03 December 2018

Climate Change Report Vol. 1

The second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment was released on 23 Nov 2018, the day after Thanksgiving. A version of this post appeared on www.warrensnotice.com shortly after the first volume was released in 2017. It stands on its own and set the stage.

Welcome back. Surprise, surprise. The White House approved release of the Climate Science Special Report, the first of two volumes of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Also, apparently none of the 13 Federal agencies responsible for producing the report tried to undercut or change the findings of its scientists.

So why was this all a surprise? In sharp contrast to the president’s words and his administration’s policies, the report’s executive summary states:

This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence. [Bold type is from the report.]
Surface temperature change (in °F) for 1986–2015 relative to 1901–1960 from the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. (Graphic from Climate Science Special Report.)
Origin of Climate Report
It’s easy to forget that, once upon a time, Republican presidents were the environmental good guys. In 1970, for example, Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, and he did it by executive order. The consensus is that his motivation was truly environmental.

Even closer to the topic, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush actively promoted measures to combat climate change. One major action was the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), established by presidential initiative in 1989 and mandated by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990.
 

Member agencies of U.S. Global
Change Research Program.
The USGRP directed 13 Federal agencies to develop and coordinate a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.

One mandated product of the USGRP is the National Climate Assessment. Every four years, the agencies prepare a report that analyzes both the effects of global change and the human-induced and natural trends in global change for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.

Fourth National Climate Assessment
The Climate Science Special Report is an authoritative, comprehensive 470-page, 15-chapter, 5-appendices assessment of the science of climate change with a focus on the United States. It was prepared by scientists in government and academia and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Selected Key Findings
Each chapter of the report includes key findings with confidence statements. I’ve taken excerpts from several findings of high or very high confidence to convey the significance of the issues.

- [A]verage temperatures in recent decades over much of the world have been much higher, and have risen faster…than at any time in the past 1,700 years or more
- It is extremely likely that more than half of the global mean temperature increase since 1951 was caused by human influence on climate
- Stabilizing global mean temperature to less than 3.6°F (2°C) above preindustrial levels requires substantial reductions in net global CO2 emissions prior to 2040 relative to present-day values and likely requires net emissions to become zero or possibly negative later in the century
- The frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events are projected to continue to increase over the 21st century
- Plant productivity has not increased commensurate with the increased number of frost-free days or with the longer growing season
- Arctic-wide ice loss is expected to continue through the 21st century, very likely resulting in nearly sea ice-free late summers by the 2040s
- Global mean sea level (GMSL) has risen by about 7 to 8 inches since 1900, with about 3 of those inches occurring since 1993
- Relative to the year 2000, GMSL is very likely to rise by 0.3–0.6 feet by 2030, 0.5–1.2 feet by 2050, and 1.0–4.3 feet by 2100 (very high confidence in lower bounds)
- Tidal flooding will continue increasing in depth, frequency, and extent this century.
 

Muir Glacier, Alaska, photographed by
U.S. Geological Survey in 1941 and 2004.

(From
Climate Science Special Report.)
Wrap Up
The concern is that we’ve passed the global climate tipping point. Whereas the Paris climate agreement aimed to limit global warming to 3.6°F (2°C) above preindustrial levels, the UN climate negotiators are now forced to consider 5.4°F (3°C). The sea-level rise alone would impact hundreds of millions of people.

Although certain US states, cities and businesses are trying to step in to fill the role abdicated by our federal government, coordinated global action is critical. Let’s hope the report’s release signals a change. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.
Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume I--Climate Science Special Report: science2017.globalchange.gov/
The U.S. Global Change Research Program for Fiscal Year 2017: downloads.globalchange.gov/ocp/ocp2017/Our-Changing-Planet_FY-2017_full.pdf
Richard Nixon and the EPA: www.ontheissues.org/celeb/Richard_Nixon_Environment.htm
Reagan and Bush (41) on climate change policy: nsarchive2.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB536-Reagan-Bush-Recognized-Need-for-US-Leadership-on-Climate-Change-in-1980s/
Article on the 3°C world on The Guardian website: www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2017/nov/03/three-degree-world-cities-drowned-global-warming?CMP=share_btn_tw
Interview with Al Gore re: Trump and climate on The Guardian website: www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/10/al-gore-donald-trump-climate-change

27 November 2018

Cookbook Food Safety

Welcome back. Nearly two years ago, I reviewed a study that found chefs on television cooking shows either ignored food safety or demonstrated very limited positive behaviors. If viewers adopted the chefs’ practices, there could be a rash of foodborne illnesses (Careless Cooking).

Bad as that is, the Berkeley Wellness Letter pointed me to a more recent food safety study that I find more personally alarming. This one is about cookbook recipes. Though there’s no chance that I would watch a TV cooking show, I might buy a cookbook--oh, not for me; as a gift. Well, I might have if I hadn’t seen this study.


How could I go wrong following
recipes in the cookbook my mother
gave me when I was in college?
Recipe Analysis for Food Safety
Researchers from North Carolina State University and the US Department of Agriculture reviewed 1,497 recipes from 29 cookbooks that were popular enough to be on the New York Times food and diet best sellers list in 2013 and 2014.

Unlike the TV chef study, which flagged chefs’ behaviors against a checklist of 20 food safety practices, the cookbook study was much more selective. The researchers only considered recipes that contained raw animal ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood or eggs), whose dishes could effectively be measured with a digital thermometer.

They evaluated the recipes for guidance related to (1) the endpoint temperatures of what’s being cooked and (2) avoiding cross-contamination, the potentially harmful effects of inadvertently transferring microorganisms from one substance or object to another (e.g., raw food to ready-to-eat food).

Most Recipes Fail at Food Safety
In assessing endpoint temperatures, the concern was if the recipe stated to cook the dish to a specific internal temperature and if that specified temperature was indeed safe. (See www.foodsafety.gov/keep/charts/mintemp.html for safe minimum cooking temperatures.)

Of the nearly 1,500 recipes, only 123 (8%) mentioned cooking the dish to a specific temperature. Of those, 89 (6%) gave accurate information regarding endpoint temperatures, while 34 (2%) gave temperatures too low to kill the most likely food pathogens.

In lieu of or in addition to temperature, nearly all of the recipes offered subjective and risky recommendations of when the dishes would be done cooking, most commonly noting time, color and texture. None of these indicators could be relied on to determine if the dish had actually reached a safe temperature, though presumably all were more informative than “cook until done.”

Guidance on avoiding cross contamination was largely absent from the recipes. For example, only 12 recommended washing hands after touching raw animal protein, and only 29 recommended that raw and cooked foods be kept separate by using different or clean cutting boards, utensils and dishes. Worse, some recipes recommended that raw poultry be washed before cooking. That’s a no-no, since washing risks spreading harmful bacteria through splatter or aerosolization. 


OK, so maybe the “wash bird inside and outside” needs
updating, but at least I learned to first remove the feathers
and cut off the head.
Wrap Up
TV cooking shows forego the opportunity to demonstrate or discuss food safety; they fail to promote the idea that good food and safe food are inseparable.

Cookbook authors have, but are failing to take advantage of, that same opportunity. Including food safety guidance in cookbooks could go a long way toward reducing the risk of foodborne illness, which affects about 1 in 6 Americans each year.

Thanks for stopping by, and as I wrote in that earlier blog post, Bon app├ętit.

P.S.

Research study on evaluating cookbook food safety in British Food Journal: www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/BFJ-02-2017-0066
News release on the study from North Carolina State University: news.ncsu.edu/2017/03/cookbooks-food-safety-2017/
University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Nov 2017, “My cookbook made me sick.” pg 6.
The Charlotte Observer article on inclusion of Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook in the study: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/food-drink/article142547159.html

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

20 November 2018

Hiring Discrimination

Welcome back. Forgive me, but I hope today’s blog post depresses you. How did we ever elect Barack Obama when racial discrimination is so persistent?

Research collaborators from Northwestern and Harvard universities, the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the Norwegian Institute for Social Research recently published a report on their study of hiring discrimination against African Americans and Latinos.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a
federal law that forbids discrimination in any
aspect of employment, including hiring.
Meta-Analysis of Field Experiments
The investigators’ study involved a meta-analysis of every available field experiment that tested hiring discrimination against African Americans or Latinos from 1989 through 2015. (A meta-analysis, you’ll recall, combines data from multiple studies to develop a single conclusion with greater statistical power.)

The field experiments included both resume audits and in-person audits. For resume audits, indicators of race, such as racially identifiable names, are randomly assigned to otherwise similar resumes submitted online or by mail to employers. For in-person audits, racially dissimilar but otherwise matched pairs of trained testers apply for jobs. Resume and in-person audit methods both provide a strong basis from which to draw conclusions about hiring discrimination.

The researchers initially identified 34 US-based field experiment studies of hiring that contrasted white and nonwhite applicant profiles in near equivalent labor-markets (e.g., education, experience level). Of those, screening yielded 24 studies containing 30 estimates of discrimination against African Americans and Latinos from 1989 to 2015. Together these 24 studies represented 54,318 applications for 25,517 positions.

Callback Discrimination
Hiring discrimination was measured by callbacks—invitations to the applicants to interview. A discrimination ratio for each study was computed as the ratio of the percentage of callbacks received by white applicants to the percentage of callbacks received by African Americans or Latinos. A meta-analysis was then applied to aggregate the ratios over the years and estimate the trend in discrimination.

On average, white applicants received 36% more callbacks than equally qualified African Americans. The trend analysis showed no evidence of change over time in the rates of hiring discrimination of African Americans.

Compared to Latinos, white applicants received 24% more callbacks on average. Although the trend over time showed some evidence of a decline in discrimination, the small number of Latino field experiments (only 9) had a high level of statistical uncertainty.

Wrap Up
The researchers allow that hiring discrimination may have dropped substantially in the 1960s or early 1970s, at the height of the civil rights era. Yet the hoped-for cultural change and reduction, if not elimination, of discrimination from 1989 through 2015, is not observed, at least, in hiring.

They conclude that their study results point toward the need for strong enforcement of antidiscrimination legislation and provide a rationale for continuing compensatory policies like affirmative action to improve equality of opportunity.

Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.
Study of racial discrimination in hiring in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences: www.pnas.org/content/114/41/10870.full

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

15 November 2018

Intuition and Conspiracy Theories

Was President Kennedy assassinated by a lone gunman or an organization? Were the CIA and FBI behind Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination? Was Princess Diana’s death an accident or an assassination? What’s your gut feeling?

Welcome back. A few years ago, I blogged about conspiracy theories (Conspiracy Theories; Conspiracy Theories, Continued). The studies I highlighted suggested that acceptance of conspiracy theories was tied to the need for control over one’s life and that the best predictor of belief in one conspiracy was belief in another.

A study from Ohio State and Michigan universities adds to our understanding. These researchers examined how intuition and belief that facts are politically constructed relate to one’s willingness to embrace falsehoods and conspiracy theories.

Three-Stage Study
The researchers arrived at their findings in three stages.

First Stage: First, they generated statements to be used as responses in surveys of Americans on the level of the respondents’ agreement with three concepts: (1) Faith in intuition for facts, (2) Need for evidence and (3) Truth is political.

They began with 20 possible responses and reduced them to four for each concept through testing on 510 respondents and subsequent statistical analysis of relationships among the statements.

Statements used in surveys to gauge respondents’ reliance on intuition versus evidence and belief that facts are politically biased. Response options ranged from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” 
 (from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0184733)
Second Stage: Next, they used the statements in a nationally representative survey of 630 respondents after obtaining the respondents’ beliefs about seven often repeated conspiracy theories, including those relating to Kennedy’s, King’s and Diana’s deaths.
Conspiracy theories used in surveys to gauge respondents’ endorsement. Response options ranged from “definitely not true” to “definitely true.” 
(from journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0184733)
Third Stage: Finally, they used the 12 statements in three nationally representative surveys over the course of the 2016 election. For these three surveys, they repeatedly contacted the same respondents, 965 in the baseline, 764 in the second and 629 in the third.

For this stage, they also queried the respondents on their belief about four prominent claims related to political and scientific issues: human activity affecting climate change; Muslim support for violence against Western countries; whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction immediately before the Iraq war; and whether vaccines cause autism.

Conspiracist Ideation
The researchers employed graphical and statistical analyses (scatterplots, regression and structural equation modeling) to relate the responses to the acceptance of both the seven conspiracy theories and four prominent claims.

They found that individuals who trust their intuition--who put more faith in their ability to use intuition to assess factual claims than in their reasoning skills--are uniquely likely to endorse conspiracy theories.

In contrast, those who maintain that beliefs must be in accord with available evidence are less likely to accept conspiracy theories or other falsehoods, even on politically charged topics.

Lastly, those who judge that facts are always shaped by politics and power are more prone to misperception than are those who believe that truth transcends social context.

Wrap Up
Let’s be clear here: Trusting one’s gut feelings is important if not critical in certain situations. Yet those who rely more on intuition and believe facts are politically biased than they rely on reason and evidence are more likely to accept conspiracy theories and misperceptions, including fake news.
Whether the statement is credited to Einstein or The Container Store, it should be clear that intuition works best when underlain by facts. 
(graphic from multiple websites)
What are the chances that educators, science communicators, fact checkers and main-stream journalists can convince people to place more weight on reason and evidence? I wish I could be more hopeful, but changing citizens’ decision-making ability is difficult, especially when some very influential people boast of their reliance on gut feelings.

Maybe this too shall pass. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.
Study of beliefs’ role in promoting conspiracist ideation in PLOS One journal:
journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0184733
Article on study on ScienceDaily website:
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170918142157.htm

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.

13 November 2018

Cat Bites

Welcome back. If perchance you read my e-book, No More Cats, Please!, and made it to the Epilogue, you may recall my mentioning barn cats.

After too many years of tending to pets, especially cats, I was delighted to live pet-less. But how could I object when Vicki announced she’d like a pony? After all, we now live on her family’s farm, with barns, fields and, you know, farm stuff, and she grew up with horses.

Barn-kittens Mindy (front)
and Mandy outside garage.

(photo by Vicki)
Well, somehow the equine became a feline, in fact two: Mindy and Mandy. They’re barn cats! They’re only kittens. They’re so cute!

Caring for Barn Cats
These barn cats reside in the two-car garage below our apartment when they’re not gallivanting about. In a departure from my years of cat servitude, Vicki has taken full responsibility for their care. To my knowledge, she has not once invited them upstairs.

By early evening, she calls and whistles them in for the night. If she’s been away at an evening event, they may appear when they see her car returning and follow or even lead her car. It’s the leading a car that reaffirmed why I voted for no more pets.

Did I Hit a Cat?
When I returned from shopping one Friday morning and was about half-way up the long driveway to the garage, I pushed the remote, opening my garage door. From nowhere, Mindy went running in front of my car. Then, repeating one of the dumbest actions both cats exercise with Vicki, she started walking slowly into the garage.

Driving into or out of the garage, I always inch along because of the cats. This time was no exception; however, this time, when I crept into the garage, I heard a bump. I continued into the garage, turned off the ignition and rushed from the car, fearing I’d find a squashed Mindy. She wasn’t there; she wasn’t anywhere. Whew!

That evening, Vicki came inside after rounding up the cats and said that Mindy didn’t want to come; she was acting funny, hurt. I had already moved on. It didn’t strike me until the next morning--I must have hit her! Vicki wasted no time getting Mindy to the vet, who short of x-rays, judged she was sore but otherwise fine.


Mindy the grown-up
barn cat. (photo by
www.rachelphilipson.com)
 After monitoring the slow-moving, non-climbing Mindy for several days, Vicki departed for a long-scheduled, 5-day hiking-camping trip with friends. Keeping her vow that I would no longer be the cat keeper, Vicki left the cats at a kennel.

Monitoring Vicki

The evening of the day Vicki returned and retrieved the cats, Mindy resisted coming in for the night. When Vicki tried to pick her up, Mindy bit her, on her index finger. (I must interject that the bite was attributed solely to Mindy’s lingering pain. Both cats are incredibly sweet and had never bitten before.)

Despite carefully washing the wound and later rubbing on a first aid antibiotic, Vicki’s finger throbbed through the night, the next day and another sleepless night. Her can’t-wait-any-longer visit to the hospital’s urgent care facility was a prelude to: 


Vicki’s bandaged finger
after cat-bite surgery.

(photo by Vicki)
Surgery later that morning, painkillers, calls to the on-call doctor about continuing pain, 10 days of an antibiotic, a deputy sheriff’s visit to inspect the cat (yes, the cats had had their shots) and to deliver forms for completion and submission, three mandatory visits to a veterinarian for a rabies check and cat confinement for 10 days.

Three weeks after being bitten, Vicki had her first session with a hand therapist, who expressed concern about the finger’s redness, swelling and lack of mobility. After a couple of days with no change, Vicki decided she’d better see the surgeon. She’s back on the antibiotic and scheduled for a finger MRI.

Wrap Up

What have we learned? If a cat bite to the hand develops swelling, redness and pain, see a doctor immediately. Dog bites are far more common, but cat bites to the hand are more likely to progress to serious infection. Cats’ sharp teeth can easily pierce a joint or membrane sheath around a tendon. If bacteria get into these sites, antibiotics may be ineffective, leaving surgery the only option.

A 2014 study by Mayo Clinic researchers examined records of patients treated for cat bites to the hand during 2009 through 2011. Of 193 patients, 30% required hospitalization for an average of about 3 days, 67% of those hospitalized required surgery and 8 needed more than one operation.

I can only repeat, no more cats, please. Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.
The 2016 e-book No More Cats, Please! is available from Amazon, Smashwords and other e-book sellers. I described the book in a blog post Warren’s Pet E-Book.
Mayo Clinic study of cat bites in The Journal of Hand Surgery: www.jhandsurg.org/article/S0363-5023%2813%2901539-6/abstract
Article on Mayo Clinic study on MinnPost website: www.minnpost.com/second-opinion/2014/02/cat-bites-hand-can-cause-serious-infections-mayo-study-finds

A version of this blog post appeared earlier on www.warrensnotice.com.