Pew Analysis Finds No Relationship Between Drug Imprisonment and Drug Problems

❝ On June 19, 2017, The Pew Charitable Trusts submitted a letter to the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, outlining an analysis of whether state drug imprisonment rates are linked to the nature and extent of state drug problems — a key question as the nation faces an escalating opioid epidemic. Pew compared publicly available data from law enforcement, corrections, and health agencies from all 50 states.

Pew’s analysis found no statistically significant relationship between states’ drug offender imprisonment rates and three measures of drug problems: rates of illicit use, overdose deaths, and arrests. The findings reinforce previous research that cast doubt on the theory that stiffer prison terms deter drug use and related crime…

❝ As Pew’s letter explained, higher rates of drug imprisonment do not translate into lower rates of drug use, fewer drug arrests, or fewer overdose deaths. And the findings hold even when controlling for standard demographic variables, such as education level, employment, race, and median household income.

Not that the professional liars in Congress and the White House give a damn about up-to-date analysis and no ideological bias.

A full breakdown of methodology can be found on page 7 of the letter. Here’s a link to the letter.

Analyzing 130 studies of gun control finds that it actually works

What do we really know about the research on whether gun restrictions help reduce gun deaths? Even for PhDs, this is a difficult question. There’s been a mountain of research on the subject, but these dozens of studies conducted over many years and in many different countries reach a broad and sometimes contradictory range of conclusions. It’s hard to know what it really tells us, taken together, about whether gun laws can reduce gun violence.

A just-released study, published in the February issue of Epidemiologic Reviews, seeks to resolve this problem. It systematically reviewed the evidence from around the world on gun laws and gun violence, looking to see if the best studies come to similar conclusions. It is the first such study to look at the international research in this way.

The authors are careful to note that their findings do not conclusively prove that gun restrictions reduce gun deaths. However, they did find a compelling trend whereby new restrictions on gun purchasing and ownership tended to be followed by a decline in gun deaths.

Santaella-Tenorio’s study…Magdalena Cerdá and Sandro Galea, as well as…Andrés Villaveces…examined roughly 130 studies that had been conducted in 10 different countries. Each of those 130 studies had looked at some specific change in gun laws and its effect on homicide and/or suicide rates. Most of those 130 studies looked at law changes in the developed world, such as the US, Australia, and Austria. A few looked at gun laws in developing countries, specifically Brazil and South Africa.

Massive assembly of computational analysis. The stuff I’d love to work on. Catch up to my wife. 🙂

VOX does their usual smooth job of presenting the core conclusions, edited and polished for interested readers. A worthwhile read.

Posting calorie counts really does fight obesity

Until recently, the sophisticated view about calorie labels in restaurants was one of despair: A series of studies suggested that the practice, required by Obamacare and modeled on what has been done in New York and other cities, just doesn’t succeed in promoting healthy food choices and reducing obesity.

But comprehensive new research offers a dramatically different picture. It finds that if we divide Americans into subgroups — the normal, the overweight, and the obese — we’ll find that calorie labels have had a large and beneficial effect on those who most need them.

Partha Deb and Carmen Vargas, both of Hunter College, focused on what happened to people’s body mass from 2003 to 2012. They used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the annual, nationally representative survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with state health departments. The survey collects information on self-reported height and weight, as well as demographic information…

But things get much more interesting once we start to look at subpopulations, in terms of Body Mass Index: normal, overweight or obese. In all three subpopulations, men’s BMI was significantly reduced after the introduction of calorie labels. The reduction was largest among the obese, next largest among the overweight, and smallest for those with a normal BMI. For women, the effect was statistically significant only for those who were overweight.

Digging deeper, Deb and Vargas find that both men and women in the normal weight class tend to live in high-income areas and to be college graduates; that group shows little or no effect from the calorie labels. Among the men and women who show the largest effects, an unusually high percentage tend to have no education beyond high school, to be older, and to be Hispanic.

In general, these results make a lot of sense. People of normal weight have no reason to change their behavior; they don’t have a weight problem. And if people are highly educated, it’s possible that calorie labels will not tell them a whole lot.

By contrast, men and women with weight problems have good reasons to try to lose weight — and the labels have helped them to do just that. And if consumers are less well-educated, maybe the calorie labels are more likely to tell them something they don’t know.

All in all, it’s a terrific story: The people who need to lose weight are losing weight, and the people who are least likely to know about caloric content are learning about it.

In this light, the research leaves only one serious puzzle: obese women, for whom the labels have had no effect. Deb and Vargas do not try to explain this finding. It remains a mystery.

Obviously a lot more research is needed. More support and supportive public practices may further add to the plus side of the equation. Obesity has already started to turn around a wee bit in young people. We already are a nation that exercises for fitness more than most. Maybe, we’re getting ready to exhibit some leadership in healthy eating?

Humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of giant beasts

Scientists at the universities of Exeter and Cambridge claim their research settles a prolonged debate over whether humankind or climate change was the dominant cause of the demise of massive creatures in the time of the sabretooth tiger, the woolly mammoth, the woolly rhino and the giant armadillo.

Known collectively as megafauna, most of the largest mammals ever to roam the earth were wiped out over the last 80,000 years, and were all extinct by 10,000 years ago.

Lewis Bartlett, of the University of Exeter, led the research…He said cutting-edge statistical analysis had helped solve the mystery almost beyond dispute, concluding that man was the dominant force in wiping out the creatures, although climate change could also have played a lesser role.

The researchers ran thousands of scenarios which mapped the windows of time in which each species is known to have become extinct, and humans are known to have arrived on different continents or islands. This was compared against climate reconstructions for the last 90,000 years.

Examining different regions of the world across these scenarios, they found coincidences of human spread and species extinction which illustrate that man was the main agent causing the demise, with climate change exacerbating the number of extinctions. However, in certain regions of the world — mainly in Asia — they found patterns which patterns were broadly unaccounted for by either of these two drivers, and called for renewed focus on these neglected areas for further study.

Bartlett…said: “As far as we are concerned, this research is the nail in the coffin of this 50-year debate — humans were the dominant cause of the extinction of megafauna. What we don’t know is what it was about these early settlers that caused this demise. Were they killing them for food, was it early use of fire or were they driven out of their habitats? Our analysis doesn’t differentiate, but we can say that it was caused by human activity more than by climate change. It debunks the myth of early humans living in harmony with nature.”

Matches my own subjective, unscientific feelings derived from wandering physically and intellectually through the Colorado Plateau. Not only large species; but, small to medium animals vanished with the arrival of the Athabascan peoples.

Leaving behind bones gnawed by humans.

Growing seasons are longer – not necessarily better

image

Are leaves and buds developing earlier in the spring? And do leaves stay on the trees longer in autumn? Do steppe ecosystems remain green longer and are the savannas becoming drier and drier? In fact, over recent decades, the growing seasons have changed everywhere around the world. This was determined by a doctoral candidate at the Goethe University as part of an international collaboration based on satellite data. The results are expected to have consequences for agriculture, interactions between species, the functioning of ecosystems, and the exchange of carbon dioxide and energy between the land surface and the atmosphere.

Will they make any difference in nations where politicians are bought and sold like secondhand video games at a local thrift shop run by lobbyists?

There is almost no part of Earth that is not affected by these changes,” explains Robert Buitenwerf, doctoral candidate at the Institute for Physical Geography at the Goethe University. He has evaluated satellite data from 1981 to 2012 with regard to 21 parameters on vegetation activity, in order to determine the point in time, the duration, and the intensity of growth from the northernmost conifer forests to tropical rain forests. His conclusion: On 54 percent of the land surface, at least one parameter of vegetation activity has moved away from the mean value by more than two standard deviations.

As reported by researchers from Frankfurt, Freiburg and New Zealand in the current edition of the professional journal “Nature Climate Change,” leaves are now sprouting earlier in most of the climate zones of the far north. Although they are also dropped somewhat earlier in autumn, the overall vegetation period has grown longer. On the other hand, in our latitudes, trees and shrubs are losing their leaves later than they have up to now…

The study is clear about relevancy limited to the northern hemisphere. Whether the same factors are changing in the southern hemisphere isn’t a question. There simply isn’t sufficient data.

Meanwhile, the effects of climate change measurably affect large enough geographies to analyze and begin to understand. That is – for people and nations interested in knowing their world, managing their future for the betterment of all.

A year in the life of Earth’s CO2

Concentrations of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continue to increase. On Monday, NASA released a striking video that visualizes the invisible gas as it travels around the planet over one year.

The simulation shows plumes of carbon dioxide “swirl and shift as winds disperse the greenhouse gas away from its sources,” according to NASA. The video also shows differences in carbon dioxide levels in the Northern and Southern hemispheres, as well as the change in concentrations of carbon dioxide that come with changes in season due to the growth cycle of plants and trees.

Created with an ultra-high-resolution computer model, the visualization is called “Nature Run,” simulating May 2005 to June 2007.

The Nature Run ingests real data on atmospheric conditions and the emission of greenhouse gases and both natural and man-made particulates,” NASA wrote. “The model is then is left to run on its own and simulate the natural behavior of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Computational analysis is fundamental to growing and understanding modern science. I admit it. I love it.

What a fascinating tool.

Thanks, Mike

The Impossible Burger interview

Angie Lau & Patrick Brown
Click for the interview [after a brief commercial]

Impossible Foods CEO and Co-Founder Patrick Brown discusses his company’s products which are made entirely from plants, creating a sustainable source of food and why he says his products are made a better way — with Bloomberg’s Angie Lau on “First Up.”

Amazing what computational analysis and genetic engineering are getting ready to make possible. I have a couple of old acquaintances – retired molecular biologists – who probably would like to start all over again.

Scientists retrieve sea ice imagery from dawn of satellite observation

Images from the onset of the satellite age, long languishing in storage, have been recovered by University of Colorado researchers, shedding light on sea ice variations going back 50 years.

David Gallaher and Garrett Campbell have succeeded in digitizing more than 750,000 long-lost images off data tapes and black-and-white film from NASA’s early Nimbus satellite series, focusing on changes in sea ice extent in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Both scientists work in CU’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, which is part of the university’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. Their project was fueled by $550,000 in NASA funding.

The Nimbus satellite series consisted of seven spacecraft launched over a 14-year period, its primary mission to capture clouds and other atmospheric features to aid the forecasts of hurricanes and other weather events. But now the satellites’ decades-old harvest is yielding further insights for contemporary study…

The modern satellite record of sea ice goes back only to 1979.

Gallaher learned about the stored data from the early years of the seven-satellite Nimbus series — Nimbus 1 launched Aug. 28, 1964 — during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union at San Francisco in 2009.

“We found out that it was sitting down in this warehouse in Asheville, North Carolina (at the National Climatic Data Center),” Gallaher said. “We called up and said, ‘Gee, could you send us the data for the Arctic and the Antarctic?’ And they said, ‘No.’

“They said there was no way, that it was truly ‘dark data.’ It was only on these giant rolls of film, and the only way to get what we really wanted was to scan all of it,” Gallaher said. “We asked, ‘How much are we talking about?’ And they said it would fill at least a pallet and a half.’ What? Really?”

From the efforts of Gallaher, Campbell and about eight CU students logging countless hours over the past three years — working with a $40,000 Kodak scanner picked up “dirt cheap,” according to Gallagher — more than 250,000 of the recovered Nimbus images have now been made public. The painstaking process involved having to consult NASA metadata to determine the orbit of the satellite at the point each image was recorded, and from that, identify the geographic location for each image.

Images they have recovered reveal that in 1964, Antarctica showed the largest sea ice extent ever recorded there, and that just two years later, in 1966, it registered a record-low maximum sea ice extent…

“If we had information about the winds and sea surface temperatures down there, we might be able to better interpret it,” said Campbell, a project scientist. “We have not had the time and energy to look into that. We’re still in the details of extracting all the information from these images.”

An interesting by-product of the scientists’ work is that they learned of a University of Tasmania study creating a 150-year proxy record of Antarctic sea ice change, extrapolating data from methanesulphonic acid concentrations drawn from the Law Dome ice core, south of Cape Poinsett, Antarctica. That study had indicated a 20 percent sea ice decline since about 1950.

“We’re able to validate (the Tasmanian study) with 1960s Nimbus (images),” Gallaher said. “Is it the end all? We don’t know, but if you look now at their record, validated by our records, it turns out the Antarctic started a major decline in 1950s.”

Such an interesting search. You’re tired of hearing this; but, given back, say, the last thirty years, I’d get serious about a new career in computational analysis. Though I think the craft can be used with broad strokes down to the finest, narrow quizzing of scientific data, I’d probably focus on work like this.

Of course, if you want to daydream, you could end up working for Craig Venter on genomics. Woo-hoo!

Thanks, Mike

Hospitals could face penalties for missing electronic health record deadline

More than half of U.S. hospitals were on the hook to meet a new set of “meaningful use” of electronic health records criteria — known as the stage 2 criteria — by the end of the fiscal year that ended in July. The new study’s data, which was gathered in late 2013, suggests that many may have missed the milestone. At the time, only 5.8 percent of those hospitals were on track to adopt all 16 of the stage 2 meaningful use goals.

Hospitals that bill the Medicare program and didn’t meet the criteria in fiscal year 2014 will be subject to financial penalties in fiscal year 2015…

The criteria, set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, include relatively easy items such as using electronic health records to enter orders for medication as well as lab and radiology tests, to chart patients’ vital signs and to record patient demographics. More difficult activities include sharing electronic health record data with patients online, sharing electronic data with other providers who care for the same patients and submitting electronic data to vaccine registries…

The criteria are the second tier of compliance with the 2009 Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, also known as HITECH. The act requires hospitals to move from paper to electronic recordkeeping. At first, only a basic set of criteria is required, but once a hospital starts down the path, it must meet higher benchmarks at scheduled dates. The more than half of hospitals that were scheduled to meet the stage 2 meaningful use criteria in 2014 were the first wave to begin adopting digital medical records.

The study determined that the number of hospitals adopting electronic health records continues to rise steeply. Nearly 60 percent of hospitals now have at least a basic system. And 90 percent of those were on track to achieve many of the 16 core criteria.

The study suggests that, where hospitals are not able to meet criteria, they aren’t always to blame. Vendors must upgrade their products to make necessary functions available to meet the criteria. These challenges, however, appear to be concentrated in specific types of hospitals.

“Policymakers may want to consider new targeted strategies to ensure that all hospitals move toward meaningful use of electronic health records,” Adler-Milstein said. “We found that rural and small hospitals lag behind, suggesting a need to expand federal efforts to help these institutions select, purchase, implement and successfully use electronic health records in ways that earn them incentive payments and enable them to engage in new care delivery and payment models.”

Overdue. Way overdue. One of the best things we can thank Obama for – at two levels.

I really enjoy being able to access my medical records, diagnoses and communications – and love seeing them available between my physicians. Two of the four physicians on my Medicare chart are there: my GP and my eye doctor. Mostly just annual checkups; but, I’m glad they can see other’s work. The other two have just as perfunctory a relationship – and I’m confident they’ll soon be on board.

The best reason in the world to get hospitals into the mix makes me feel great – as a cynical geek. Because computational analysis is turning up crooked hospitals, administrators and healthcare conglomerates all over the country. And I love it.

When a hospital’s billing practices distort general rules of practice – it shows up. When a hospital is requesting ten times the national/regional average of one kind of profit center test – it shows up. Etc.

Like I said. Overdue.

Mediterranean diet is good for the mind

The first systematic review of related research confirms a positive impact on cognitive function, but an inconsistent effect on mild cognitive impairment.

Over recent years many pieces of research have identified a link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and a lower risk of age-related disease such as dementia.

Until now there has been no systematic review of such research, where a number of studies regarding a Mediterranean diet and cognitive function are reviewed for consistencies, common trends and inconsistencies.

A team of researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School, supported by the National Institute for Health Research Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care in the South West Peninsula (NIHR PenCLAHRC), has carried out the first such systematic review and their findings are published in Epidemiology.

The team analysed 12 eligible pieces of research, 11 observational studies and one randomised control trial. In nine out of the 12 studies, a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with better cognitive function, lower rates of cognitive decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

However, results for mild cognitive impairment were inconsistent.

A Mediterranean diet typically consists of higher levels of olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fish. A higher adherence to the diet means higher daily intakes of fruit and vegetables and fish, and reduced intakes of meat and dairy products.

The study was led by researcher Iliana Lourida. She said: “Mediterranean food is both delicious and nutritious, and our systematic review shows it may help to protect the ageing brain by reducing the risk of dementia. While the link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and dementia risk is not new, ours is the first study to systematically analyse all existing evidence.”

The review indicated inconsistencies in the literature, the need for further research. All right and proper procedure following usual conservative practices among scientists.

As I always suggest, it’s also worth keeping an eye open for unintended consequences, unpredicted results which may aid in more schemes beyond the original research. It happens all the time.

And, yes, computational analysis rocks!