Here’s what the U.S. map should really look like


Click to enlarge

❝ State boundaries matter for all sorts of reasons. The state you live in determined how much your vote counted in the 2016 election. It shapes what kind of benefits your employer might offer you, what taxes you pay, what kind of schools you can attend, and much more.

And yet, most state boundaries were drawn during the 17th to 19th centuries, says Garrett Nelson, a historical geographer at Dartmouth College. “Why should we think that areas which were drawn up for horses and buggies still make sense for interstates and telecommuting?”

Nelson, along with Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield, has published new research in the journal PLOS❝ ONE that shows how we might redraw state lines today, if given the opportunity. Their insights have profound implications for how business and political leaders can better organize as a region to work toward policies and projects that help their communities, as well as how Americans should think about the rural-urban divide following the 2016 election.

“One of the biggest conclusions from our research is that the familiar division of the U.S. into states isn’t always the most useful way of thinking about how geographic patterns work in the twenty-first century,” says Nelson.

A truly interesting read – whether you’re a history geek, interested in political economy, whatever. Of course changes derived from this kind of study on the geopolitical level have as much chance of coming to pass as, say, the United States adopting the metric system.

After all, the whole world may agree; but, if there’s some question of profit for either of the two self-conscious ruling political parties being disturbed – forget it!

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Scientists fear U.S. climate data might vanish under Trump


Rick Perry’s clown show called for prayer to stop wildfires

❝ Alarmed that decades of crucial climate measurements could vanish under a hostile Trump administration, scientists have begun a feverish attempt to copy reams of government data onto independent servers in hopes of safeguarding it from any political interference.

The efforts include a “guerrilla archiving” event in Toronto, where experts will copy irreplaceable public data, meetings at the University of Pennsylvania focused on how to download as much federal data as possible in the coming weeks, and a collaboration of scientists and database experts who are compiling an online site to harbor scientific information…

❝ In recent weeks, President-elect Donald Trump has nominated a growing list of Cabinet members who have questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus around global warming. His transition team at the Department of Energy has asked agency officials for names of employees and contractors who have participated in international climate talks and worked on the scientific basis for Obama administration-era regulations of carbon emissions. One Trump adviser suggested that NASA no longer should conduct climate research and instead should focus on space exploration…

❝ Those moves have stoked fears among the scientific community that Trump, who has called the notion of man-made climate change “a hoax” and vowed to reverse environmental policies put in place by President Obama, could try to alter or dismantle parts of the federal government’s repository of data on everything from rising sea levels to the number of wildfires in the country.

RTFA for useful discussion. The threat level isn’t uniformly accepted – but, damned near no one trusts Trump and his political pimps to refrain from destroying data, research and study his dimbulb brigade doesn’t approve.

Babies with three parents OK in UK

❝ Babies made from two women and one man have been approved by the UK’s fertility regulator…The historic and controversial move is to prevent children being born with deadly genetic diseases.

Doctors in Newcastle – who developed the advanced form of IVF – are expected to be the first to offer the procedure and have already appealed for donor eggs.

The first such child could be born, at the earliest, by the end of 2017.

❝ Some families have lost multiple children to incurable mitochondrial diseases, which can leave people with insufficient energy to keep their heart beating.

The diseases are passed down from only the mother so a technique using a donor egg as well as the mother’s egg and father’s sperm has been developed.

The resulting child has a tiny amount of their DNA from the donor, but the procedure is legal and reviews say it is ethical and scientifically ready…

❝ Clinics can now apply to the HFEA for a licence to conduct three-person IVF…

The team at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University is expected to be the first to be granted a licence…

❝ NHS England has agreed to fund the treatment costs of the first trial of three-person IVF for those women who meet the HFEA criteria, as long as they agree to long-term follow up of their children after they are born.

OK for the UK. Anyone think it will be legal anytime soon in OK? Har.

RTFA for details about the procedure. Yes, this can lead to a slippery slope of cures that panic True Believers and the whole brigade of anti-science whiners.

While opposition to scientific progress hasn’t especially grown since, say, the Victorian era, it boggles the mind how spooky, sanctimonius bible-thumping scares the crap out of purportedly modern politicians.

The trial that will determine our genetic future


US Patent and Trademark OfficeAlan Kotok

❝ Arguments in a trial to determine ownership of CRISPR, a gene editing technology, started Tuesday the 6th in Virginia. The outcome will determine who gets ownership of an incredibly lucrative and incredibly powerful tool that has the potential to “treat” genetic disease.

Two groups are contending for the editing technology patent: on one side is MIT’s Broad Institute and Harvard University, and on the other is the University of California, Berkeley…

❝ Billions of future revenue is at stake in the trial in the US Patent and Trademark Office — essentially a patent court — in Alexandria, Virginia. CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology could be used to genetically modify crops, animals and even fetuses, scientists promise. Previous gene-editing tools have already existed, but none appear to work as quickly or promise such versatility as CRISPR.

And based on the advances so far, CRISPR’s potential is mind-blowing. It could be used to change crop strands to be drought-resistant, or to change disease-carrying parasites to stop the spread of illnesses like malaria. And scientists are hoping it will be able to eliminate genetic disease like cystic fibrosis.

Ethical questions are inevitable – as are the number of scientifically-unqualified “experts and consultants” who will offer their expertise in the years to come. Legitimate science will be represented in the overall discussion by the broad range of researchers from academia to the narrowest of corporate purveyors.

RTFA to get up to speed. The discussion is getting underway.

Beautiful feathered dinosaur tail found preserved in amber


Click to enlargeRSM/ R.C.McKellar

❝ The tail of a feathered dinosaur has been found perfectly preserved in amber from Myanmar.

The one-of-a-kind discovery helps put flesh on the bones of these extinct creatures, opening a new window on the biology of a group that dominated Earth for more than 160 million years…

❝ The study’s first author, Lida Xing from the China University of Geosciences in Beijing, discovered the remarkable fossil at an amber market in Myitkina, Myanmar.

The 99-million-year-old amber had already been polished for jewellery and the seller had thought it was plant material. On closer inspection, however, it turned out to be the tail of a feathered dinosaur about the size of a sparrow.

❝ Lida Xing was able to establish where it had come from by tracking down the amber miner who had originally dug out the specimen…

❝ Dr McKellar said there are signs the dinosaur still contained fluids when it was incorporated into the tree resin that eventually formed the amber. This indicates that it could even have become trapped in the sticky substance while it was still alive.

Co-author Prof Mike Benton, from the University of Bristol, added: “It’s amazing to see all the details of a dinosaur tail – the bones, flesh, skin, and feathers – and to imagine how this little fellow got his tail caught in the resin, and then presumably died because he could not wrestle free.”

Beautiful and stunning. Truly fortunate that this specimen was found at a market. RTFA for more photos and description of the study.

There is NO risk-free level of smoking

negative-effects-of-smoking-on-brain-function

❝ Light smoking and not smoking every day are perceived by many to be effective strategies for reducing the health risks associated with tobacco use, but results from a new study appear to confirm that there is no safe level of exposure to cigarettes.

❝ Long-time, low-volume smokers — even those who smoked less than a single cigarette a day — had significantly higher mortality risks compared with individuals who had never smoked and smokers who had kicked the habit, according to a prospective, cohort analysis that included more than 290,000 middle-age and older participants in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.

Compared with never smokers, long-time smokers who reported smoking less than one cigarette a day had a 64% increase in mortality over the study period, and those who reported consistently smoking one to 10 cigarettes a day had an 87% greater chance of dying.

“In support of the 2010 Surgeon General’s Report, our results provide further evidence that there is no risk-free level of tobacco smoke exposure,” Maki Inoue-Choi, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Md., and colleagues…

‘Nuff said?

RTFA for details and more scary stuff than I need reminding of. So glad I quit smoking 58 years ago.

Tim the robot — monitoring the Large Hadron Collider

❝ Hundreds of feet below the French-Swiss border lays the Large Hadron Collider. The 17 miles of strange tunnels accelerate particles at close to the speed of light before smashing them together to see what happens.

That’s an oversimplification of a complicated process, one where a lot can go wrong. Someone has to monitor the miles of concrete, plastic, steel, and glass below the earth to avoid disaster and keep science moving. Someone does, someone called … TIM.

A case study in crap data put to meaningless use

❝ On Monday, I cast doubt on the many stories about how Black Friday retail sales were off to a disappointing start. This is an important story because retail is such a critical part of the U.S. economy, and because such a large share of the industry’s sales occur during the roughly five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But the more important point — at least for my purposes — is that the initial reports, thanks to the National Retail Federation, are a case study in how to obtain meaningless data and then put it to bad use.

❝ The NRF reported a 3.5 percent drop in spending. “Average spending per person over Thanksgiving weekend totaled $289.19, down slightly from $299.60 last year,” the organization said in a statement. This information was based on asking consumers how much they figured they would spend this year versus a year ago…

A lousy guess turns out to be wrong. Q’uelle surprise!

❝ I make a big deal about the retail trade group’s record of inaccuracy every year for a few reasons: it is important for investors — and indeed, citizens — to be grounded in reality. Most human progress is the result of the work of scientists, technologists and logicians who rely on facts and testable theories…

❝ This is crucial because retail sales are such a big deal. Almost 16 million people work in retail, or about 10.9 percent of the U.S. labor force. It accounts for a huge percentage of the overall economy. Retail sales provide a window into consumer sentiment, as well as corporate revenue, profits and investment decisions. By some measures, consumer spending counts for almost two-thirds of gross domestic product.

❝ …It is of course way too early to have the final retail sales data, but we do have some early numbers based on actual sales. First Data Corp., a point-of-sales transaction processor, says that it examined data from almost 1 million merchants and concluded that sales so far this holiday shopping season are up 9 percent from a year earlier. Furthermore, perhaps in a sign of the state of the industry’s health, sales of electronics and appliances rose 26.5 percent, compared with a lackluster 2.3 percent gain last year. First Data also found that the average transaction grew by more than $41 year over year.

Oh.

❝ First Data noted that its analytical methodology “is based on actual consumer transactions rather than surveys or speculation.” The company has access to this information because it processes actual credit-card and debit-card transactions.

RTFA. We’re in an extended season of mediocre surveying, surprising results, poor planning afflicting anyone making decisions based on “truthiness”.

Barry is speaking to investors; but, his point of view on hard data needs to be taken to heart across the spectra from politics to Giftmas shopping.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz