Spread some happiness …

All we seem to hear these days is bad news–wild fires, heat waves, droughts, politics, greed, corruption, discrimination, low wages, stress, unhappiness …

So, make a little bit of an effort today and make someone happy.

A recent study looking at the reasons “why so few people actually send thank yous” found “that many people totally miscalibrate the effect of an appreciative email.  They underestimate the positive feelings it will bring.”  People “also overestimate how insincere the note may appear and how uncomfortable it will make the recipient feel.”  People are also concerned about the quality of their writing being judged.

In the study, participants wrote a short “gratitude letter” that, in most cases, took less than 5 minutes to write.  The people receiving the letters then filled out a questionnaire about how it felt to receive the note.

The people receiving the notes expressed a noticeably higher rating of happiness than the senders predicted.  Plus, the receivers didn’t care about the quality of the writing, they cared about “warmth.”

“People tend to undervalue the positive effect they can have on others for a tiny investment of time.”  So, send a thank you note, tell someone that you appreciate them.  Make another person–and yourself–feel good.  Spread some happiness …

Read the article (Heather Murphy, New York Times, July 20, 2018).


Climate change is happening now …

Climate change is happening before our eyes.  All over the world–“from Japan to the Middle East, and North America to Europe,” the heat waves, floods, droughts, and wild fires “have clear links to human-caused climate change.”

What’s happening globally this year was predicted decades ago.  What we are seeing now are extremes–heat and rainfall (too much or too little).  This is occurring when Earth has warmed “only” about 1.8 degrees F (or 1 degree C).  What will happen when Earth warms to higher levels?  “We’re on a trajectory to reach [warming of] 3 degrees C or 5.4 degrees F, by 2100.”

A warmer, wetter climate has exerted “its influence on day-to-day weather.”  Researchers have “found a clear link between climate change and extreme heat in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.”

Heat and drought drive the deadly, explosive wild fires in California, Oregon, Greece, Scandinavia, Siberia, and many other places.

The impacts of a changing climate are and will be variable from region to region.  Some regions are experiencing the changes forcefully already; some areas will experience the changes more in decades to come.

The bottom line though is “that as average global temperatures increase, the impacts of climate change are becoming more visible” and are happening right now impacting places like Tokyo, London, Los Angeles, etc. “where hundreds of millions of people live.”

We need to try to prevent further extreme changes but also mitigate and adapt to the climate changes already happening.  What are you doing individually?  Are you holding decision-makers to account?

Read the article to learn more (Andrew Freedman, Axios, July 27, 2018).


AAP guidelines–avoid certain chemicals that are added to or leach into food

Guidelines recently issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics add to “the growing body of scientific evidence indicating that certain chemicals that enter foods may interfere with the body’s natural hormones in ways that may affect long-term growth and development.”  The chemicals are either used as food additives or leach into foods from packaging and manufacturing.

Chemicals of concern include nitrates and nitrites–preservatives used mainly in meat products; phthalates–used to make plastic packaging; bisphenols–used in the lining of metal cans; and, PFCs and perchlorates–used in packaging.

Many of these chemicals “interfere with normal hormone function” and can affect brain and sex organ development, and “normal metabolic function.”

Developmental disorders in children (like learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism) have increased significantly since 1997.  Childhood obesity “has more than tripled since the 1970’s”, and diabetes in children and teenagers is also on the rise.

The AAP recommends consuming fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables rather than canned, avoiding processed meats, not microwaving food or beverages in plastic containers, using glass or stainless steel rather than plastic, avoiding plastics with recycling codes 3, 6, and 7, and more.

Read the article (Roni Caryn Rabin, New York Times, July 23, 2018).

Increasing heat could drive up the number of suicides

It has long been noted that the number of suicides increases during “warmer months.”  But why?  What is the role of higher temperatures?

Recent research that analyzed “decades of historical data” “concluded that 1 degree C increases in monthly average temperatures increase suicide rates by 0.7 percent in the United States and 2.1 percent in Mexico.”

While these percentages are small, the consequences are large.  With projections of surface temperature increases of 2.1 to 2.5 degrees C by 2050 in North America, this could mean “9,000 to 40,000 additional suicides.”

Why?  One hypothesis is thermoregulation–blood flow in the brain changes “as the body works to maintain its temperature within a certain range.”  That is, high temperatures are tied to mental well-being.

Following this lead, researchers “analyzed data from more than 600 million geotagged Twitter posts” and found that as the monthly average temperature increases, the use of “depressive language in tweets” also increases.  “Mental well-being deteriorates during warmer periods.”

More and more research is finding that “climate change will have wide-ranging impacts on human health and well-being.”  “It appears that heat profoundly affects the human mind and how we decide to inflict harm.”

Read the article (James Temple, MIT Technology Review, July 23, 2018).

Spring is beginning sooner …

One apparent result of a changing climate is that spring seems to be starting earlier than in the past.  Yet, it has been hard to substantiate this claim.  There has been little actual evidence–other than anecdotes–to prove this assertion either way.

Now, researchers have used “old television footage of outdoor sporting events” to get real data on “how early trees and other plants are leafing out.”

Using TV footage of the Tour de Flanders cycling race–an event that has been run in early spring in Belgium since 1913–“researchers watched more than 200 hours of video for races from 1981 to 2016.”  From this old video, the researchers compiled “observations of leaf-out and flowering of 46 individual trees and shrubs” which could be specifically identified in the 1981-2016 footage.

Based on the observations, there has been “surprisingly strong advances in the timing of tree leaf-out and flowering.”  In the 1980’s, trees had almost never flowered or leafed-out by the time of the race; in contrast, by the period 2006 to 2016, the probability of the trees flowering had increased 67%.  This change was most strongly related to higher temperatures from January to March.

Yes, spring is starting sooner than in the past.

Read the article (Katie Langin, Science, July 3, 2018).

Bots and the spread of misinformation

Much misinformation is spread through social media by automated accounts–called “bots.”

The purpose of these fake accounts is to sway public opinion, change behavior (like voting behavior), and to generally unsettle and divide.

Can you tell if the Twitter or Facebook (or other social media) site you’re reading is genuine?  It doesn’t do any good to argue with or send biting commentary to an account controlled by a machine.  You’re never going to change its opinion or make it mad.  Being hoodwinked by a machine is no one’s finest hour.

How do you know if the post or tweet you may be looking at comes from a human being?  Can you tell the difference?

Research has identified 5 clues for spotting Twitter bots–user profile, tweet syntax, tweet semantics, temporal behavior, and network features.

Read the article to learn more (Will Knight, MIT Technology Review, July 18, 2018).