Category Archives: Science

Graph of the Day: More Chicken, Less Beef- What Americans Eat

The USDA has been monitoring what sort of food Americans eat for 100 years now. They have released these statistics and have some interesting graphs.  Unsurprisingly, we aren’t eating enough fruit and vegetables.  However, we seem to be eating less fattening meat products.  See the graph below:

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Graph of the Day: Local News

With the current snowpocalypse reaching it’s 3rd day, we here at DC Progressive have been watching a good deal of local news. We thought it would be interesting to illustrate what local news covers.   The good people over at Asylum thought of it first.  Here is a chart they put together of the local news coverage in Washington, DC on an normal week (Jan 4-8).  We suspect the weather portion has increased from 17% of the coverage to about 95% with the recent 17-32″ of snowfall the region has seen this weekend.

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Monsanto: Genetically Modified Food and the Need for Reforming Food Safety Laws

A recent study has found that genetically modified food is linked to organ damage in rats.  The study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that genetically modified corn produced by Monsanto “induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity.”

Monsanto is a seed producing and chemical company with a rich history of controversy.  There have been allegations of intimidating farmers, using hostile tactics to monopolize the market, false advertising, producing large-scale international pollution.  In addition, they manufactured Agent Orange for the U.S. military during the Vietnam war.

This month, Monsanto also was dealt a legal blow as the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a patent case on their alfalfa seed.  In short, the company manufactured an alfalfa resistant to the Monsanto produced Roundup herbicide.  Bees will pollinate the genetically modified alfalfa and then cross pollinate it with organic crops adding the genetic modification to the organic alfalfa.  Organic farmers will then lose their USDA organic certifications.  Since Monsanto also has a patent on the genetic modification, the company can sue any farmer for stealing their property, and they do.

Although the study last week only indicated that genetically modified corn was linked to organ damage, this is the first study to link genetically modified food to toxic reactions.  Further studies may indicate other genetic modified food may have an impact on human health.  Considering alfalfa is a main source of cattle feed and the genetic modification has a potential to spread quickly and dominate the alfalfa market, if the genetically modified alfalfa is hazardous to human health, the Supreme Court decision may be crucial to public health.

Reforming the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the regulatory roles they have over our food is crucial to both public health and the farming industry.  Allowing monopolistic corporations to put small farmers out of business over plant genetics and potentially causing us all harm with these modifications should not be tolerated.

By Emma Sandoe

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Cell phones and Statistics

The Commonwealth Fund released a report in December on young people’s views of health insurance.  Most of the results were relatively unsurprising, however the survey methodology would make any statistician excited.

Traditionally, public opinion surveys have been conducted over the telephone. However, young people typically don’t have landline telephones.  Many, if not most, use cell phones primarily or exclusively.   83% of all adults have cell phones and for a vast majority of people this is becoming their main form of communication.

Data from young people is valuable to public opinion researchers. Yet, with caller identification technology so readily available on cell phones, individuals are less likely to answer calls from researchers. This creates an interesting problem– now researchers must find out exactly how many people primarily use cell phones, and the traditional way to ask them is by calling them.  So how do researchers conduct a survey today?

In this survey, about half of the participants were called on their cell phones and the other half was called on landlines.  The second group of landline calls were over-sampled for low income and African-American and Hispanic populations.  Is this really accurate to do?  How do we know the best way to sample?  Are our methods for collecting data truly reflecting our population?  This is why trusting statistics blindly does not often yield valid results, as we are seeing with the recent Massachusetts Senate race polling. Methodology is more important than the results of a given survey.

If anyone was wondering, the Commonwealth survey found that almost half of young people had gaps in insurance and low income individuals were more likely to be uninsured.

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Copenhagen Produces Massive Carbon Footprint

Somewhere between the politicians, business interests, and media hype of the Copenhagen climate talks, the environmentalists seem to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Despite limited efforts to minimize the carbon emissions created by the conference, the UNFCC estimates that the two-week event will generate about 40,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Since the UNFCC sponsors the talks, this is probably a modest estimate. But it is still equivalent to the emissions of 10,000 cars over an entire year. It is also as much as much as Malawi’s 15 million inhabitants produce in two weeks.

This striking figure raises concern over whether the content of the talks are being guided by a pragmatic concern for stopping climate change. The UK’s The Mirror reports:

The Bella Centre, where the talks are being held, is like an enormous climate trade fair…the centre swarms with believers thrusting bags of goodies, tee shirts, badges leaflets and a forest of glossy brochures at every passer by.

Any environmentalist should question the sustainability passing out swag that will likely be thrown away after a brief glance. It would have been comforting to see organizers in Copenhagen take some leadership in cutting down on one of the primary culprits behind global warming – waste.

Instead, the government of Denmark is reverting to a tactic that has become central to the climate change battle – “carbon offseting.” In a partnership with the World Bank, Denmark plans to ‘neutralize’ the emissions of the conference by sponsoring the replacement of 20 brick kilns in Bangladesh.

The arrangement is less than ideal, since the massive emissions are happening now, and the reductions merely slated to happen sometime in the future. Also, the principle of cap-and-trade doesn’t work unless there is a strict ‘cap’ to reduce emissions at the outset; otherwise we (at best) simply break even. Even if the offset project is carried out as planned, this is a lot like taking one step forward and another step back.

By Mary Tharin

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Graph of the Day: Thanksgiving Edition

Apologies for the non-politics-related posting today.  Hopefully, our loyal readers are spending time with family and (or) the people they love this Thanksgiving.  We here at DC Progressive are thankful for our President, Congress debating health care reform, a path to the an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our troops overseas, roofs over our heads, and food in our stomach, friends and family, pie (of all kinds), and finally, you, our readers.

In terms of interesting things to spend your time doing between cooking and socializing, the New York Times has a great interactive map showing the words people are searching to find recipes for Thanksgiving.  Apparently, sweet potato casserole is the number one recipe this holiday season.  Yours truly is currently located in California, where people eat yams instead of sweet potatoes, and only seem to cook stuffing, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes.  New Englanders eat apple pie and Southerners love their casseroles and Mac and Cheese.  Happy eating and happy Thanksgiving everyone!


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NASA: The World Won’t End in 2012

Thank god for NASA.

There has been a great deal of controversy and conspiracy theories surrounding the “end of the world” expected by many on December 21, 2012.  In fact, Hollywood gives you a sneak peak in the movie 2012 opening this weekend.

The reason for the panic on this particular date is due to the end of one of the Mayan calendars set for that date.  The Mayans have been well revered for their advanced language, science, astronomical, and math skills.

These two facts have lead people to believe that the Mayans must have concluded that something is going to happen in space on this day.  Theorists have added the extra layer of a planet, Nibiru, “discovered” by Sumerians circa 5000 B.C. which is claimed to be headed toward the earth.  It was supposed to destroy civilization with a direct collision in 2003.

It didn’t.

The date was moved to 2012.

The theory has become so widespread that it has become necessary that our NASA scientists sit down and answer our questions about 2012.

What you need to know:

  • There is no planet Nibiru
  • There is no meteor headed towards us
  • The earth’s poles can’t flip (magnetic ones can, but that’s neither here nor there)
  • Solar flares will happen in 2012-2014
  • Solar flares won’t destroy our planet, just like they didn’t in 2002

Of course, we won’t know in the answer to this mystery until we wake up December 22nd, 2012 (or December 24th for some theorists).  Hopefully we will all survive, just like May 2003, December 31, 1999 and all those other missed apocalypses.  If we aren’t here come that day, I apologize for misleading you, but I am glad I’m in the company of our nation’s top scientists.

NASA’s press release below:

Remember the Y2K scare? It came and went without much of a whimper because of adequate planning and analysis of the situation. Impressive movie special effects aside, Dec. 21, 2012, won’t be the end of the world as we know. It will, however, be another winter solstice.

Much like Y2K, 2012 has been analyzed and the science of the end of the Earth thoroughly studied. Contrary to some of the common beliefs out there, the science behind the end of the world quickly unravels when pinned down to the 2012 timeline. Below, NASA Scientists answer several questions that we’re frequently asked regarding 2012.

Question (Q): Are there any threats to the Earth in 2012? Many Internet websites say the world will end in December 2012.
Answer (A): Nothing bad will happen to the Earth in 2012. Our planet has been getting along just fine for more than 4 billion years, and credible scientists worldwide know of no threat associated with 2012.

Q: What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in 2012?
A: The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012. Then these two fables were linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 — hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Q: Does the Mayan calendar end in December 2012?
A: Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then — just as your calendar begins again on January 1 — another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

Q: Could a phenomena occur where planets align in a way that impacts Earth?
A: There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades, Earth will not cross the galactic plane in 2012, and even if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible. Each December the Earth and sun align with the approximate center of the Milky Way Galaxy but that is an annual event of no consequence.

Q: Is there a planet or brown dwarf called Nibiru or Planet X or Eris that is approaching the Earth and threatening our planet with widespread destruction?
A: Nibiru and other stories about wayward planets are an Internet hoax. There is no factual basis for these claims. If Nibiru or Planet X were real and headed for an encounter with the Earth in 2012, astronomers would have been tracking it for at least the past decade, and it would be visible by now to the naked eye. Obviously, it does not exist. Eris is real, but it is a dwarf planet similar to Pluto that will remain in the outer solar system; the closest it can come to Earth is about 4 billion miles.

Q: What is the polar shift theory? Is it true that the earth’s crust does a 180-degree rotation around the core in a matter of days if not hours?
A: A reversal in the rotation of Earth is impossible. There are slow movements of the continents (for example Antarctica was near the equator hundreds of millions of years ago), but that is irrelevant to claims of reversal of the rotational poles. However, many of the disaster websites pull a bait-and-shift to fool people. They claim a relationship between the rotation and the magnetic polarity of Earth, which does change irregularly, with a magnetic reversal taking place every 400,000 years on average. As far as we know, such a magnetic reversal doesn’t cause any harm to life on Earth. A magnetic reversal is very unlikely to happen in the next few millennia, anyway.

Q: Is the Earth in danger of being hit by a meteor in 2012?
A: The Earth has always been subject to impacts by comets and asteroids, although big hits are very rare. The last big impact was 65 million years ago, and that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Today NASA astronomers are carrying out a survey called the Spaceguard Survey to find any large near-Earth asteroids long before they hit. We have already determined that there are no threatening asteroids as large as the one that killed the dinosaurs. All this work is done openly with the discoveries posted every day on the NASA NEO Program Office website, so you can see for yourself that nothing is predicted to hit in 2012.

Q: How do NASA scientists feel about claims of pending doomsday?
A: For any claims of disaster or dramatic changes in 2012, where is the science? Where is the evidence? There is none, and for all the fictional assertions, whether they are made in books, movies, documentaries or over the Internet, we cannot change that simple fact. There is no credible evidence for any of the assertions made in support of unusual events taking place in December 2012.

Q: Is there a danger from giant solar storms predicted for 2012?
A: Solar activity has a regular cycle, with peaks approximately every 11 years. Near these activity peaks, solar flares can cause some interruption of satellite communications, although engineers are learning how to build electronics that are protected against most solar storms. But there is no special risk associated with 2012. The next solar maximum will occur in the 2012-2014 time frame and is predicted to be an average solar cycle, no different than previous cycles throughout history.

Addition information concerning 2012 is available on the Web, at:

  • Sky and Telescope Magazine: “2012: The Great Scare
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