Blue Marble

Top Hospitals Have 27% Lower Mortality Rate

| Mon Feb. 4, 2008 5:29 PM EST

793567365_fb45589496_m.jpg This according to HealthGrades, in the largest annual study of hospital quality in America, analyzing more than 40 million hospitalization records over the most recent three years. The results indicate that patients treated at top-rated hospitals nationwide are nearly one-third less likely to die, on average. Patients who undergo surgery at these high-performing hospitals also have an average five percent lower risk of complications during their stay. Overall, 171,424 lives may have been saved and 9,671 major complications avoided during the three years studied, had the quality of care at all hospitals matched the level of those in the top five percent. "This disparity in the quality of care at U.S. hospitals is disappointing," says Samantha Collier, MD, HealthGrades chief medical officer.

You can check the ratings of your local hospitals for free here.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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China to Stop Rain for Olympics

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 7:43 PM EST

beijing-rain.JPGAn article in the Los Angeles Times notes that the Chinese are planning to keep rain away from the roof-less Olympic stadium—by force if necessary.

The Chinese are planning on using "cloud seeding" to ensure good weather. To do this, they have farmers sitting not too far from Beijing with anti-aircraft guns. When the farmers see a cloud that looks like it might rain, they fire silver iodide into it. The particles of iodide makes the cloud's moisture condense around them, creating rain.

That's not all China has up its sleeve. In the Mother Jones January/February 2008 issue we noted Chinese plans for "rainmakers" and a new, low-emissions, public transit system for the Olympic village.

For more on Beijing's attempt to make 2008 Olympics go off without a hitch (or a CO2 emission), check out Beijing Goes Green.

Vote Your Genes

| Fri Feb. 1, 2008 7:03 PM EST

istockphoto_3887591_democrat_vs_republican_on_white.jpg Fire the pundits. Cancel the debates. According to an emerging idea in the social and political sciences, political positions are substantially determined by biology and can be stubbornly resistant to reason. New Scientist follows the trail of evidence:

Twin studies suggest that opinions on a long list of issues, from religion in schools to nuclear power and gay rights, have a substantial genetic component. The decision to vote rather than stay at home on election day may also be linked to genes. Neuroscientists have also got in on the act, showing that liberals and conservatives have different patterns of brain activity… People who scored highly on a scale measuring fear of death, for example, were almost four times more likely to hold conservative views. Dogmatic types were also more conservative, while those who expressed interest in new experiences tended to be liberals. [This] review also noted research showing that conservatives prefer simple and unambiguous paintings, poems and songs.

Finally, an explanation for Thomas Kinkade, "God Bless America," and flag fetishes.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Study: Republicans Don't Care About Warming Planet

| Thu Jan. 31, 2008 7:56 PM EST

Maybe this just confirms what you already knew, but a new study by Pew shows that Republicans don't care about global warming. Only 12% of Republicans in the January 2008 poll thought dealing with global warming should be a "top priority," as oppposed to 47% of Democrats and 38% of Independents. In fact, global warming was the issue Republicans cared least about.

For a Mother Jones summary of where the candidates, Republican and Democrat, stand on issues like global warming, check out our "Primary Colors" package here.

Heat Increases Baby Bottle Chemicals

| Wed Jan. 30, 2008 6:34 PM EST

baby-bottle.jpgA University of Cincinnati study has found that the hotter the liquid, the faster polycarbonate plastic bottles release toxins. Currently, reusable water bottles, baby bottles, and many other containers are made out of polycarbonate plastic. (For an easy guide to types of plastics and their dangers, click here.)

Researchers found that plastic bottles holding boiling water released bisphenol A, an environmental pollutant, up to 55 times faster than those containing room-temperature water. Baby formula is commonly boiled in preparation, so it's likely that very hot formula could leach high amounts of bisphenol A from baby bottles. However, the researchers do not know how much bisphenol A humans would have to consume before it became harmful.

Bipsphenol A is known to cause cancer and hormone irregularities and is "just one of many estrogen-like chemicals people are exposed to," said lead researcher Scott Belcher, "and scientists are still trying to figure out how these endocrine disruptors—including natural phyto-estrogens from soy which are often considered healthy—collectively impact human health."

While scientists figure out the effects, you might consider switching your plastic travel mug to stainless steel.

Alaska Delays Decision for Tribe to Hunt Young Wolves, Bears

| Tue Jan. 29, 2008 8:02 PM EST

wolves.jpgAs a vegetarian, pet-owning urbanite who's never been hunting, I find it hard to stomach the idea of grown men with rifles killing fuzzy baby animals. So it was with mixed feelings I read today that Alaskan tribes will have to wait until November to see if they can legally cull wolf pups and bear cubs in their dens along the Kuskokwim River. The now-banned practice, traditional among Orutsaramuit people in southwestern Alaska, is intended to reduce predators killing too many of the moose that tribes rely on for subsistence hunting. While conservationists predictably see the practice as cruel, the real bone of contention lies between the state of Alaska and tribal officials.

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Exercise - It Does a Cell Good

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 7:03 PM EST

mitosis3.jpgHere's yet another reason to keep your New Year's resolution to exercise this year: people who work out have younger-looking cells than those who don't.

In the study, conducted at King's College in London, 1,200 pairs of British twins were tested. Just one hundred minutes of activity a week made cells of active twins look five to six years younger than their couch potato counterparts. With three hours of exercise, the cells looked nine years younger.

Young-looking cells may not seem much to crow about, but scientists have long theorized the younger your cells appear under a microscope, the younger you look on the outside. As cells age, they divide. Over time, a cell loses its ability to divide and dies, causing aging symptoms like wrinkles, reduced organ function, and poor eyesight. So while exercise helps you feel better and keeps you healthy, it may also help you look younger.

Excuse me while my cells and I slip on our running shoes.

Us to Earth: We Will Rock You

| Mon Jan. 28, 2008 6:00 PM EST

footprint150.jpgGeologically speaking, nature usually calls the shots. Historically it's been the case that major natural events—shifting tectonic plates, volcanoes, even asteroids—have shaped the trajectory of life on this planet. Not anymore. A team of researchers from the University of Leicester and the Geological Society of London is the latest group to make the case that the Holocene era is coming to an end, and the Anthropocene (meaning, basically, man-made) is on its way in. Our impact on the planet is so profound, say the scientists, we've changed our home for good. The evidence:

* Vastly altered sediment erosion and deposition patterns.
* Major disturbances to the carbon cycle and global temperature.
* Wholesale changes in biology, from altered flowering times to new migration patterns.
* Acidification of the ocean, which threatens tiny marine life that forms the bottom of the food chain.

This isn't a new idea. The term "Anthropocene Era" was coined by Paul Crutzen, winner of the 1995 Chemistry Nobel Prize. Crutzen identified three phases of the era—and made some guesses as to what we can expect next.

$1 Ethanol Isn't Innovation, It's a Commitment to Business as Usual

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 6:10 PM EST

tires.jpg

Americans do not reduce. We may reuse, and we may recycle, but our economic system is predicated on steady consumption. So it makes sense that while trying to invent our way out of the consequences of global warming, we would seize upon those ideas that encouraged us to, well, consume. In other words, business as usual.

Today's quick fix is brought to us by Coskata. This Illinois-based energy startup, thanks to a hefty investment from GM, has already announced its triumph in the race for a new global energy source. The winning product? Bargain ethanol. Coskata's innovative technology, which lets anaerobic "patented microorganisms" eat syngas (a carbon monoxide and hydrogen compound formed by processing biomass such as corn husks), allows the company to produce waste-free ethanol from almost anything you give them: tires, factory waste, switchgrass, you name it.

What's more, says the company, because its process can convert so many different types of material into essentially pure ethanol, the fuel could be locally produced anywhere in the world. Each gallon will generate nearly eight times as much energy as it takes to make it, and the product reduces carbon emissions by 84%. The production cost of this miracle fuel? $1 per gallon.

Insects Creep Out of Asia - And Into Your Backyard?

| Fri Jan. 25, 2008 3:42 PM EST

asian-tiger-mosquito.jpgInvasive species like the Asian tiger mosquito are on the rise in Europe, French researchers recently reported. Nineteen new invasive species made Europe their home every year from 2000 to 2007. (From 1950 to 1975, only about 10 species per year established themselves.)