Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Is chemical exposure from generations ago being passed down and causing current day health impacts?:
The World War II generation may have passed down to their grandchildren the effects of chemical exposure in the 1940s, possibly explaining current rates of obesity, autism and mental illness, according to one researcher.

David Crews, professor of psychology and zoology at the University of Texas at Austin, theorized that the rise in these diseases may be linked to environmental effects passed on through generations. His research showed that descendants of rats exposed to a crop fungicide were less sociable, more obese and more anxious than offspring of the unexposed.


"This, I think, is the first causal demonstration that environmental contamination may be the root cause of the great increase in obesity and the great increase in mental disorders," Crews said in a telephone interview. "It's as if the exposure three generations before has reprogrammed the brain so it responds in a different way to a life challenge."

In the study, a group of rats were exposed once to vinclozolin, a common fungicide used to protect fruits and vegetables. This single contact altered how their genes were activated, and future generations also carried this change, though they never had been exposed to the chemical, Crews said.
Seems like a big jump from obesity and diminished sociability in rats to pinpointing WWII-era chemical exposure as causing the same effects in humans. A case of an author overly generalizing results and a scence writer going along with it? Seems likely to me. Fortunately, the author includes a skeptical voice buried deeper in the article:
Andrew Feinberg, director of Johns Hopkins University's Epigenetics Center in Baltimore, said Crew's theory may be premature, after reading the paper. 
"We should be very careful about overstating what looks like basic science with public health implications," Feinberg said in an interview. "Currently we don't have enough evidence showing that these fungicides are causing common human disease through an epigenetic mechanism. It's research that's well worth doing, but it's clear that that hasn't been shown."
The sad thing is that the paper would be newsworthy even without the author jumping to conclusions not supported by the limited data — the evidence for heritable epigenetic modification of genes by toxics like a common pesticide is noteworthy in and of itself.

Public funds intended for the needy get diverted for other purposes. Case one, the foreclosure deal fund:
States have diverted $974 million from this year’s landmark mortgage settlement to pay down budget deficits or fund programs unrelated to the foreclosure crisis, according to a ProPublica analysis. That’s nearly forty percent of the $2.5 billion in penalties paid to the states under the agreement.

The settlement, between five of the country’s biggest banks and an alliance of almost all states and the federal government, resolved allegations that the banks deceived homeowners and broke laws when pursuing foreclosure. One part of the settlement is the cash coming to states; the deal urged states to use that money on programs related to the crisis, but it didn’t require them to.
Case two, public money intended for needy students goes instead to a boatload of other causes, including radical right-wing Christian educators in an end-around way to get past church-state separation (h/t Andrew):
“A very small percentage of that money will be set aside for a needs-based scholarship fund,” Wyatt Bozeman, an administrator at the school near Atlanta, said during an informational session. “The rest of the money will be channeled to the family that raised it.”

A handout circulated at the meeting instructed families to donate, qualify for a tax credit and then apply for a scholarship for their own children, many of whom were already attending the school.

“If a student has friends, relatives or even corporations that pay Georgia income tax, all of those people can make a donation to that child’s school,” added an official with a scholarship group working with the school.

The exchange at Gwinnett Christian Academy, a recording of which was obtained by The New York Times, is just one example of how scholarship programs have been twisted to benefit private schools at the expense of the neediest children.

Spreading at a time of deep cutbacks in public schools, the programs are operating in eight states and represent one of the fastest-growing components of the school choice movement. This school year alone, the programs redirected nearly $350 million that would have gone into public budgets to pay for private school scholarships for 129,000 students, according to the Alliance for School Choice, an advocacy organization. Legislators in at least nine other states are considering the programs.

While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade.

Most of the private schools are religious. Nearly a quarter of the participating schools in Georgia require families to make a profession of religious faith, according to their Web sites. Many of those schools adhere to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. A commonly used sixth-grade science text retells the creation story contained in Genesis, omitting any other explanation. An economics book used in some high schools holds that the Antichrist — a world ruler predicted in the New Testament — will one day control what is bought and sold.

The programs are insulated from provisions requiring church-state separation because the donations are collected and distributed by the nonprofit scholarship groups.

A cottage industry of these groups has sprung up, in some cases collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative fees, according to tax filings. The groups often work in concert with private schools like Gwinnett Christian Academy to solicit donations and determine who will get the scholarships — in effect limiting school choice for the students themselves. In most states, students who withdraw from the schools cannot take the scholarship money with them.

Public school officials view the tax credits as poorly disguised state subsidies, part of an expanding agenda to shift tax dollars away from traditional public schools. “Our position is that this is a shell game,” said Chris Thomas, general counsel for the Arizona School Boards Association.

Making agriculture more efficient.

And more: feeding the planet, while not destroying the environment.

Oceanic mercury comes from rivers.

Seagrass as a carbon sponge.

Sometimes rich people get so used to the law not applying to them, they get upset when the law fights back.

Oh yeah, this looks like a really well-designed study.

NYC is under siege by skeeters.

What's holding back American innovation. (h/t Marci)

Arizona's Birther of State backs down. (And Hawaii again verifies what everyone knows.)

Catholics For Unwanted Pregnancies takes the Obama administration to court.

A remorseless, amoral scumbag gets 30 days, remains unapologetic.

Two of my loves: maps and intestines.

Sportswriters by readability.

New Antibalas on its way.

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