any country weaker than we are.

Considering the rate at which we’ve launched bombs against foreign states the past 50 years, we’re actually ahead of schedule for the next round. It’s only been two years since Libya.

(Photo: U.S. military forces in Bosnia — operation Joint Endeavor, by Expert Infantry)

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Study Finds That Merely Thinking About Science Triggers Moral Behavior

Science Alive

According to researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara, simply thinking about science triggers moral behavior:

They hypothesized that there is a deep-seated perception of science as a moral pursuit — its emphasis on truth-seeking, impartiality and rationality privileges collective well-being above all else. Their new study, published in the journal PLOSOne, argues that the association between science and morality is so ingrained that merely thinking about it can trigger more moral behavior.

The researchers conducted four separate studies to test this. The first sought to establish a simple correlation between the degree to which individuals believed in science and their likelihood of enforcing moral norms when presented with a hypothetical violation. Participants read a vignette of a date-rape and were asked to rate the “wrongness” of the offense before answering a questionnaire measuring their belief in science. Indeed, those reporting greater belief in science condemned the act more harshly.

Participants were “primed” with scientific buzzwords, and were then administered a series of “moral quizzes”:

Participants first completed a word scramble task during which they either had to unscramble some of these science-related words or words that had nothing to do with science. They then either read [a story about date-rape] and answered the same questions regarding the severity of that transgression (Study 2), reported the degree to which they intended to perform a variety of altruistic actions over the next month (Study 3), or engaged in a behavioral economics task known as the dictator game (Study 4). …

Across all these different measures, the researchers found consistent results. Simply being primed with science-related thoughts increased a) adherence to moral norms, b) real-life future altruistic intentions, and c) altruistic behavior towards an anonymous other. The conceptual association between science and morality appears strong.

(Photo: Simon Fraser University)

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Californians Use Less Electricity Than Everyone Else — Here’s Why

Given the fact that we enjoy the best weather known to mankind, I won’t gloat too heavily that the average Californian uses roughly 33 percent less electricity at home than the average American as a whole.

But it is gloat-worthy and actually pretty surprising that California’s electricity use has stayed mostly flat for the last four decades, when the rate of use in the rest of the U.S. has dramatically increased. Plumer has the numbers:

Since 1960, household electricity use in the rest of the United States has more than tripled, climbing past 12,000 kWh per person on average (although it has plateaued of late). By contrast, in California, electricity use per capita doubled in the 1960s but then more or less stopped growing for the next four decades.


Plumer goes on to cite a working paper by “Georgetown economist Arik Levinson, which argues that a few “long-run trends” — things unrelated to energy policy — can explain about 88 percent of the growing gap in electricity use between California and the rest of the country.”

First, there’s climate — though not in the way you might think. Everyone knows that California has lovely weather, and its residents use less air conditioning. But the real story, Levinson suggests, is what’s going on in the rest of the country. More and more Americans have been moving to hotter regions in the South and West and cranking the A/C as they get wealthier. That explains about one-third of the disparity in electricity use.

Demographics are another underrated factor. In most of the United States, the number of people per household has been shrinking over the last 50 years. That has a big impact on electricity use: A person with his own home uses more power than a person sharing a house with others. But, oddly enough, household size has stayed roughly flat in California over this period. That fact alone accounts for 40 percent of the gap in electricity use.

So, no real lessons here for the rest of the world to emulate. Both Plumer and Levinson correctly note that California’s efficiency standards have played an important role in keeping the red-line steady. But we’re basically just really fortunate to live in a place where 60 degrees is considered cold.

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Chart(s) Of The Day: Peace On The Horizon?


No, we aren’t going to live in a world without war, but the chart above and the corresponding work attributed to it show that as a global society, we’re devoting a smaller percentage of manpower and income to the military industry:

The black line is the average across countries of military spending as a percentage of GDP, using the Correlates of War (COW) estimate of total spending divided by World Bank GDP figures (which only start in 1960). The red line is the average across countries of armed forces per 1,000 population, again using COW estimates.

You see really striking long-run declines in the West, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and Asia. In these areas it almost looks as if demobilization from World War II has taken place gradually and over 60+ years. In Latin America and North Africa/Middle East, you see pretty striking declines since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps some decline in subSaharan Africa since around 2000.

One possible long-term explanation? Democracy:

On the domestic side of things, there is pretty good evidence that the spread of democracy has been a significant factor. Not worth getting into the details here, but if you look at the data country by country you find that on average, when countries transition to democracy their military spending and army sizes go down, quite substantially.* In fact they tend to go down when they transition from very autocratic to only somewhat autocratic (that is, to “anocracies”, or semi-democracies using the Polity data).

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So You Want To Live Forever? Americans Say No.

Pew Research on Tuesday released a really eye-opening survey that posed to Americans this question: would you — with the help of life-extending science and medicine — prefer to live until 120 or more, or die earlier? The majority of Americans chose the latter.


In fact, most Americans answered that they thought the “ideal” lifespan hovered somewhere between 79 and 100 years old. Only 4 percent said that they would want to live beyond that.


The reason I’d fall within the 78 and 100 range is because I don’t want my latter years to consist of me in a degenerative state being a nuisance on my family (assuming I have one). But Pew identified some other pointed reasons as to why Americans are trepidatious of extending lifespans — not only for themselves, but for the rest of society as well. Many respondents were weary that any sort of treatment program to extend life would be offered before the science was sound, thus having potential side effects. Most — and I would be one of these — said that extended lifespans would have serious consequences on natural resources. And a majority simply agreed that extending life to 120 years — like this National Geographic cover suggests — would be “fundamentally unnatural”.


I do think that extending lifespans would cause undue harm to natural resources. Then again, if people live longer, they can theoretically work longer, meaning that the already archaic rule of “retire by 65” could be pushed to somewhere like 80. That would assume of course that there would be plenty of jobs to go around (there isn’t). But I have to think that most Americans, and really most people in general, would be more optimistic about living longer lives if they were confident that their later years would be at least semi-productive.

Anyway, i’m not greedy. Give me 80 good years and i’ll leave with no complaints.

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Best of the Week


I’ll be away for the weekend — taking a little vacation to celebrate my brother’s upcoming wedding — so we’re rounding up a bit early this time. The most popular post of the week was Some Russian Perspective for the American LBGT Community.

Other selected posts included The Economy of Low Expectations, Ben Stein Really Wants You To Appreciate Richard Milhous Nixon, Hawaii To Offer Its Homeless Population One-Way Tickets Back To The Mainland, Manning Found Not Guilty Of “Aiding The Enemy”, and finally the expected but still mind boggling Republicans Reject Obama’s “Grand Bargain” Tax Proposal Sight Unseen.

Thanks for reading, more next week.


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Jeffrey Toobin, Glenn Greenwald Debate Bradley Manning Verdict, Government Leaks (Video)


CNN and New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald had a spirited debate Tuesday night on the verdict reached in the Bradley Manning trial, and government leaks in general.

Toobin began by admitting that the “aiding the enemy” charge — of which Manning was justly acquitted — was excessive, but went on to laud the verdict as a whole, one which will almost undoubtedly result in life in a military prison for Manning. Greenwald pulled no punches in his defense of Manning and government leaks, labeling it “bizarre” and “baffling” that someone who calls himself a journalist would openly call for the criminal prosecution — and indeed persecution — of such an important leaker.

“And the thing that I find most bizarre is that anybody who would go into the field of journalism or call themselves a journalist who would call for the prosecution and imprisonment for decades of a source like Bradley Manning, who as I said didn’t publish anything top secret the way that most sources for large media outlets in America do all the time, it’s baffling. What Bradley Manning did is the job of journalists, which is to bring transparency to what the government is doing.”

Toobin fired back by arguing that despite the effect of the leaked documents, the decision to disclose them was not up to Bradley Manning:

“But it’s not up to Bradley Manning to make the decision to disclose this. These are people, the people who wrote those cables have devoted their lives to trying to make the world a better place, particularly Foreign Service Officers. You know, maybe you disagree about that, Glenn, but I admire the Foreign Service a great deal and I trust their judgment about what’s a secret a lot more than I do Bradley Manning.”

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Proving Global Warming True In 13 Seconds (Video)

Data courtesy of NASA, in case you were wondering.

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Best Of The Week


The most popular post of the week — and consequently the most read post during any week long stretch — was my polemic against our president and his plan to arm Syrian rebel groups, entitled Buckle Up America, We’re About To Enter Another War.

Other popular posts included the Latest Conservative Plan To Derail Obamacare The Most Sinister Yet, a funny but important report which found that Only Old People Watch Fox News Anymore, the unfortunate but expected details exposed in Rep. Steve King, Cantaloupe Calves, And The GOP’s White Racial Panic, my defense of centrism in Does “The Center” Still Exist, and finally in response to the inane hoopla surrounding the birth of a baby, I lamented American awe of the British House of Windsor in A Royal Fetishization.

See you all Monday!


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Photo Of The Day: Just A Speck In The Universe


See the tiny blue speck? That’s earth. NASA JPL explains the beautiful shot:

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself). At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic. This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.

Earth, which is 898 million miles (1.44 billion kilometers) away in this image, appears as a blue dot at center right; the moon can be seen as a fainter protrusion off its right side. An arrow indicates their location in the annotated version. (The two are clearly seen as separate objects in the accompanying narrow angle frame: PIA14949.) The other bright dots nearby are stars.

Now back to the royal baby.

(Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

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UCLA Study Finds That Sex Addiction Is Not A Disease: You’re Just Horny!


I have two so-called “controversial” theories that people have actually gotten angry with me over. The first is that obesity is not an illness — you just like eating. The second is that sex-addiction is the stupidest thing i’ve ever heard — you’re just horny.

UCLA just proved my second theory right:

Actors Tiger Woods, Russell Brand and David Duchovny all blamed their copious amounts of sex on a disorder: sex addition.

But UCLA researchers say sex addiction does not appear to be a disorder, according to their study, which appears in the current online edition of the journal Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology.

The study involved 39 men and 13 women who reported having problems controlling their viewing of sexual images. UCLA scientist Nicole Prause and her colleagues monitored the volunteers’ brains while showing them erotic images.

“If they indeed suffer from hypersexuality, or sexual addiction, their brain response to visual sexual stimuli could be expected to be higher, in much the same way that the brains of cocaine addicts have been shown to react to images of the drug in other studies,” a UC press release on the study explained.

According to CBS, “sex-addiction” affects 16 million Americans. Well now it affects zero Americans because it’s not a real thing. Hurray science!

Here’s the actual abstract for you nerds:

“Modulation of sexual desires is, in some cases, necessary to avoid inappropriate or illegal sexual behavior (downregulation of sexual desire) or to engage with a romantic partner (upregulation of sexual desire). Some have suggested that those who have difficulty downregulating their sexual desires be diagnosed as having a sexual “addiction”. This diagnosis is thought to be associated with sexual urges that feel out of control, high-frequency sexual behavior, consequences due to those behaviors, and poor ability to reduce those behaviors. However, such symptoms also may be better understood as a non-pathological variation of high sexual desire. Hypersexuals are thought to be relatively sexual reward sensitized, but also to have high exposure to visual sexual stimuli. Thus, the direction of neural responsivity to sexual stimuli expected was unclear. If these individuals exhibit habituation, their P300 amplitude to sexual stimuli should be diminished; if they merely have high sexual desire, their P300 amplitude to sexual stimuli should be increased. Neural responsivity to sexual stimuli in a sample of hypersexuals could differentiate these two competing explanations of symptoms.”

(photo by flickr user Jean Koulev)

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Does Culture Make A Difference For P.T.S.D. In Soldiers?

In memory

One of the more underreported consequences of the terrible wars our country waged in Iraq and Afghanistan is the effect of P.T.S.D. — post traumatic stress disorder — on our military men and women. But while the rate of soldiers who suffer from P.T.S.D. in the U.S. ranges between 10 to 17 percent, the number is far lower when compared to veterans from the UK, who clock in somewhere closer to 4 percent. David J. Morris explains the difference, and debunks the theory that British soldiers have just found ways to deal with it better than their American counterparts:

P.T.S.D. cannot be reduced to a simple matter of differing cultural attitudes. Within the field of P.T.S.D. research, there is a concept known as “the dose-response curve.” In simple terms, the more horror and death you are exposed to, the more likely you are to experience post-traumatic stress. (This is not limited to shooting combat; it encapsulates exposure to any life-threatening danger.) And Americans have been exposed to a lot more horror and death than their British counterparts.

When I asked Matt Friedman, the director of the National Center for P.T.S.D., about the differing diagnosis rates and what this might mean for American psychiatry, he seemed to grow irritated. “The Brits were down in Basra. Ain’t nothing happening down in Basra,” he said. In a letter responding to the original Lancet study that compared P.T.S.D. rates of American and British veterans, Charles Hoge and Carl Castro, P.T.S.D. researchers at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, made this very point, writing that “only 17% of UK service members reported discharging their weapon, compared with 77-87% of US service members; 32% of UK service members reported coming under small arms fire, compared with more than 90% of US service members.”

Morris then turns his attention to American attitudes on P.T.S.D., and how exactly we are failing our men and women in uniform who desperately need help:

The growing criticism of our current understanding of P.T.S.D. suggests that what was once ignored or treated as a failure of character—the soldier’s weakness—has now been medicalized to the exclusion of discussing its moral and spiritual dimensions. “It feels to me as if the U.S. civilian population has pathologized the veteran experience,” Elliott Woods, an Iraq veteran-turned-reporter, told me not long ago. “One well-intentioned person said to me the other day, ‘I can’t see how anyone could go to Iraq and not come back with P.T.S.D.’ ” Yet our social mechanisms for dealing with that problem are weaker than they should be.

One of the more harrowing statistics to come out of the last decade of war is related to military suicide – now an epidemic. In 2012, there were more suicides in the military than there were causualities in Afghanistan: 292 combat deaths to 349 suicides. The pervasive problem of P.T.S.D. is something our veterans will seriously struggle to shrug off. Some for the entirety of their lives.

(photo by Kevin Dooley)

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