Digest: 21 May 2014




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In Why Outdoor Schools Make Kids Happier–and Smarter, David Sobel (for YES! Magazine via AlterNet) discusses the indoor-ification of education where kindergarten aged children are spending less time playing and more time preparing for and taking tests. The initial idea for kindergarten involved play and being outside, but as the perceived importance of a narrower field of literary and math skills has increased, the amount of time left over for physical education and outdoor activities has decreased. Schools in the US and EU are responding by holding classes outside in the woods, allowing more time for play and exploration. Early observations suggest a correlation between play and later executive functioning skills and a decrease in behavioral problems in the children that spent more time outside.


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In Landmark Class Action, Farmers Insurance Sues Local Governments For Ignoring Climate Change, Ari Philips (for ThinkProgress) discusses the lawsuit and the more generally the role of insurance companies in the mitigation of climate change. Farmers is looking to be compensated for payouts made in the aftermath of flooding in Chicago. They claim that the defendants, nearly 200 Chicago-area municipalities, failed to adequately prepare despite knowledge of climate change and its likely effects. Some insurance industry organizations have been vocal about the importance of an early response to climate change, but others have not responded sufficiently. Insurance typically is priced on historical data, but it is thought now that predictive risk assessments will be required.

In ESA’s Cryosat Mission See Antarctic Ice Losses Double, Jonathan Amos (for BBC News) discusses the satellite, its capabilities, and its findings.  The Cryosat satellite is able to more accurately map the ground by using a novel radar system measures not only height but also the slopes and ridges of ice sheets. The findings give a more accurate picture of the amount of ice in Antarctica and the extent to which it is thinning. The “western ice sheet” has been melting fastest. It includes the Amundsen Sea Embayment where six glaciers are rapidly retreating. One of these has been thinning by as much as nine meters per year. The loss of all six would raise ocean levels by 1.2 meters.


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In Our Children Really Are Facing a Mental Health Crisis, Madeleine Bunting (for The Guardian) discusses the rising trend of mental health problems in UK children and adolescents.  Bunting argues “we are raising children who are ill”, and while the topic should be a top priority for government, it isn’t. A major factor is the effect of the internet in homes – it breaks through the protective screen that the home once provided. Children, once sheltered from markets until maturity, are now direct participants – available to be exploited. The consequences of this socialization of children will be disastrous, particularly for the poor.

In Writing About a Life of Ideas, Richard Reeves (for The New York Times) discusses approaches to biography, and how when writing about intellectuals the biography is mainly to be found in the ideas that are left behind. However, casting those ideas against the backdrop of a person’s life, even if an otherwise unremarkable one, can shed light on the ideas and further inform us of their context and meaning.

In Thousands of Toddlers Are Medicated for A.D.H.D., Report Finds, Raising Worries, Alan Schwarz (for The New York Times) discusses how drugs like Ritalin and Adderall are being prescribed to toddlers and 2 or 3 year olds in the US despite no barely any data on the safety of such drugs for such young children. The drugs seem to be prescribed to a far greater extent through claims under Medicaid than through private insurance.  The reason for this discrepancy is unclear, but unstable home environments can contribute to behavior that can be diagnosed as ADHD. Instead of working to fix those environments, it is easier to just prescribe children drugs – as many as fourteen thousand toddlers in the US are currently being given ADHD medication.