Climate change and Western wildfires: gonna get hotter

Science Progress looks at the discouraging feedback loop between climate change and Western wildfires:

New research investigating the impact of climate change on western wildfires presents a bleak picture. CAP Senior Fellow Tom Kenworthy covers the latest science in an American Progress column this week, explaining the problematic feedback cycle: higher temperatures from global warming increase the risks of wildfires, and increased fires release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere:

A new paper in the April 24 issue of the journal Science, for example, concludes that scientists have greatly underestimated the impact that deforestation brought on by fires has on climate change. On a global scale, fires release into the atmosphere about half of the carbon dioxide that is contributed by the use of fossil fuels.

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Postrel: Bad News for Medical Progress

Virginia Postrel says

It’s the worst regulatory news I’ve heard in a long time–and it predates the new administration by a half year. Sidney Wolfe, who seemingly never met a new drug or device he thought should be legal, has been named to four-year term on the FDA’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Committee. He’s got the “consumer” slot. Well, I’m a big-time pharmaceutical consumer, and this man does not speak for me.
His philosophy: “If there were any question, they would take the drug off the market.”

Postrel also posts a nice admiration of a Freeman Dyson lecture (availabe via pdf download about the history of mathematics.

Lilly settles Zyprexa suit for $1.42 billion

The price drug companies pay for illegally marketing drugs for off-label (tnat is, non-FDA-approved) uses just got higher. Such off-label pushing has been a growing problem the past few years, as drug companies sought to expand the use and thus the profit from established drugs. Doctors are free to prescribe drugs for off-label uses — but companies aren’t allowed to recommend or urge such use, as such use hasn’t, by definition, been vetted at the FDA and so should be a doctor call, not the drug companies. Nevertheless, companies have indulged heavily in the practice.
This fine might be heavy enough to seriously discrouage it. The fine is over a third of what the total sales of the reported $3.5B the drug (Zyprexa) generated. Not clear to me if anyone knows what portion of that $3.5 came from off-label use. But it seems doubtful it was $1.4B, which is what they’re paying to settle the case.
The AP, the Wall Street Journal, Furious Seasons, and In the Pipeline all report or comment on it.
I’ll comment in another post on how this story reflects an interesting, and I would say promising, intersection of the powers of the mainstream and new (blogging) press.

TV and infants, the (overdue) review study

Someone finally did a review study on TV — including “educational DVDs” — and infants. Among results that should not surprise …

Watching TV programmes or DVDs aimed at infants can actually delay language development, according to a number of studies. For example, a 2008 Thai study published in Acta Paediatrica found that if children under 12 months watched TV for more than two hours a day they were six times more likely to have delayed language skills. Another study found that children who watched baby DVDs between seven and 16 months knew fewer words than children who did not.

is at least one that shocks me, anyway:

29 per cent of parents who took part in a survey of 1,000 American families published in 2007 said they let their infants watch TV because they thought it was “good for their brains”.

Where do they get these ideas? Successful marketing.

Along with the Scientific Blogging write-up, you can find more at the Telegraph and An earlier story examined a 2000-infant study that showed links between TV watching at 2 and ADHD at 7.

Caleb Crain on how higher reading numbers might not be such great news

Caleb Carr Crain on why he remains pessimistic about reading despite the recent National Endowment of the Arts report showing a reversal last year in a 25-year decline in reading. It’s a good consideration of several ways i which the data might be a mismeasure or a misleading anomaly.

Why aren’t I celebrating the new numbers about the reading of literature? First, the numbers are good, but they’re not that

Second, another of the NEA’s measures shows a continued, stubborn decrease. To the question "With the exception of books required for work or school, did you read any books during the last 12 months?" the proportion of respondents saying yes dropped from 56.6 percent in 2002 to 54.3 percent in 2008. The proportion of Americans who said in 2008 that they read some literature in the previous twelve months may be higher than it was in 2002, but it’s lower than it was in 1992, 1985, and 1982. Moreover, the same is true of the rates in the eighteen- to twenty-four-year-old bracket. Over the longer span, we’re still talking about a decline.

Bono bash fun break

1. Andrew Sullivan trashed Bono for his Times column (judge it yourself and summarize it in a contest if you’d like) — and trashed Bono’s lyrics as well.
2. A reader objected, saying Bono’s lyrics weren’t ALL so bad.
3. Sullivan half-conceded — and posted this video.

Mess not with Andrew.

Hear hear: Why the Huffington Post Can’t Replace The New York Times

  • The idea that the Huffington Post, or the explosion of interesting internet news or blogging sites, can replace journalistic institutions like the New York times or other newspapers or dinosaurs of the mainstream media truly misunderstands the web, newspapers, journalism and the serious threat posed to democracy if the news gathering institutions fail.

I think Waldman has this right.  Michael Hirschorn’s Atlantic piece pondering the death of the Times is plenty interesting, and good food for thought. But — even aside from my own self-interest as a freelance contributor to the Times — I think Hirschorn’s overly optimistic when he says the death of the print Times (and with it, essentially, the death of all print daily newspapers) would not necessarily be a disaster. Hirschorn says best estimates are that an online-only version could support about 20% of the reporting and editing infrastructure presently at the Times. So we’d lose at least 80% of the sort of infrastructure that supports in-depth reporting, fact-checking, editing, and brainstorming, and with it a corresponding infrastructure of contacts and information flow that is not paid directly by the Times, but in existence only because of the Times’ infrastructure.

Yes, some of that can be replaced by networks tied to online reporting. But as valuable as the best online reporting is — HuffPo, Talking Points, etc. — even those places would readily admit they don’t have the means to break big, reporting-intensive stories — or pack the punch needed to hold government and business accountable. The MSM has sometimes failed to respondibly serve this function as a check on power. Yet its capacity to do so is itself a public good.

Media 2.0 is a splendid thing. But I can’t see how it can replace the combination of resources and concentrated clout brought to bear by our biggest newspapers (and local papers, at a local leval).

Three steps for the FDA, too many for Everest climbers, and other wonders

Rolling deadlines have kept me from the blogging desk, but I can occupy it long enough now to call out a few items that either haven’t received as much coverage as they might have — or that have gotten several interesting hits.
• At Huffpost, Jeanne Lenzer and Shannon Brownlee offer the FDA a three-step program:

Step One: Admit that you are currently powerless over the industry you are supposed to be regulating. You have let Big Pharma take over your life. You have become dependent on drug company money that comes from the Prescription Drug Fee User Act (PDUFA) of 1992, and over the years you have grown too cozy with the industry officials. Admit it.

They follow this half-facetious fun by adding to the present line of presumed candidates for FDA commissioner some of their own suggestions — an intriguing set of people whose contibutions to date should strengthen the hand of whoever does get the nod.
• Speaking of which: the Wall St. Journal Health Blog and Furious Seasons take helpful looks at an Dept of HHS Inspector General report that takes the FDA to task for poor review of conflicts of interest in researchers conducting clinical trials of drugs and devices under FDA review. Furious Seasons adds a piece on a Lancet Neurology study that finds

that antipsychotics used to treat Alheimer’s and dementia in the elderly may double the risk of death in these patients. Use of these drugs in treating the elderly is off-label, but is nonetheless a huge proportion of antipsychotic sales, especially in the US, and has led to numerous lawsuits.

• Wired Science, which produces an amazingly rich stream of reports, oddities, and perspectives, digs out a call by George Washington in his inaugural address for valuing and encouraging science and literature.

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Books live: National Geographic’s Ocean Atlas

William J. Broad’s Times piece on the new National Geographic “Ocean – An Illustrated Atlas gives a nice look at both the book — and gives long-overdue and well-deserved attention to oceanographer Sylvia Earle, who co-authored the Atlas.
. Earle’s passion extends to the far horizon. In the atlas, she reports that some 90 percent of deep-sea creatures use bioluminescence in their life strategies and that the eerie glows may turn out to constitute the planet’s most common form of communication.