Extreme rainfall will continue

New research indicates “that any particular place on the globe gets half its annual rainfall–on average–in just 12 days” out of the year.  Which particular days varies, of course, from “place to place and season to season … but the pattern holds worldwide.”

In the study, daily rainfall from 1999 to 2014 at 185 sites located worldwide was analyzed.  The research also used 36 climate models to “assess how rainfall trends might change in the future” especially between the years 2085 and 2100.

Based on the continued inaction by many today, it will very likely be an even warmer world by 2100 with the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) likely doubling or more from today’s levels.  Under that scenario–between 2085 and 2100–the prediction is that “any particular locale can expect half a year’s rainfall to occur in just 11 days” (even faster than today).  Plus, future rainfall is likely to be even more uneven than rainfall today–more periods of little or no rain (more drought) interspersed with a few instances of even more extreme rain leading to flooding, mudslides, and more.  Half of the increase in rainfall will happen in the wettest 6 days each year.  Today and especially by 2085 to 2100, “society needs to take measures to deal with little change most of the time and a handful of events with much more rain.”

All of this makes sense–a warmer world holds more moisture (water vapor) in the atmosphere and, thus, our extreme rainfall events of today will likely become “even more extreme.”

Read the article (Sid Perkins, Science, November 15, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

You have the power to make your own decisions about issues important to your life–use it!

Knowledge brings understanding; more fully understanding an issue (immigration, health care, abortion, border security, taxation, tariffs, climate change, etc., etc.) reduces fear and anxiety about that issue.  Many people and organizations across the political spectrum push fear to make you act in a way that they want.

Make an effort to better understand the issues that are important in your life.  Remember that the truth is often complex; be skeptical of simple answers.  The big issues that affect millions are hard to solve, and any true solution is usually a compromise.  As Oscar Wilde said “the truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

So, make the effort to gain knowledge and understand, reduce the fear and anxiety, set your own value on information important to your life; make your own decisions–do not let others make important decisions for you!

To gain understanding, to reduce fear, to make your own decisions, try these guidelines —

Seek information, not affirmation: understand the algorithm-driven thought bubble of social media; social media can surround you with people and bots who seem to share many of your opinions.  That may seem comforting, but true understanding of an issue usually requires breaking that bubble and going outside your comfort zone.

Source + Motivation = Value:  always go to the original source of the information, if you can.  And, think about the context in which that information was produced; what was the motivation of the people who created that information–commercial, political, religious, etc.?  You can decide for yourself the real value of that information.

Dig deeper–do not rely on just one source of information:  in order to truly understand, look for evidence that supports and contradicts a finding, an analysis, an assertion.  Seek opinions other than your own.

See a list of questions to help you think about the value of information important to your life (Kevin Engel, November 15, 2018).

Buses are still the future of public transit

In these days of Uber and Lyft, the proliferation of electric scooters, and other individual ride services, it may seem that the best way to move people around a city is to go small–vans, cars, and other dial-a-ride type services.  The big bus is out; microtransit is in.

But, it’s not; “the best way to get the most people around a city efficiently and cheaply” is still large, fixed-route buses.

Why is microtransit inefficient?  Especially in a lower density environment–like a city suburb–a driver in a smaller van responding to individual requests for rides and not following a fixed path, can only make 4 to at best 7 stops in an hour; meaning that the smaller van may carry only 4 to 7 people during that hour.  In comparison, especially in a higher-density environment (inside a city), large fixed-route buses carry on average 12 to 45 people an hour.  And, in many cases, in dense cities like Philadelphia, USA, “the number can exceed 80” people per hour.

In addition, it might seem that a smaller van or car would be cheaper to run than a large bus.  But, as long as a human driver is involved, at least 70% of the operating cost of passenger transport is labor–paying the driver’s wages.  “The driver’s time is far more expensive than maintenance, fuel,” and other costs of operating a vehicle.  Because of that, a driver of a larger bus is more efficient than a driver of a smaller vehicle.  “The ‘to your door’ convenience offered by microtransit is so expensive per rider that it cannot possibly scale to the volumes of people traveling in a city.”

But, microtransit certainly has its niche such as serving disabled persons or “low-income people living in a hard-to-serve place.”  But, it will never be a high-ridership tool for an urban transit agency.

“Fixed public transit deploys large vehicles flowing along a set path, and riders gathering at stops to use them.”  The buses or trains can follow a fairly straight line “and they don’t need to stop once for every customer.”  “It is one of the best ideas in the history of transportation.”

Read the article (Jarrett Walker, The Atlantic, October 31, 2018).

For more information about public transportation and moving people around a city, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

 

Parkinson’s disease and the gut

A theory was proposed more than 10 years ago that “the seeds of Parkinson’s disease somehow climb out of the gut and into the brain.”  In particular, “a misfolded form of a protein known as alpha-synuclein ” may play a vital role.  In this clumpy state, the protein “may damage and kill neurons including those near the base of the brain that help control movement” leading to the tremors and body rigidity of Parkinson’s disease.

A new study found that the appendix “holds immune cells that may help coordinate the [human] gut’s response to pathogens, and bacteria that may help maintain a healthy balance of gut microbes.”  That’s positive.  However, the appendix–even in healthy people–also has a supply of alpha-synuclein.  The theory is that the misfolded, clumpy form of this protein can spread from the appendix to the brain.

The new study tracked the medical records of 1.7 million Swedish citizens since 1964.  From that analysis, there is a “1% chance that a person will develop Parkinson’s after age 65.”  But, in this very large sample, the people who had their appendix removed 20 or more years in the past had a 20% lower risk of developing Parkinson’s, especially those who lived in rural areas-meaning there may also be an environmental link to Parkinson’s (possibly pesticide exposure).

What does this all mean?

No, you should not have your appendix removed thinking it will prevent you from getting Parkinson’s.

Yes, there may well be a causal tie between the human gut (the microbiome) and the development of Parkinson’s disease.  Research teams around the world are focusing on this connection.

Read the article (Kelly Servick, Science, October 31, 2018).

For more information about the gut and the microbiome, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Scapegoats and self-blame

Scapegoating is “the act of blaming and often punishing a person or a group for a negative outcome that is due, in large part, to other causes.”

It’s not a new phenomenon.  It’s been going on for centuries–think of the witch hysteria and trials in Europe and America that lasted into the late 1700’s, the Nazis’ “attempted extermination of Jews and other minority groups” during World War II , and, more recently, Bosnia, Rwanda, right-wing movements in present-day Europe, and the current government in the United States targeting migrant caravans, Muslims, and many others.  Individuals, groups, and organizations blamed for everything from corrupting traditional moral values, contributing to economic disruption, causing crime, destroying a way of life, etc., etc.  “People seem all too eager to heap blame onto others for major misfortunes.”

The idea of the scapegoat is an astounding psychological tool for managing morale.”  “A scapegoat … is a tool for taming or expelling self-hatred.”

You’re stuck in a dead-end job living paycheck to paycheck, your relationship is a mess, you’re going nowhere, and you have no prospects … who is to blame?  Those poor choices you have made can’t possibly be the reason.  Instead, it must be those illegal aliens who are taking the best jobs, getting services for free, causing crime, destroying some mythical past way of life, and on and on.  They’re to blame; you’re a victim.  Self-esteem must be saved, inadequacy must be rationalized.

Then there are those who cynically use scapegoating for personal, often political benefit.  Political “campaigning spurs visions of greatness and vicious attacks on opponents.  They’re scapegoats, and the exaggerated hostility toward them is a symbolic slaughter.  The overreachers discharge their own panic and self-disgust at others.  And their followers thrill to be part of the hero’s symbolic rampage.”

We hate and demonize others to make up for the inadequacies and self-doubt we see in our own lives–and to prop up the individuals and groups who feed our opinions.

Scapegoating is dangerous and futile.  It never solves problems–only destroys and creates new ones.  The blamers may feel victimized and enraged but, in the end, they are as likely to be harmed.

Understand what causes and leads to scapegoating; break the cycle of fear and self-recrimination.  Forgive yourself and others.

(Kevin Engel, November 1, 2018)

For more information about psychological phenomena, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Disseminating science via social media

Even though much of our society and even our very lives is built upon and made possible through scientific advances, there is a significant anti-science bias in the United States–coming from people across the political spectrum.

One way to try and overcome this bias is for scientists to communicate directly (and understandably) with the general public–rather than stay within the scholarly communication cycle (which provides more rewards in academia).  Beyond writing for newspapers, popular magazines, doing interviews, etc., some scientists have also turned to social media as a way to reach the public.

Here, building an audience is key; is there a threshold beyond which the communication reaches more non-scientists?

A recent study “analyzed the Twitter followers of more than 100 faculty members in ecology and evolutionary biology.”  For those who had less than 1,000 followers, the majority of those followers were other scientists–an average of 60%.  But, once scientists’ Twitter accounts broke through the 1,000 follower level, “the range of follower types became more diverse and included research and educational organizations, media, and members of the public with no stated association with science.”  The greater the number of non-scientist followers, the reach of the scientists’ Twitter accounts increased exponentially “because those [non-scientist] Twitter accounts typically had larger followings than scientist-run accounts.”

Read the article (Jeffrey Brainard, Science, August 3, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of social media, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.