Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The research projected a sea level rise of 13 inches in New York by 2050, and found that global warming-related sea level rise more than triples the odds of a 100-year flood or worse by 2030.

Without global warming, the odds of such a flood would be just 8 percent by 2030, but with global warming the odds rise to 26 percent.

In addition, the funnel shape of New York Harbor has the potential to magnify storm surges already supplemented by sea level rise, threatening widespread areas of New York City.

Even without sea level rise, a 100-year flood would inundate large portions of the subway system, Jacob’s team concluded. But with a 4-foot rise in sea level, storm-related flooding would inundate much of Manhattan’s subways, including almost all of the tunnels crossing into the Bronx beneath the Harlem River and the tunnels under the East River. Five of the city’s subway lines have extremely low points of entry to tunnels, subways, or ventilation shafts: they are less than 8 feet above sea level.

Although Jacob’s team used a 100-year flood definition that differed from Climate Central’s, both analyses came to the same, disturbing conclusion: New York is at increasing risk of coastal flooding from a combination of storms and sea level rise.
In a recent talk, climate change expert Neil Adger discusses how embracing community identity can assist with better climate change adaptation:
“For more than a decade we have been looking at the economic costs, and the infrastructure, and the things that policymakers really focus on whenever they think about the impacts of climate change,” said Adger. In doing so “we realized that that doesn’t necessary motivate people in terms of what they believe the impacts of climate change are.”

Drawing from work on adaption in Australian agriculture, Adger explained that culture can be a barrier to effective adaptation where governments and policymakers fail to engage communities on a cultural basis.

More detailed information is needed to identify what people care about, how people construct perceptions of climate risk, and the best ways to engage people locally.

This is not easy, however. “I think the difficulty of looking at the cultural impacts of climate change is that they are very place specific,” Adger said.

But there is a significant payoff from the investment. “The cultural embedded-ness of our relationship with climate is also potentially a huge motivation for action and for change,” he said. This motivation can extend beyond adaptation to actually encourage people to decarbonize the economy, to mitigate the potential for negative climate change impacts in the first place, and to act as “citizens rather than as consumers.”

Pickety and Saez get a nice profile in the NYTimes and preach the gospel of equality:
“The United States is getting accustomed to a completely crazy level of inequality,” Mr. Piketty said, with a degree of wonder. “People say that reducing inequality is radical. I think that tolerating the level of inequality the United States tolerates is radical.”

As much as Mr. Piketty’s and Mr. Saez’s work has informed the national debate over earnings and fairness, their proposed corrective remains far outside the bounds of polite political conversation: much, much higher top marginal tax rates on the rich, up to 50 percent, or 70 percent or even 90 percent, from the current top rate of 35 percent.

The two economists argue that even Democrats’ boldest plan to increase taxes on the wealthy — the Buffett Rule, a 30 percent minimum tax on earnings over $1 million — would do little to reverse the rich’s gains. Many of the Republican tax proposals on the table might increase income inequality, at least in the short term, according to William G. Gale of the Tax Policy Center and many other left-leaning and centrist economists.

Conservatives respond that high tax rates would stifle economic growth, at a minimum, and cause some businesses and high-income workers to flee to other countries. When top American tax rates were much higher, from the 1940s through the 1970s, businesses could not relocate as easily as they can now, say critics of Mr. Piketty and Mr. Saez.

“I materially disagree with the idea you can raise a marginal tax rate to 70 percent and not have an impact on economic growth,” said Ike Brannon, an economist at the American Action Forum. “It’s absurd on its face.”

But Mr. Piketty and Mr. Saez argue that history is on their side: Many countries have higher tax rates — and the United States has had higher tax rates — without stifling growth or encouraging the concentration of income in the hands of the very rich.

“In a way, the United States is becoming like Old Europe, which is very strange in historical perspective,” Mr. Piketty said. “The United States used to be very egalitarian, not just in spirit but in actuality. Inequality of wealth and income used to be much larger in France. And very high taxes on the very rich — that was invented in the United States,” he said.

Mr. Saez added, “Absent drastic policy changes, I doubt that income inequality will decline on its own.” 
The article is accompanied by a couple very important graphics:

Meanwhile, over at a discussion on inequality at the Boston Review, the two economists claim the top marginal tax rate could be as high as 83% without harming economic growth.

Yes, health screenings are important and early detection can be quite important; nevertheless, let us not fall into the fall trap of believing that more screenings and diagnostic testing solve everything:
You don’t often hear calls from doctors for fewer tests and procedures.

And that’s too bad. Many of them have been oversold, their benefits exaggerated and their harms ignored. Consider cancer screening. For decades, it has been nearly impossible to watch television, read popular magazines or ride public transportation without seeing advertisements urging regular mammograms, colonoscopies or P.S.A. blood tests. These messages have had a profound effect: the public is now extremely enthusiastic about the notion that we should routinely screen people without symptoms for cancer. In one national survey, most Americans said that cancer screening is almost always a good idea and that finding cancer early saves lives most of the time.

Certainly, the rationale behind screening seems obvious. The earlier cancers are diagnosed, the more often lives will be saved, right? With enough screening, we might even stop cancer.

If only. Finding cancer early isn’t enough. To reduce cancer deaths, treatment must work, yet it doesn’t always. Second, it must work better when started earlier. But for some cancers, later treatment works as well. (That’s why there is no big push for testicular cancer screening — it is usually curable at any stage.)

And some of the worst cancers aren’t detected by screening. They appear suddenly, between regular screenings, and are difficult to treat because they are so aggressive.

So how can we be confident that getting a screening test regularly is a good idea? The only way to be sure is to look at the results of randomized trials comparing cancer deaths in screened and unscreened people. Even when screening “works” in such trials, the size of the benefit observed is surprisingly low: Generally, regular screening reduces fatalities from various cancers between 15 percent and 25 percent.

What does that mean? Think about a “20 percent off” sale at a store. Whether you save a lot or a little depends on the item’s regular price. You’ll get huge savings on a diamond ring, pennies on a pack of gum.

The benefit of screening is like a sale, only you don’t save money — you “save” on your chance of dying. Whether you save a lot or a little depends on the “regular price”: your chance of dying without screening.

For most of us, the chance of dying of cancer in a given 10-year period is small: less than 1 percent. So regular screening with a proven test may bring a 20 percent reduction in a 1 percent risk over a decade. Put another way, two deaths would be prevented for every 1,000 people screened during that period.

And what of the other 998 whose fate was not changed by screening? Some of them will have been harmed.

The most familiar harm is a false alarm: The screening test is abnormal, but in the end there is no cancer. False alarms matter because the follow-up tests needed to rule out cancer can be painful, dangerous and scary.

But overdiagnosis — the detection of cancers never destined to cause problems — is arguably the most important harm of screening. Some cancers grow so slowly that they would never cause symptoms or death. When screening finds these cancers, it turns people into patients unnecessarily.
Retractions are on the rise in scientific publishing:
“Nobody had noticed the whole thing was rotten,” said Dr. Fang, who is a professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem — “a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,” as Dr. Fang put it.

Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct.

“This is a tremendous threat,” he said.

Last month, in a pair of editorials in Infection and Immunity, the two editors issued a plea for fundamental reforms. They also presented their concerns at the March 27 meeting of the National Academies of Sciences committee on science, technology and the law.

Members of the committee agreed with their assessment. “I think this is really coming to a head,” said Dr. Roberta B. Ness, dean of the University of Texas School of Public Health. And Dr. David Korn of Harvard Medical School agreed that “there are problems all through the system.”

No one claims that science was ever free of misconduct or bad research. Indeed, the scientific method itself is intended to overcome mistakes and misdeeds. When scientists make a new discovery, others review the research skeptically before it is published. And once it is, the scientific community can try to replicate the results to see if they hold up.

But critics like Dr. Fang and Dr. Casadevall argue that science has changed in some worrying ways in recent decades — especially biomedical research, which consumes a larger and larger share of government science spending.

In October 2011, for example, the journal Nature reported that published retractions had increased tenfold over the past decade, while the number of published papers had increased by just 44 percent. In 2010 The Journal of Medical Ethics published a study finding the new raft of recent retractions was a mix of misconduct and honest scientific mistakes.

Several factors are at play here, scientists say. One may be that because journals are now online, bad papers are simply reaching a wider audience, making it more likely that errors will be spotted. “You can sit at your laptop and pull a lot of different papers together,” Dr. Fang said.

But other forces are more pernicious. To survive professionally, scientists feel the need to publish as many papers as possible, and to get them into high-profile journals. And sometimes they cut corners or even commit misconduct to get there.


[T]he scramble to publish in high-impact journals may be leading to more and more errors. Each year, every laboratory produces a new crop of Ph.D.’s, who must compete for a small number of jobs, and the competition is getting fiercer. In 1973, more than half of biologists had a tenure-track job within six years of getting a Ph.D. By 2006 the figure was down to 15 percent.

Yet labs continue to have an incentive to take on lots of graduate students to produce more research. “I refer to it as a pyramid scheme,” said Paula Stephan, a Georgia State University economist and author of “How Economics Shapes Science,” published in January by Harvard University Press.

In such an environment, a high-profile paper can mean the difference between a career in science or leaving the field. “It’s becoming the price of admission,” Dr. Fang said.

The scramble isn’t over once young scientists get a job. “Everyone feels nervous even when they’re successful,” he continued. “They ask, ‘Will this be the beginning of the decline?’ ”

University laboratories count on a steady stream of grants from the government and other sources. The National Institutes of Health accepts a much lower percentage of grant applications today than in earlier decades. At the same time, many universities expect scientists to draw an increasing part of their salaries from grants, and these pressures have influenced how scientists are promoted.

“What people do is they count papers, and they look at the prestige of the journal in which the research is published, and they see how many grant dollars scientists have, and if they don’t have funding, they don’t get promoted,” Dr. Fang said. “It’s not about the quality of the research.”

Dr. Ness likens scientists today to small-business owners, rather than people trying to satisfy their curiosity about how the world works. “You’re marketing and selling to other scientists,” she said. “To the degree you can market and sell your products better, you’re creating the revenue stream to fund your enterprise.”

Universities want to attract successful scientists, and so they have erected a glut of science buildings, Dr. Stephan said. Some universities have gone into debt, betting that the flow of grant money will eventually pay off the loans. “It’s really going to bite them,” she said.

With all this pressure on scientists, they may lack the extra time to check their own research — to figure out why some of their data doesn’t fit their hypothesis, for example. Instead, they have to be concerned about publishing papers before someone else publishes the same results.

“You can’t afford to fail, to have your hypothesis disproven,” Dr. Fang said. “It’s a small minority of scientists who engage in frank misconduct. It’s a much more insidious thing that you feel compelled to put the best face on everything.”

Adding to the pressure, thousands of new Ph.D. scientists are coming out of countries like China and India. Writing in the April 5 issue of Nature, Dr. Stephan points out that a number of countries — including China, South Korea and Turkey — now offer cash rewards to scientists who get papers into high-profile journals. She has found these incentives set off a flood of extra papers submitted to those journals, with few actually being published in them. “It clearly burdens the system,” she said.

A Goldman Prize for standing against a dam in Kenya.

America's GHG emissions are heading up again.

Following his excellent series on walking for Slate, Tom Vanderbilt appears on NPR.

Build bike lanes and they will bike.

Greenpeace takes a look at how clean/dirty the cloud is.

The Nigerian Delta isn't getting any cleaner.

ExxonMobil is full of lies and deceit.

Lying GOP governors and trains.

Ten reasons we should explore the deep oceans.

India and Pakistan quibble over water — probably a sign of things to come.

Glenn Greenwald tells the stories of many who many who have suffered by virtue of having dark skin and being critical of US foreign policy.

The AP's excellent series exposing the NYPD's deep-seated anti-Muslim policies — criminalizing Muslims for appearing to be Muslim — wins a Pulitzer.

An absolutely brilliant open letter to the male politicians who believe the goings-on of ladyparts should be legislated.

In order to understand how conservatives really think about motherhood, stop listening to their platitudes and start looking at how they actually act. And that way is a way that shows they actually have no respect for women’s choices, for women’s rights, and not even for how real the work of motherhood actually is.”

A judicial minimalist on the “obvious constitutionality” of Obamacare.

The Founding Fathers didn't seem to mind individual mandates.

The NYTimes on Scopes Redux.

Financial incentives to motivate doctors.

Scientific illustration and online publishing.

The Economist takes a brief look at long-form writing.

Learning from Britain's failed empire.

ALEC relents.

This is what happens when public universities go corporate and adopt all the trappings of the corporate world.

Bittman on making pizza at home.

An oral history of outlaw country.

An interview with Spiritualized's Jason Pierce on NPR.

The WSJ looks at South Asians in jazz.

Heather's Happy Link Of The Day: Bourbon!

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