Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

Italy OKs Abortion Pill

| Fri Jul. 31, 2009 6:22 PM EDT

The Catholic Church lost another round today when Italy approved the use of RU-486, the abortion drug. The Vatican warned of immediate excommunication for doctors prescribing the pill and for women taking it.

According to the Catholic News Service, Archbishop Fisichella announced that "it is obvious that the canonical consequences" of using RU-486 are the same as those incurred for getting a therapeutic abortion: automatic excommunication.

This is latest defeat for the Catholic Church in its efforts to ban abortion in the Vatican's home nation.

Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, a senior church bioethicist, told the Associated Press that RU-486 is "not a drug, but poison."

Dr. Gabriella Pacini of Woman's Life, a group that provides medical counseling to women, said RU-486 "has been used for years in Europe, on millions of women and is considered safe and effective. Why not give Italian women a choice between pharmacological abortion and surgical abortion?"

 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Obama's Science Boom

| Thu Jul. 30, 2009 7:21 PM EDT

It's been five months since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, which delivered the largest increase in basic research funding in American history—$21.5 billion.

So what's happening with the science money?

According to The Science Coalition, ARRA research grants are creating new university jobs, creating thousands of research awards, expediting tens of thousands of grant applications, buying equipment, and supporting some $3.5 billion of science-related construction projects for research facilities and capital equipment.

And that's not all. The Department of Energy is establishing 16 Energy Frontier Research Centers on university campuses to accelerate development of new energy technologies. Each center will support a full staff of researchers, technicians, and grad students and postdocs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology is using ARRA funds to support the construction of major new academic research facilities in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Texas.

Some 3,000 college students, high school students, and teachers in 49 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, are participating in ARRA-funded summer jobs programs, getting lab experience at the nation's leading biomedical research facilities.


Here's a small sample of projects funded by state:

  • West Virginia: $751,506 to Marshall U in partnership with West Virginia University to support 50 undergrad students and high school science educators for the next two years studying disease processes such as cancer and cardiovascular disease
  • Minnesota: $362,400 to the U of Minnesota to create jobs and encourage students from minority and underserved communities to pursue careers in health-related sciences, including internships in cancer research for 10 undergrads and high school teacher training in cancer biology
  • Ohio: federal stimulus money is fueling 15 NIH research projects at the Ohio State U this summer and supporting the lab work of five central Ohio science teachers and 49 students high school and college students
  • Tennessee: $1.5 million ARRA grant to the U of Memphis to fund a six-year program to recruit, train, and support secondary education math and science teachers for the Memphis City Schools
  • Michigan: $900,000 grant to Michigan Technological University to train 24 students and 12 professionals to teach STEM disciplines in high schools
  • California: a grant to the U of California Santa Barbara Cal Teach program providing $10,000 fellowships for 75 teacher candidates pursuing masters degrees
  • North Carolina: a $17.5 million grant to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill for a center focusing on developing solar fuels from next-generation photovoltaic technology, supporting about 30 postdocs and grad students
  • Massachusetts: a $19 million grant to fund the Center for Excitonics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, looking towards new materials for converting solar energy to electricity and for electrical energy storage
  • Michigan: $19.5 million to the U of Michigan to study solar energy research, supporting 22 researchers studying nanoscale materials to determine their potential for converting solar energy into electricity
  • Missouri: $20 million to Washington University in St. Louis to establish the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center to study forms of energy based on the principles of light harvesting and energy funneling, plus educational outreach to K-12, undergrad, and grad levels
  • Florida: $15 million to the U of Miami toward a Marine Technology and Life Science Seawater Research Building
  • Alabama: $14 million to Auburn U toward the development of a Center for Advanced Science, Innovation and Commerce
  • Texas: $11 million to Rice U toward the new Brockman Hall for Physics
  • North Carolina: $15 million to the U of North Carolina Wilmington for a new facility for the Marine Biotechnology in North Carolina program


And more:
 

1 In 6 Health Workers Won't Report in Flu Pandemic

| Wed Jul. 29, 2009 6:42 PM EDT

Just in case you were counting on them… 16 percent of public health care workers will not report for work in a flu pandemic emergency—regardless of the severity.

The survey published in PLOS ONE was conducted among 1,835 public health workers in Minnesota, Ohio, and West Virginia from November 2006 to December 2007. 

Among the findings:

  • Public health workers who were concerned about a pandemic threat but also confident they could perform their roles with a meaningful impact on the situation were 31 times more likely to respond to work in an emergency than those who perceived the threat low and their jobs unimportant
  • Workers who perceived the threat of the emergency to be low yet strongly believed in the importance of their jobs were 18 times more likely to say they would respond to work than those who thought the threat low and their jobs unimportant


The survey could help public health agencies design, implement, and evaluate training programs for health workers. The authors' recommendations:

  • Motivate public health workers with a better understanding of why their roles make a difference
  • Don't downplay the threat of a flu scenario in order to calm workers' fears, since a sense of threat is an important motivator
  • Training should include assurances of workers' personal safety, since 24 percent of respondents considered their work environments unsafe

How about combat pay?
 

Mileage Today No Better Than a Model T

| Thu Jul. 23, 2009 5:28 PM EDT

A new study in Energy Policy analyzes changes in fuel efficiency of US vehicles between 1923 and 2006. During the Age of the Model T—circa 1923—the fuel efficiency of the overall fleet of all vehicle classes was 14 miles per gallon. In 2006, it was a whopping 17.2 miles per gallon.

Woo-hoo. Proof evolution doesn't exist.

Researchers Michael Sivak and Omer Tsimhoni at the U of Michigan analyzed the fuel efficiency of the entire US vehicle fleet—cars, motorcycles, trucks, and buses. From 1923 to 1935 fuel efficiency managed about 14 mpg. In 1973 it hit the abyss at 11.9 mpg. By 1991, it straggled upwards to 16.9 mpg. The 1991 efficiency—if you can call it that—was a response to the 1973 OPEC oil embargo and the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

Progress is now stalled. Between 1991 and 2006 the average efficiency improved by only 1.8 percent to 17.2 mpg.

New Scientist reports that electric vehicle research continues to advance with governmental backing but is unlikely impact fuel efficiency in the US in the short term.

For US fuel consumption to fall by 10 percent, average fuel efficiency across the entire fleet will have to rise to 19.1 mpg. Obama's May announcement that new cars should average 35.5 mpg by 2016 does nothing to boost the efficiency of the rest of the vehicle fleet.

The study suggests:

  • Financial incentives prodding owners to scrap older vehicles in favor of new ones
  • Tax breaks encouraging the development and introduction of fuel-saving tech
  • Society has much more to gain from improving a car from 15 to 16 mpg than from improving a car from 40 to 41 mpg. The benefits are greater from improving a truck from 4 to 4.5 mpg than from 7 to 7.5 mpg.

 

AIDS Found in Wild Chimps

| Wed Jul. 22, 2009 7:51 PM EDT

Even though AIDS likely came to us from chimpanzees, chimps don't develop AIDS. Or so we thought.

New evidence shows that chimpanzees infected with SIV—simian immunodeficiency virus, the precursor to HIV-1—do contract and die from AIDS. The paper appears in Nature.

The chimps at the heart of the study live at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. This population has survived the ravages of the modern world thanks to 50 years of dedicated oversight from Jane Goodall and colleagues.

Among the findings from researchers working in Gombe:
 

  • Infected chimps are 10-16 times more likely to die than uninfected chimps
  • Infected females are less likely to give birth
  • Infants born to infected mothers are unlikely to survive
  • The virus is transmitted sexually and through the milk of infected mothers
  • In the course of the nine year study, 10-20 percent of the 94 chimpanzees were infected at any given time


The finding opens up new opportunities for research. Goodall says: "We hope this will lead to a better understanding of the virus that will benefit both humans and chimpanzees."

The virus affects chimpanzees in similar ways to humans and although there is no practical treatment for the chimps, it appears the SIV infection is not as pathogenic as HIV-1 in humans. The Gombe chimps have maintained their community size despite the disease.
 

Thu Jun. 27, 2013 6:05 AM EDT
Tue May. 21, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Tue Apr. 16, 2013 6:05 AM EDT
Fri Apr. 12, 2013 6:10 AM EDT
Fri Apr. 5, 2013 6:15 AM EDT
Fri Mar. 8, 2013 7:20 AM EST
Mon Feb. 11, 2013 7:02 AM EST
Thu Jan. 31, 2013 7:21 AM EST
Fri Jan. 18, 2013 5:37 PM EST
Fri Dec. 14, 2012 7:18 AM EST
Tue Nov. 27, 2012 7:13 AM EST
Thu Nov. 15, 2012 7:18 AM EST
Fri Nov. 9, 2012 7:03 AM EST
Tue Nov. 6, 2012 7:13 AM EST
Mon Oct. 22, 2012 3:18 PM EDT