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TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

TWP: Bacteria Evolved to Save the Planet. Can We?

After millions of years of gloriously successful life on Earth, a dangerous new organism arose and spread rapidly across the planet. Mankind? No. Two billion years ago the delinquent organisms were cyanobacteria, the first photosynthetic life forms to give off pure oxygen gas, a chemical deadly to all extant organisms. There may be surprising parallels between the, eventually positive, cyanobacteria impact 2 billion years ago and human impact today. Human beings too are a self-inflicted biosphere disaster in progress, but, in the extremely long-term, we could be just what the planet needs. We have much to learn before we become guardians rather than despoilers of Earth. If our destiny is to safeguard life’s future, it’s time our apprenticeship began.

AJA: 1.2m Veterans Lack Health Insurance

AJA: 1.2m Veterans Lack Health Insurance

A study published in The Lancet sheds light on a little-discussed issue affecting U.S. military veterans – a lack of health insurance coverage. Using numbers from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the authors determined that more than 1.2 million veterans lacked health insurance in 2012, in line with previous studies that came to similar conclusions.

PS: Emissions Reduction Numbers

PS: Emissions Reduction Numbers

A loose system of individual commitments, in which each country unilaterally sets emissions targets, can help build trust and momentum for a more inclusive successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But if such a system is to work, general agreement would need to exist about what constitutes a fair target for each country. Fortunately, a study of the emissions targets to which countries have already agreed allows us to describe, and even quantify, what has historically been considered fair and reasonable.

WP: Weird War Over Mayonnaise

WP: Weird War Over Mayonnaise

A big-money war is brewing over the meaning of America’s best-selling condiment: mayonnaise. Food giant Unilever has sued the San Francisco start-up behind Just Mayo, an egg-less, mayonnaise-like sandwich spread. Brand disputes typically quibble over words, not the definition of the product itself. But the very modern legal battle will be fought on regulatory territory that is decades old. The FDA’s definition of mayo was set in 1957.

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

HP: Scientists Create Telepathy

Telepathy is the stuff of science fiction. But what if the dystopian futurists were on to something? What if our brains could directly interact with each other, bypassing the need for language? The idea isn’t quite so far fetched, according to a recent University of Washington study in which researchers successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain communication between two people.

AJ: Palestinians Remind World of Their Own Wall

AJ: Palestinians Remind World of Their Own Wall

Palestinian youth have dug a hole in Israel’s separation wall with the Palestinian territories, as a symbolic gesture to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Palestinians refer to the current wall separating the West Bank from Israel as the “apartheid wall”. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier “causes serious humanitarian and legal problems” and goes “far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power”.

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

FA: Operation Sigmund Freud

The cessation of major combat operations is often followed by a long period of asymmetric war, in which success can not be achieved through traditional combat. In this new phase of warfare, psychology’s core competencies of understanding individual and group behavior—of both the enemy and one’s own forces—then become the key to success.

MJ: Bee-Killing Pesticides Useless

MJ: Bee-Killing Pesticides Useless

So, there’s this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right? Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

RE: How Ebola Spreads

RE: How Ebola Spreads

For Ebola Zaire to become airborne in humans, it would need to cause lung disease significant enough to release lots of virus into respiratory secretions. The virus would then need to survive outside the body, dried and in sunlight for a prolonged time. And it would need to be able to infect another person more than a couple feet away. There’s no evidence from previous epidemics or laboratory experiments that Ebola Zaire behaves in this way.

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

WWF: Half of Global Wildlife Lost

Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.

BL: Germany’s Expensive Success

BL: Germany’s Expensive Success

The Energiewende will go on despite its obvious setbacks. There are countries in Europe that already generate more than half of their electricity from renewable sources, such as Sweden, and others that are getting there, such as Austria, and the continent’s biggest economy is trying hard to catch up. The German government’s determination to experiment, and citizens’ continued willingness to pay for these experiments if they lead to a cleaner future, carry important lessons for the U.S. and other countries where politicians are afraid of the kind of upheavals that Germany has faced.

NYT: Errors and Emissions

NYT: Errors and Emissions

Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news? Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

MIT: Tech Fix For Medicine?

After decades as a technological laggard, medicine has entered its data age. Mobile technologies, sensors, genome sequencing, and advances in analytic software now make it possible to capture vast amounts of information about our individual makeup and the environment around us. The sum of this information could transform medicine.

BBC: One Third US Birds in Decline

BBC: One Third US Birds in Decline

The State of the Birds report, the most comprehensive review of bird trends and data ever undertaken in the US, makes clear that birds across the US are in deep trouble. Almost half of all shorebird species, such as ruddy turnstones, red knots and piping plovers, are either endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. In Hawaii the situation is even worse. “Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world,” says Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center.

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

TG: Centre for the Study of Existential Risk

The four founders of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Desgupta and philosopher Huw Price, are in the business of “horizon scanning” – identifying low-probability-but-high-consequence events – and are concerned mainly with risks we have created ourselves – the consequences of being too clever for our own good. One prominent risk is that artificial intelligence (AI) will outcompete our own for predominance, ultimately allowing AI to relate to humans much as humans currently do to chimpanzees. There is also the risk of the deliberate or accidental release of a virus with a modified genome, the adoption of stratospheric aerosol geo-engineering, and the use of 3-D printers to create military-grade weapons.

NG: The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health

NG: The 1,300 Bird Species Facing Extinction Signal Threats to Human Health

For all their superhero powers, birds are in trouble. Globally, one in eight—more than 1,300 species—are threatened with extinction, and many others are in worrying decline, from the tropics to the poles. Much of their decline is driven by the loss of places to live and breed—their marshes, rivers, forests, and plains—or by diminished food supply. But more and more these days, the birds are telling us about new threats to the environment and potentially to human health in the coded language of biochemistry. Birds provide the starkest clues in the animal kingdom about whether humans, too, may be harmed by toxic substances. And they prophesy what might happen to us as the load of carbon-based, planet-warming gases in the atmosphere and oceans climbs ever higher.

TT: Science Behind Savagery

TT: Science Behind Savagery

As Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria butcher thousands of “infidels” and carry off their women and children into slavery, many in the West are inclined to see this as an unique outcrop of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet Bosnian Serb – ostensibly Christian – forces, massacred 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. Hutu genocide of Tutsi in Rwanda, Khmer Rouge mass-murder of Cambodian city-dwellers, Nazi genocide of Jews, Gypsies and the disabled…. What, then are the origins of savagery, if they cannot be ascribed to a single religion or ideology?

DS: New Recycling Economy

DS: New Recycling Economy

Every piece of garbage can be turned into raw material that can be used in future products. With his influential Cradle to Cradle movement, Germany’s Michael Braungart espouses a form of eco-hedonism that puts smart production before conservation. In Braungart’s universe, every product is basically designed to either decompose without causing any harm or to be recycled without loss of quality. His vision is of a planet on which no garbage accumulates, because all waste becomes food.

MIT: The History Inside Us

MIT: The History Inside Us

Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, has shown that if only a few of the trillions of cells in a body escape destruction, a genome may survive for tens of thousands of years. For a long time, we have seen the genome as a tool for predicting the future, but it may have even more to tell us about the past. Geneticists are finding ways to explore not just big events but also the dynamics of populations through time.

AJA: Death of Our Clown

AJA: Death of Our Clown

Comedy, no less than tragedy, is cathartic, and catharsis requires us to delve deep into the barest and bloodiest facts of our existence. Humor is an antidote to — or at least an analgesic for — a condition we’re all suffering from. I would call this condition clarity, not depression; humor and depression are two different, but not mutually exclusive, responses to it. Depression condemns the world, and us, as hateful; laughter is a way of forgiving it, and ourselves, for being so.

NC: The Carnage of Capitalism

NC: The Carnage of Capitalism

Capitalism is expanding like a tumor in the body of American society, spreading further into vital areas of human need like health and education. Not coincidentally, as inequality has surged since the 1980s, the number of administrators at private universities has doubled. Administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. As with education, the extremes forced upon us by free-market health care are nearly beyond belief.

AJ: School Nutrition Association

AJ: School Nutrition Association

A bitter fight erupted when the School Nutrition Association decided to oppose nutrition improvements to federally subsidized school meals. Michelle Obama has made the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 one of her top causes. The result is an unfortunate standoff between the White House and the SNA’s current leadership. Why did the SNA reverse its earlier position supporting healthier school meals?

DS: Gaza Youth Radicalization

DS: Gaza Youth Radicalization

Above all else, the recent Gaza conflict has demonstrated that there is no military solution to the problem. Every confrontation in recent years, each new round of reciprocal killings, has pushed more people to the radical fringes. There is no way around the need to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip, and it is in Israel’s interest to recognize that imperative.

NYT: What Science Says About Marijuana

NYT: What Science Says About Marijuana

Marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; but, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking. Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances.

TA: Secrets of the Creative Brain

TA: Secrets of the Creative Brain

What differences in nature and nurture can explain why some people suffer from mental illness and some do not? And why are so many of the world’s most creative minds among the most afflicted? Although many people continue to equate intelligence with genius, having a high IQ is not equivalent to being highly creative. Rather, creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections, and seeing things in an original way—seeing things that others cannot see. So why do these highly gifted people experience mental illness at a higher-than-average rate? One interesting paradox that has emerged during conversations with subjects about their creative processes is that, though many of them suffer from mood and anxiety disorders, they associate their gifts with strong feelings of joy and excitement.

NYT: Repeal Prohibition, Again

NYT: Repeal Prohibition, Again

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

DS: The Children of War

DS: The Children of War

Ahmed is hungry. Eyes closed, he clutches his mother’s breast and drinks, oblivious to everything around him. He ignores the rattling of the ceiling fan, dangling precariously. And he doesn’t notice the dull thuds that cause the walls to shake and his mother, Marwat al-Asasma, to cringe. Sometimes his body trembles, and he balls his tiny hands into fists. Her son now weighs a little over three kilograms (6.6 lbs.), says al-Asasma, 18, and he is healthy and gaining weight. She sounds as if she can hardly believe what she is saying. Ahmed is just over two weeks old — born in the night when the Israelis sent their first tanks to the Gaza Strip border. Ahmed is both a child of the war and one of its victims. Ten days after he was born, he lost his father, his grandparents and his home. His mother doesn’t know how much is left of the family house. She remembers only dust and smoke, but is trying to forget even that.

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

TG: Climate Models’ Accurate Prediction

Predicting global surface temperature changes in the short-term is a challenge for climate models. Temperature changes over periods of a decade or two can be dominated by influences from ocean cycles like El Niño and La Niña. We can’t yet predict ahead of time how these cycles will change. A new paper led by James Risbey just out in Nature Climate Change takes a clever approach to evaluating how accurate climate model temperature predictions have been while getting around the noise caused by natural cycles.

ALA: Facebook’s Data Mining

ALA: Facebook’s Data Mining

The reason Facebook would want data on manipulating users’ emotions should be obvious. It’s the reason the company has been moving in on social location apps, health tracking and the “quantified self” trend of turning one’s lifestyle into a report card of easily digestible numbers. To Facebook, any and all domains of human experience should be accessible for capture and monetization. By buying virtual reality start-up Oculus VR, Facebook is likely setting itself up to harvest and experiment with intimate data from that domain as well.

BBC: Learning in Your Sleep

BBC: Learning in Your Sleep

The idea of learning as you sleep was once thought very unlikely, but there are several ways to try to help you acquire new skills as you doze. During the night, our brain busily processes and consolidates our recollections from the day before, and there could be ways to enhance that process. In the near future, technology may offer further ways of upgrading the brain’s sleep cycles. Memory consolidation is thought to occur during specific, slow, oscillations of electrical activity, so the idea here is to subtly encourage those brain waves without waking the subject. But we shouldn’t shy away from the problems highlighted by fiction like Brave New World and The Simpsons. Although new methods might not be able to brainwash people against their will, we still need to question whether it would be right to start manipulating their children’s memories, for instance.

NYT: Bee Colony Collapse

NYT: Bee Colony Collapse

Around the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate this is a catastrophe. But in the midst of crisis can come learning. Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.

TG: Best of Capitalism Over

TG: Best of Capitalism Over

The OECD has a clear message for the world: for the rich countries, the best of capitalism is over. For the poor ones – now experiencing the glitter and haze of industrialisation – it will be over by 2060. If you want higher growth, says the OECD, you must accept higher inequality. And vice versa.

PS: The World Cup’s Sickening Message

PS: The World Cup’s Sickening Message

One billion people watched the opening match of the FIFA World Cup in São Paulo, Brazil, and hundreds of millions more will tune in at some point during the month-long tournament. For FIFA’s six major partners and the event’s eight official sponsors, this audience is nothing short of a gold mine. Indeed, they pay tens of millions of dollars in the hope that some of the magic of the “beautiful game” will rub off on their brands. For viewers, that is probably not a good thing. Sponsorship by companies like Budweiser, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and the food giant Moy Park brings millions of dollars to the game. But what message does it send to the global audience? Promoting alcohol, sugary drinks, and fast food may mean massive profits for corporations, but it also means worse health for individuals and a costly burden on countries’ health-care systems.

BBC: Global Refugee Crisis

BBC: Global Refugee Crisis

The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War Two, the UN says. Large numbers of refugees and IDPs fleeing to new areas inevitably put a strain on resources, and can even destabilise a host country and the burden of caring for refugees is increasingly falling on the countries with the least resources.

WP: Pacific Marine Sanctuary

WP: Pacific Marine Sanctuary

President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected. The announcement is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities. On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.

MIT: Neuroscience’s New Toolbox

MIT: Neuroscience’s New Toolbox

Optogenetics has provided a much more detailed view of the hypothalamus, and thus a much more complex and nuanced picture of aggression. Activating specific neurons in that little town can tip an organism to make war, but activating the neurons next door can nudge it to make love. The new techniques will give scientists the first glimpses of how thoughts, feelings, forebodings, and dysfunctional mental activity arise from the neural circuitry and from the activity of particular types of cells.

NYT: What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

NYT: What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

Does handwriting matter? Not very much, according to many educators. But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters but how – printing, cursive writing, and typing on a keyboard are all associated with distinct and separate brain patterns and each results in a distinct end product. Researchers have found that when children compose text by hand, they not only consistently produce more words more quickly than they on a keyboard, but express more ideas. There may even be a difference between printing and cursive writing – a distinction of particular importance as the teaching of cursive disappears in curriculum after curriculum.

NYT: Democrats in Coal Country

NYT: Democrats in Coal Country

It took little time for Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrat who is challenging Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, in the most high-profile Senate race this year, to distance herself from the Obama administration’s proposal for sharp cuts to emissions from power plants.

AN: Social Death Penalty

AN: Social Death Penalty

  The Social Death Penalty: Why Being Ostracized Hurts Even More Than Bullying In the wake of Elliot Rodger, questions about social rejection take on new urgency. By Lynn Stuart Parramore, June 2 2014. In recent years, bullying and harassment at work and in school have been grabbing headlines, creating greater awareness. But there’s a […]

NYT: Judging Spinoza

NYT: Judging Spinoza

No less an eminence than David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, publicly argued for “amending the injustice” done to the philosopher, insisting that the 17th-century rabbis had no authority “to exclude the immortal Spinoza from the community of Israel for all time.” The ban on Spinoza was never rescinded. One pressing question concerns the wisdom and efficacy of enforcing orthodoxy, or conformity in the matter of ideas in religious communities. Spinoza believed that he had, through metaphysical inquiry, discovered important truths about God, nature and human beings, truths that led to principles of great consequence for our happiness and our emotional and physical flourishing. By enforcing conformity of belief and punishing deviations from dogma, religious authorities risk depriving the devoted of the possibility of achieving in religion that which they most urgently seek.

AN: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Smarter

AN: Outdoor Schools Make Kids Smarter

The original kindergarten —the children’s garden—conceived by German educator Friedrich Froebel in the 19th century, was a place where children learned through play, often in nature. That idea is fast eroding. Instead children are focusing on a narrowing range of literacy and math. In the face of this indoor-ification of early childhood, a cultural and educational movement is emerging—focused on new approaches to nature-based education. The many skills children develop through play, particularly the self-control practiced and refined in imaginary play, are related to long-term academic achievement. Outdoor play can also remedy behavioral problems leading to lower arrest rates. Teachers and parents of children in nature preschools and forest kindergartens are finding that mastering puddles is just as important as learning letters in preparing children to find their way through the smartboard jungle.

TG: Children Mental Health Crisis

TG: Children Mental Health Crisis

In 2004, the first academic studies of trends in child and adolescent mental health began to report a worrying deterioration. The origins of this crisis – and it is a crisis – do not lie in massive overuse of the web, but elsewhere. But if things looked worrying in 2004, they look a darn sight worse today, 10 years later.

NYT: Medicated Kids

NYT: Medicated Kids

More than 10,000 American toddlers 2 or 3 years old are being medicated for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder outside established pediatric guidelines, according to data presented on Friday by an official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NYT: Antibiotic Resistance

NYT: Antibiotic Resistance

The World Health Organization has surveyed the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs around the world and come up with disturbing findings. The organization reports on its finding that antimicrobial resistance in bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites is an increasingly serious threat in every part of the world.

TI: Soap Causing Infertility?

TI: Soap Causing Infertility?

Chemicals in common household products such as toothpaste, soap and plastic toys have a direct impact on human sperm which could help explain rising levels of male infertility, scientists have found. The findings will raise further concerns about the hidden toxicity of chemicals deemed safe by toxicology tests.

BR: US Climate Assessment

BR: US Climate Assessment

The recently released third National Climate Assessment (NCA) is a collaborative effort by federal agencies and hundreds of experts, that focuses on the science of climate change impacts in the United States that are happening now, and those that are expected throughout this century.

BBC: The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking

BBC: The Slow Death of Purposeless Walking

A number of recent books have lauded the connection between walking – just for its own sake – and thinking. Wordsworth was a walker. Charles Dickens was a walker. Henry David Thoreau walked and walked and walked. But are people losing their love of the purposeless walk? This is the era of the “smartphone map zombie” – people who only take occasional glances away from an electronic routefinder to avoid stepping in anything or being hit by a car. But you don’t have to be an author to see the value of walking. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking.

AJA: US Industrialized Chicken

AJA: US Industrialized Chicken

The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed to increase the speed of kill lines for poultry in slaughterhouses. But with testing from Consumer Reports last year revealing that 97 percent of raw chicken breasts purchased at retailers are contaminated with harmful bacteria, and with poultry workers already suffering from numerous job-related injuries, advocacy groups are vigorously opposed to the idea.

NC: Chemical Apples

NC: Chemical Apples

A chemical widely used on non-organic American apples was banned in the European Union in 2012 because its makers could not show it did not pose a risk to human health, according to a new analysis by Environmental Working Group (EWG). Even low levels of nitrosamines on raw apples, or in apple juice and applesauce could potentially pose a risk to human health.

AJA: Water Privatization Despite Risks

AJA: Water Privatization Despite Risks

Humans can survive weeks without food, but only days or hours without water. Water is life. So what happens when private companies control the spigot? Evidence from water privatization projects around the world paints a pretty clear picture: Skyrocketing water prices, unsafe supply, failing infrastructure. These problems fall disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us. This is why public institutions, not private corporations, must lead the development of water systems and delivery.

FPIF: America’s Homegrown Terror

FPIF: America’s Homegrown Terror

The greatest dangers for the United States do not lurk in terrorist cells in the mountains surrounding Kandahar that are planning on assaults on American targets. Rather, our vulnerabilities are homegrown. The United States currently lacks safety protocols and effective inspection regimes for the dangerous materials it has amassed over the last 60 years. Tragically we are cutting back on infrastructure investment at a time we should be increasing it dramatically.

BBC: Millions Wasted on Tamiflu

BBC: Millions Wasted on Tamiflu

Hundreds of millions of pounds may have been wasted on a drug for flu that works no better than paracetamol, a landmark analysis has said. The Cochrane Collaboration claimed the drug did not prevent the spread of flu or reduce dangerous complications, and only slightly helped symptoms. The report is the result of a colossal fight for the previously hidden data into the effectiveness and side-effects of Tamiflu.

WP: Secret Food Ingredients

WP: Secret Food Ingredients

Food manufacturers are routinely exploiting a “legal loophole” that allows them to use new chemicals in their products, based on their own safety studies, without ever notifying the Food and Drug Administration, according to a new report by an environmental and consumer advocacy group.

TG: Children’s Hyperactivity

TG: Children’s Hyperactivity

One of the world’s leading neuroscientists has suggested that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not a real disease. Clinicians are too readily prescribing psychostimulants to children. Animal studies have raised concerns over the potential for damage to be done.

AN: UN Says US Cruel and Inhuman

AN: UN Says US Cruel and Inhuman

The U.N. Human Rights Committee in Geneva on Thursday condemned the United States for criminalizing homelessness, calling it “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” that violates international human rights treaty obligations. It also called upon the U.S. government to take corrective action, following a two-day review of U.S. government compliance with a human rights treaty ratified in 1992.

WP: US Drug War

WP: US Drug War

The grieving mother accomplished what would have been inconceivable a few short years ago, much less back when the nation launched its war on drugs: She helped pass a bill, signed by a Republican governor, that lets people get away with using drugs for the sake of saving lives.

NYT: Climate Risk

NYT: Climate Risk

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported on Monday, and they warned that the problem was likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

WHO: Air Pollution and Death

WHO: Air Pollution and Death

In new estimates released today, WHO reports that in 2012 around 7 million people died – one in eight of total global deaths – as a result of air pollution exposure. This finding more than doubles previous estimates and confirms that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk.

NYT: Unhealthy Meat Market

NYT: Unhealthy Meat Market

Factory farming has devastating consequences to animals, human health, and the socio-economic wellbeing of rural America. It’s easy to criticize the current model of industrial agriculture, far harder to outline a viable alternative. A starting point is to recognize bluntly that our industrial food system is unhealthy.

Oxfam: Brand Reputation

Oxfam: Brand Reputation

When customers speak, businesses listen. It’s an old adage in business that Oxfam and its supporters tested to see if this would be true on issues of sustainability and human rights. First we asked the 3 biggest chocolate companies, Mars, Mondelez and Nestle to address the inequality and injustices that women cocoa farmers and workers faced in their cocoa supply chains.

NYT: CA Plastic Bag Ban

NYT: CA Plastic Bag Ban

A companion to shoppers for a half-century, the plastic bag is now under siege in California, where a growing number of policy makers have come to regard it as a symbol of environmental wastefulness. Lawmakers in Sacramento are trying to make California the first state to approve a blanket ban on this most ubiquitous of consumer products.

CPI: Health Reform Reduces Financial Stress

CPI: Health Reform Reduces Financial Stress

One of the great hopes of health care reform is that it will reduce the number of Americans who file for bankruptcy because of medical debt. A new study in Massachusetts is providing evidence that the reform law passed in that state in 2006, and which served as the model for the Affordable Care Act, is indeed making a significant dent in bankruptcy filings.

BI: State of the Int’l Order

BI: State of the Int’l Order

The State of the International Order report assesses international cooperation in the economic, diplomatic and security realms five years after the global financial crisis and over a decade after the invasion of Iraq. In gauging the state of the order, we ask two questions: What are the material realities shaping the options faced by the great powers? What are the issue-by-issue interactions that are revealing or shaping the content of great power relations, and international order more generally?

AP: Feds Move to Save Bees

AP: Feds Move to Save Bees

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will spend three million dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Agricultural production has been threatened by a more than decade-long decline in commercial honeybees and their wild cousins due to habitat loss and pesticide use.

NC: Creating the World We Want

NC: Creating the World We Want

People often want to know what the movement for social and economic justice wants. Occupy Wall Street issued its Declaration of the Occupation of New York City which laid out a series of grievances. But, in addition to knowing what we oppose, we need to define what we stand for. If we do not like big finance capitalism, what will take the place of the current economy?

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

AJA: Free Speech and Terrorism

Working toward social justice requires the courageous protest by a minority to help the majority gain the wisdom necessary to change; criminalizing social activity that leads to crucial discussions about how to minimize suffering and terror, and labeling that activity a form of terrorism, is contrary to the values necessary for a healthy democracy.

NYT: Is Atheism Irrational?

NYT: Is Atheism Irrational?

To believe in both materialism and evolution requires acceptance that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable, but that is to fall into a total skepticism, which leaves you with no reason to accept any of your beliefs. The only sensible course is to give up the claim leading to this conclusion: that both materialism and evolution are true.

GAO: Nanomanufacturing

GAO: Nanomanufacturing

As research continues and other nations increasingly invest in R&D, nanotechnology is moving from the laboratory to commercial markets, mass manufacturing, and the global marketplace–a trend with potential future import that some compare to history’s introduction of technologies with major economic and societal impact, such as plastics and even electricity.

AN: Obama Gifts Big Coal

AN: Obama Gifts Big Coal

Clean coal is an essential component of the President’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy, but on the heels of the West Virginia coal-cleaning chemical disaster, amid record climate disruptions and drought and flooding, Obama’s billion dollar bonus to Big Coal might signal “game over” for clean energy and climate initiatives in Illinois.

TG: Geo-Engineering is Insane

TG: Geo-Engineering is Insane

We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme.

BBC: Perils of Belief

BBC: Perils of Belief

While human beings are willing to kill others for the sake of belief, they are ready to die for the same reason. No other species shows any sign of killing or dying for the sake of a mere idea. Some will say that’s because other species can’t formulate ideas or beliefs, but I think the answer lies elsewhere. The ability to form complex beliefs about the world has given us humans great power – at least over material things. But these more highly developed intellectual capacities also give us a clearer awareness of the fact that we are going to die. This can fill us with dread, and there are many who find relief in clinging to a belief for which they are ready to sacrifice their lives. Curiously, it may be fear of mortality that has led so many believers to embrace death.

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT: 2013 Top Tech Reads

MIT Technology Review looks back at leading stories from 2013 including stories related to the pricing of drugs by pharmaceutical and biotech companies, the danger of increased information gathering by governments and companies, the internet and free speech, the effect on jobs of automation, artificial intelligence, and advanced software, the creation of treatments for erasing traumatic memories, the future of driverless cars, the reinvention of the computer chip, saving Wikipedia, and the necessity for genetic engineering in crops.

AN: Walking is a Wonder Drug

AN: Walking is a Wonder Drug

Researchers have discovered a “wonder drug” for many of today’s most common medical problems. It’s been proven to help treat or prevent diabetes, depression, breast and colon cancer, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, obesity, anxiety and osteoporosis. The drug is called walking, Its generic name is physical activity.

NYT: Selling ADHD

NYT: Selling ADHD

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

NPR: Easter Island

NPR: Easter Island

Easter Island has been thought of as a clear example of a society that destroyed itself by overexploiting its own resources. Two anthropologists now think that may not be what happened, but their alternative view is hardly consoling. On Easter Island, people learned to live with less and forgot what it was like to have more. Maybe that will happen to us. A future in which we continuously degrade our planet, losing plant after plant, animal after animal, forgetting what we once enjoyed, adjusting to lesser circumstances, cannot be called “success.” To prevent an ecological crisis, we must become alarmed – that’s when we’ll act – but the new Easter Island story suggests that humans may never hit the alarm. There’s a lesson here and it’s not a happy one.

NYT: Europe v Amazon

NYT: Europe v Amazon

On its home territory, Amazon.com is routinely hailed as a jobs machine. The recession might have cut deeper in Europe, making the question of new jobs even more crucial, but the attitude there is much cooler toward Amazon and its high-tech ways. In Britain, the warehouses that so impressed President Obama have been compared, in a February story in The Financial Times, with a “slave camp.”

FA: Policing Synthetic Biology

FA: Policing Synthetic Biology

Ongoing research and discoveries in the life sciences — the latest and most promising involving synthetic biology — have led to extraordinary advances that will benefit society. But criminals and terrorists could manipulate such advances to disrupt public safety and national security.

BBC: Genetic Memory

BBC: Genetic Memory

Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest. Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

TN: Obama’s War on Pot

TN: Obama’s War on Pot

Ultimately, what stands in the way of meaningful change is the Controlled Substances Act. As long as it is in place, the Justice Department will bring forward marijuana prosecutions. President Obama is unlikely to spend political capital pushing to change federal law. The man marijuana reformers elected in 2008 will likely leave office in January 2017 having changed as little as possible.

SA: Smartphones Killing Us

SA: Smartphones Killing Us

What permanent connectivity does to our minds is the subject of great debate. What it does to public space is less often acknowledged. Some restaurants, bars and coffee shops have banned smartphones and computers for their corrosive social effects. Anti-technology zoning for cognitive health to protect us from our own worst instincts is a more complex challenge.

NYT: Childhood Obesity

NYT: Childhood Obesity

Childhood obesity, at long last, may have peaked — even among the poor, where the problem is most prevalent. So how has this small bit of success been achieved? One factor is an extensive behavior-change campaign; another is the provision of healthier food to poor neighborhoods. But there may be a more direct reason for the progress against child obesity.

TD: Climate Change Revolution

TD: Climate Change Revolution

When it comes to a mass rebellion against the perpetrators of global destruction, we can see a glimmer of the coming upheaval in events of the present moment. Sooner or later, government leaders are likely to face multiple eruptions of mass public anger and may, in the end, be forced to make radical adjustments in energy policy or risk being swept aside.

NYT: Marijuana and Alcohol

NYT: Marijuana and Alcohol

Some researchers believe they have identified a side benefit to increasing availability of marijuana: legalization of marijuana for medical purposes has been associated with reductions in heavy drinking, especially among 18- to 29-year-olds, and with an almost 5 percent decrease in beer sales.

DS: Factory Farming

DS: Factory Farming

Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year and has built an efficient meat industry second only to the US in pork exports. Its optimized breeding, feeding and killing system churns out wondrously cheap cutlets — but at a hidden cost to the environment and our health.

Oxford Martin: Unstable Future

Oxford Martin: Unstable Future

A diverse group of highly respected global leaders is calling for a radical shake-up in politics and business to deliver progress on climate change, reduce economic inequality, improve corporate practices and address the chronic burden of disease.

HP: Denmark Happiest on Earth

HP: Denmark Happiest on Earth

Last month, Denmark was crowned the happiest country in the world. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

GAO: Pesticide Registration Problems

EPA does not have a reliable system, such as an automated data system, to track key information related to conditional registrations of pesticides, including whether companies have submitted additional data within required time frames. As a result, pesticides with conditional registrations could be marketed for years without EPA’s receipt and review of these data.

WEF: Global Risks 2013

WEF: Global Risks 2013

The Global Risks Report 2013 analyses 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and interconnections, based on a survey of over 1000 experts from industry, government and academia. This year’s findings show that the world is more at risk as persistent economic weakness saps our ability to tackle environmental challenges.

NYT: Experience As It Once Was

NYT: Experience As It Once Was

I was going 115 miles per hour on a German autobahn when it occurred to me that one reason the German economy is doing so well is that people can get from one place to another so fast. The question of genuine, undiluted experience has been on my mind. Germans have a good word for something authentic: “echt.” We have an echt deficit these days. Everything seems filtered, monitored, marshaled, ameliorated, graded and app-ready — made into a kind of branded facsimile of experience for easier absorption. The thrill of the unexpected is lost. The modern world’s tech-giddy control and facilitation makes us stupid. We demand shortcuts, as if there are shortcuts to genuine experience. The state’s cameras are trained on streets where people’s gazes are trained on hand-held screens that map their movements — offering facsimiles of the experience they might have if they ever looked up.

NYT: California Health Act

NYT: California Health Act

With enthusiastic backing from state officials and an estimated seven million uninsured, California is a crucial testing ground for the success of President Obama’s health care law. It is building the country’s largest state-run health insurance exchange and has already expanded Medicaid coverage for the poor. Officials hope that the efforts here will eventually attract more than two million people who are currently uninsured.

NoC: Hope for Future of Food

NoC: Hope for Future of Food

When it comes to the future of the food system, it’s hard not to be discouraged. Nearly one billion people are hungry, and another 1.5 billion are obese or overweight. All over the world, people waste 1.3 billion tons of food each year. But Food Tank has compiled a list of 14 reasons to be hopeful about the future of the food system.

PS: Climate Change Knowns

PS: Climate Change Knowns

The latest IPCC report describes our current predicament with disturbing clarity. The details near the top of the knowledge pyramid can and should be intensely debated. But our solid understanding of the fundamentals of global warming – the base of our knowledge of climate science – should provide reason enough to press on with the implementation of carbon-free energy technologies.

MIT: Data Discrimination

MIT: Data Discrimination

Data analytics are being used to implement a subtle form of discrimination, while anonymous data sets can be mined to reveal health data and other private information. Principle Microsoft researcher, Kate Crawford, and a colleague propose a system of “due process” that would give people more legal rights to understand how data analytics are used in determinations made against them, such as denial of health insurance or a job.

TG: The Snowden Files

TG: The Snowden Files

Novelist John Lancaster, given access to the Snowden Files, discusses his impressions. At a moment of austerity and with a general sense that our state’s ability to guarantee prosperity for its citizens is in retreat, that same state is about to make the biggest advance ever in its security powers. Our spies and security services can, for the first time, monitor everything about us, and they can do so with a few clicks of a mouse and – to placate the lawyers – a drop-down menu of justifications. Looking at the GCHQ papers, it is clear that there is an ambition to get access to everything digital. And yet nobody, at least in Britain, seems to care. Snowden’s revelations are not just interesting or important but vital, because the state is about to get powers that no state has ever had, and we need to have a public debate about those powers and what their limits are to be.

Yale Env360: UN Climate Panel

Yale Env360: UN Climate Panel

Since it was created by the UN in 1988, the IPCC has synthesized scientific thinking around climate change and delivered a series of consensus assessments to policymakers. But the question is now being asked: Is the IPCC still fit for its purpose? It may do good science, but does it deliver what policymakers need?

NYT: Improving Social Skills

NYT: Improving Social Skills

A study published Thursday in the journal Science finds that after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence.

Brookings: Ending Starvation by 2015

Brookings: Ending Starvation by 2015

December 31, 2015 is the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, the global anti-poverty targets for tackling extreme poverty around the world. We are now facing the final moment to bend the relevant curves of progress. For decision makers, 2013 is the real 2015.

HP: Tech is Killing Eye Contact

HP: Tech is Killing Eye Contact

As we spend more and more of our time staring at screens, there’s less time left over to look into people’s eyes. The growth of multitasking on mobile devices and remote working have normalized the experience of having conversations with little or no eye contact. These interactions aren’t just what previous generations would have considered rude, they’re also undermining our ability to connect with the people in our lives.

AN: Abandoning Religion

AN: Abandoning Religion

Americans are abandoning organized religion in droves. Data from the Public Religion Research Institute shows that while only 7 percent of Americans were raised outside a religious tradition, nearly 19 percent are religiously unaffiliated today. One-third of Americans under age 30, meanwhile, say they have no religion.

AN: School is a Prison

AN: School is a Prison

Peter Gray discusses the repercussions of our approach to schooling, specifically how the school system we maintain is a holdover from another time that we should reform so as to better take into account the need to develop self-motivation in students. The current system is based on a top-down, teach and test, rewards and punishments method derived from the time of the Protestant Reformation and the authority-based scriptural lessons that schools then provided. What is needed now is something different – a system that nurtures critical thought, creativity, self-initiative, and the ability of students to learn on their own. This type of school is not unknown – longstanding examples exist that focus on employing the children’s inherent curiosity, creativity, and zest for learning.

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