Sorry for the light schedule, but I’m in the midst of finals. Oh, and still fundraising for the Climate Ride, of course, which you totally should sponsor me for.
I’ve been working on several other posts for a while, and even will have some posts inspired by things I wrote about as final papers (does that make them Quality Research instead of the usual bloggy ramblings?), but for now here are some nuggets that I’ve found whilst toiling away at various libraries and other randomly found study spaces:
1. A recent cover story by Kathleen McAuliffe in the Atlantic covered the novel hypothesis that implicates toxoplasmosis, and the “Fatal Feline Attraction” that it causes in mice, to human mental disorders. Suddenly, I think we have an answer for Why The Web Loves [lol]Cats.
(Incidentally, I first read about the theory in 2000 in Lingua Franca, courtesy Stephen Mihm. At that time, it was new even to friends who were doing Ph.Ds in psychiatry.)
2. A friend was recently photographed for the NPR Shots blog, unfortunately for an article reporting on a journal article critical of the low rate of helmet use on bike share. Neither article mentioned that requiring helmet use, and/or focusing relentlessly on helmets as the be-all-end-all of bicycle safety, can actually harm public health by discouraging bicycling — a very healthful activity which plays an important role in fighting heart disease (which kills 5X more Americans than accidents). Research into helmet laws and bicycle sharing programs have indicated that the heart-health benefit outweighs the increased exposure to accident risk.
To put it more succinctly:
0.001% of bike share trips result in a crash; over ~2M CaBi rides, 0 resulted in major head injuries
100.0% of bike share trips result in exercise and transportation
I think that’s a pretty good health and safety record.
3. A recent Tom Friedman column about “global weirding” mentioned that the entire country of Yemen is running out of water. (True, according to a Monitor report.) What’s weird about the desert drying out? Well, elsewhere along the Indian Ocean, other entire countries are now about to disappear under the rising tides.
Encouragingly, Science Friday last week covered the release of a new poll from GMU and Yale which found that only 10% of Americans are truly dismissive about global warming. So why does the media echo chamber even pay attention to this loud minority? That seems akin to requiring an irate vegan to “cover the controversy” every time a report even mentioned meat, since 2-8% of Americans are vegetarian. (I’d use a religion/atheism analogy, but the science on why vegetarianism is better for the environment is pretty well settled — and I write as an omnivore.)
Even more surprisingly, by a 3:1 ratio voters were “more likely to vote” for a candidate who favored a revenue-neutral tax shift — including 2:1 support among Republicans. Such a tax shift plan didn’t work out so well for Canada’s Liberals, but which has occurred in jurisdictions like British Columbia and Germany.
On ways to confront global warming: years ago I remember reading about what I thought to be a fair solution for both controlling pollution and encouraging fair development, and finally looked up what its proper wonky name should be: C&C, for Contraction & Convergence. Each human owns an identical share of the sky, and those of us who use more than our share should pay the others for that ability.
Obviously, the foray into the helmet debate requires better sourcing, so here’s the recent Barcelona public health analysis showing a 77:1 ratio of health benefits to risks — specifically, 415 deaths would be avoided from heart disease for every 1 death from injury risk.
Evidence for helmets is conflicting — I was able to find studies showing small negative and positive effects for mandatory helmet legislation, depending on the inputs considered. The universal theme is that while helmets very greatly reduce the risk and severity of head injuries when they do happen, there remains a puzzling disconnect between that undisputed fact and the much slower drop in observed head injuries even as helmet use has increased. It’s also difficult to tease out how much of the decline in cycling is due to the blame-the-victim, mitigate-rather-than-prevent rhetoric surrounding helmet use. International comparisons show that low cyclist fatality and injury rates have little to do with helmet use, but much to do with driver behavior.
A 1997 BMJ letter that I liked, by Tony Waterston, a pediatrician in Newcastle: “This smacks of victim blaming and is akin to insisting that smokers use a filter tip rather than banning tobacco advertising. I agree that helmets are protective, and I always wear one… Many cyclists object to the continual advocacy for helmets without equal (preferably greater) emphasis on restrictions aimed at motorists.”
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