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Posts tagged “science”

Data Science Community Newsletter: COVID on campus - Worse this year than last?

ADSA's Data Science Community Newsletter is an excellent resource for data science news. It is catered toward academics, but I think likely would be of interest to folks far beyond the academy. Among many interesting topics -- climate, civil liberties, arXiv's 30th birthday, a new CDC center directed by Marc Lipsitch (!!!) -- there was this:

On some campuses already back in session, COVID is already playing out with worse outcomes compared to the same time last year. University of Wisconsin-Madison, which does not have a vaccination mandate, set aside empty dorms and used empty hotels last year for quarantine. This year dorms are at full capacity, hotels are full of football fans, and sick students are lodged in several family housing units in a complex with children who cannot be vaccinated. At University of North Carolina Wilmington, Professor Kevin McClure tweeted that they added "another 122 positive cases [yesterday]. over 300 cases total. 52 out of 150 quarantine beds in use. This time last year we added 3 positive cases." It would be unwise to make any broader assumptions about college operations based on two schools. Dr. Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, said "We've only gotten 18 months into this pandemic, and the pandemic is going faster today than it was in 2020 and much of 2021." ... "We've had 5 pandemic changing variants in the last 6-9 months and that isn't going to slow down." Humility remains a virtue as we decide how to proceed.

Shocking and stupid that major universities are not mandating vaccines. Mine is.

"And so on. Or else."

Kurt Vonnegut:

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on--during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now?... Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

(h/t kottke.org)

Clear communication: NYU's Céline Gounder on the Ezra Klein Show

Ezra Klein, early in the interview:

Wonderful. Thank you for talking with me, Dr. Gounder. I'm going to go walk into the ocean now.

and then, a bit later:

Céline Gounder
... one of the problems we've had throughout this pandemic, is we've looked for silver bullets, simple solutions, and there's not one simple solution here. You really do have to combine multiple different public health measures. So that includes encouraging people to mask up again indoors, especially if there's a lot of transmission, while at the same time, incentivizing people who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated for them to be able to return to a more normal life, for all of us to be able to return to a more normal life.

Washington Post: If I were still working at the EPA, I would resign

Bernard D. Goldstein, former chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and EPA assistant administrator for R&D under Reagan:

I had hoped that Wheeler would reverse Pruitt’s initial policies. Instead, he has taken them well beyond the point that, were I a member of CASAC, I would have resigned. Neither my conscience, nor my concern for the respect of my peers, would have allowed me to provide advice on a complex health-related subject when I cannot interact in a scientific consensus advisory process with those who have the necessary expert credentials.

I cannot ask President Trump’s EPA assistant administrator for research and development to resign. That position remains unfilled. Nor is it likely that any credible scientist would accept such a nomination. But I urge the current members of CASAC to step down rather than seemingly acquiesce to this charade. The EPA’s leadership is destroying the scientific foundation of environmental regulations, to the detriment of the health of the American people and our environment.

Read the whole thing.

Science vs Fringe Thinking: EPA Science Panel Considering Guidelines That Upend Basic Air Pollution Science

NPR, reporting on a recent EPA Meeting:

At a public meeting Thursday that ran nearly two hours long, multiple members of that committee, including Chair Tony Cox and Steven Packham of the Utah Division of Air Quality, said they do not agree that breathing air polluted with soot can lead to an early death.

“[Committee] members have varying opinions on the adequacy of the evidence supporting the EPA’s conclusion that there is a causal relationship between [particulate matter] exposure and mortality,” said Cox, reading from the committee’s draft recommendations before explaining that he is “actually appalled” at the lack of scientific evidence connecting particulate pollution to premature death.

From Nature:

A quarter of a century of research has shown that breathing in fine airborne particles emitted by cars, power plants and other sources shortens people’s lifespans. But that scientific consensus is now under attack from a top advisor to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just as the agency is rushing to revise the national air-quality standard for such pollution before the end of President Donald Trump’s first term. Scientists fear that the result could be weaker rules on air pollution that are bad for public health — and based on politics, not science.

The case has been made — repeatedly — that the health and economic benefits of the Clean Air Act and subsequent regulatory processes are clear. This is summarized succinctly in the figure below, which shows energy consumption, vehicle miles traveled, GDP, and total emissions of EPA criteria pollutants.

Figure from The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health

Let’s put aside the economic argument and focus on the principles that undergird the Clean Air Act - protection of public health, with standards set to protect the most vulnerable. This critical prerogative is undermined by these (and other) recent efforts to roll back regulations that have clear and demonstrable health benefits. This is yet another example of the Trump administration’s abnegation of responsibility to the health and welfare of the US population.

For more information, see Gretchen T. Goldman and Francesca Dominici’s discussion in Science and their claim-by-claim evidence base. See also a nice summary of the issue at NRDC and a letter from Professor John Samet to the EPA that comprehensively outlines issues with changes to the evidence review process for the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Ye Olde Smog Meringue

image from coclimate.com

Nicola Twilley, writing at ediblegeography.com:

After running around New York City in order to source our precursor ingredients (a huge thanks to Kent Kirshenbaum, chemistry professor at NYU and co-founder of the Experimental Cuising Collective), we spent Thursday afternoon and evening in the kitchens of Baz Bagel (excellent bagels, amazing ramp cream cheese, and truly lovely people) assembling the cart, mixing different chemical precursors, and then “baking” them under UV light to form a London peasouper, a 1950s Los Angeles photochemical smog, and a present-day air-quality event in Atlanta.

We chose these three places and times to showcase three of the classic “types” that atmospheric scientists use to characterize smogs: 1950s London was a sulfur- and particulate-heavy fog, whereas 1950s Los Angeles was a photochemical smog created by the reactions between sunlight, NOx, and partially combusted hydrocarbons. Present-day Beijing often experiences London-style atmospheric conditions, whereas Mexico City’s smog is in the Angeleno style.

Meanwhile, at its worst, Atlanta’s atmosphere is similar in composition to that of Los Angeles, but with the addition of biogenic emissions. An estimated ten percent of emissions in Atlanta are from a class of chemicals known as terpenes, from organic sources such as pine trees and decaying green matter. We had also hoped to create a Central Valley smog as well, but time got the better of us.

Each city’s different precursor emissions and weather conditions produce a different kind of smog, with distinct chemical characteristics—and a unique flavour.

Laboratory and Field Evaluation of the Particle and Temperature Sensor (PATS+) System: A Portable, Robust, and Low-cost Platform for Monitoring Combustion-related Household Air Pollution

Pillarisetti A, Holstius D, Johnson M, Allen T, Canuz E, Charron D, Pennise D, Seto E, Smith KR. Laboratory and Field Evaluation of the Particle and Temperature Sensor (PATS+) System: A Portable, Robust, and Low-cost Platform for Monitoring Combustion-related Household Air Pollution . American Association for Aerosol Research, 32nd Annual Conference. Portland, Oregon: October 2, 2013.

What determines the adoption and continued use of advanced clean cookstoves?

Jack D, Pillarisetti A, Vaswani M, Balakrishnan K, Bates MN, Das M, Kinney P, Mukhopadhyay R, Smith KR, Arora NK. What determines the adoption and continued use of advanced clean cookstoves? ISEE/ISES/ISIAQ Joint Conference 2013. Basel, Switzerland: August 20, 2013.

NYTimes: "A single word tucked into a presidential speech...

Justin Gillis, writing in the NYT about Obama's choice to use the word divest:

He knows that if he is to get serious climate policies on the books before his term ends in 2017, he needs a mass political movement pushing for stronger action. No broad movement has materialized in the United States; 350.org and its student activists are the closest thing so far, which may be why Mr. Obama gazes fondly in their direction.

�I�m going to need all of you to educate your classmates, your colleagues, your parents, your friends,� he said plaintively at Georgetown. �What we need in this fight are citizens who will stand up, and speak up, and compel us to do what this moment demands.�

Let's hope the movement towards divestment grows.

If you're 27 or younger, you've never experienced a colder-than-average month

From NOAA’s State of the Climate (as reported by Grist) October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63�C (58.23�F). This is 0.63�C (1.13�F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976. The Northern Hemisphere ranked as the seventh warmest October on record, while the Southern Hemisphere ranked as second warmest, behind 1997.

Read more at NOAA.