Blue Marble

Pharma Spends Twice as Much on Marketing as Research

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 10:54 PM EST

Pharma%20Industry%20Can%20Help%20States.jpg The US pharmaceutical industry spends almost twice as much on promotion as it does on research and development—contrary to the industry's claim. Researchers from York University, collecting data directly from industry and from doctors, found that in 2004 pharma spent $235.4 billion: 24.4% on promotion; 13.4% for research and development. They also found the number of promotional meetings jumped dramatically from 120,000 in 1998 to 371,000 in 2004. Further evidence the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is increasingly market driven—not driven by life-saving research. The authors also note the money spent on marketing is likely an underestimate.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

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How To Shrink a Fetus: Add Air Pollution

| Mon Jan. 7, 2008 10:23 PM EST

fetus2.jpgAs if we need more compelling reasons to clean up the air… A new study finds that exposure to air pollution significantly reduces the size of human fetuses. Ten years of research by scientists from the Queensland University of Technology in Australia and the Environmental Protection Agency in the US compared 15,000 ultrasound scans, and correlated fetus size with air pollution levels. The study was conducted within a 9-mile radius of the Australian city of Brisbane and found that mothers with a higher exposure to air pollution had fetuses that were, on average, smaller in terms of abdominal circumference, head circumference and femur length. "Birth weight is a major predictor of later health," says Dr Adrian Barnett of QUT, "bigger babies have been shown to have higher IQs in childhood and lower risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood." Most of Brisbane's air pollution level comes from cars and trucks… As if we needed more reasons to rethink them.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Evolution Education a Must

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 8:40 PM EST

433843536_b22dbb1592.jpg A coalition of 17 organizations calls on the scientific community to become more involved in the promotion of science education, including evolution. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Institute of Physics, and the National Science Teachers Association (among others), the introduction of nonscience, such as creationism and intelligent design, fundamentally undermines education—including learning how to use the scientific method, understanding how to reach scientific consensus, and distinguishing between scientific and nonscientific explanations of natural phenomena. The article appears in the January 2008 issue of the FASEB Journal (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology).

Based on a national survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters, the study reveals that respondents favor teaching evolution over creationism or intelligent design, and are more interested in hearing about evolution from scientists, science teachers, and clergy than Supreme Court Justices, celebrities, or school board members. "In an age when people have benefited so greatly from science and reason, it is ironic that some still reject the tools that have afforded them the privilege to reject them," says Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. "The bottom line is that the world is round, humans evolved from an extinct species, and Elvis is dead. This survey is a wake-up call for anyone who supports teaching information based on evidence rather than speculation or hope; people want to hear the truth, and they want to hear it from scientists."

Amen.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

CO2 Emissions Kill People

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 7:54 PM EST

morgue.jpg A Stanford scientist spells out for the first time direct links between increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and increases in human mortality. Mark Jacobson's findings come just after the Environmental Protection Agency's recent ruling against states setting specific emission standards based in part on a lack of data showing the link between CO2 and health effects. The new study details how each increase of 1 degree Celsius caused by CO2 would lead annually to upward of 20,000 air-pollution-related deaths. "This is a cause and effect relationship, not just a correlation," said Jacobson, whose study has been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters. "The study is the first specifically to isolate carbon dioxide's effect from that of other global-warming agents." It's also the first to find that rising CO2 increases mortality due to rising levels of ozone, particles, and carcinogens in the air.

Jacobson's work stands apart, using a computer model that takes into account many feedbacks between climate change and air pollution. Developed over the last 18 years, it's considered the most complex and complete atmospheric model worldwide, incorporating principles of gas and particle emissions and transport, gas chemistry, particle production and evolution, ocean processes, soil processes, and the atmospheric effects of rain, winds, sunlight, heat and clouds, among other factors.

Let's hope it can be used to strongarm the EPA toward something resembling sanity. Maybe give up the useless time- and life-wasting court fight?

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.

Drug-Resistant E. Coli - Now Available in the Arctic, too!

| Thu Jan. 3, 2008 1:37 PM EST

arctic%20birds150.jpgBecause I know you just can't get enough bad news about the prevalence of drug-resistant E. coli, kindly direct your attention to the latest bit of terrifying news: Those hearty little bacteria have now been found in Arctic birds...who have never been anywhere near a hospital, poultry plants, or anywhere else one might expect E. coli to lurk.

The birds are exposed to the bacteria during migration, when they cross paths with other birds who carry the bacteria—specifically, when they step in their acquaintances' feces (yeah, gross, but you know, they're birds). The takeaway lesson: Our actions (overusing antibiotics, in this case) have far-reaching consequences. As microbiology professor Dr. Roy Steigbigel told Newsday:

"We live in a world of migration of all sorts of animals, birds and humans," Steigbigel said. "We had an example recently of multi-drug-resistant TB. I see all of it as a continuum: as birds migrating on wings to humans migrating in airplanes."

As if Arctic birds don't have enough problems.

A Meat-and-Potatoes Kind of Candidate

| Fri Dec. 28, 2007 2:20 PM EST

ad891.jpgFrom an AP list of fun facts about presidential hopefuls, Grist has culled candidates' culinary preferences, which, by and large, don't include veggies.

This, in and of itself, is not surprising. I mean, everyone knows that only girls like vegetables, and confessing your love for green beans is basically tantamount to admitting you're a little too in touch with your feminine side. You might as well get it over with and say your favorite sport is figure skating. But the extent to which the candidates shun the greens in favor of hunks o' red meat borders on the absurd. Witness the republicans' favorite foods to cook:

Giuliani: Hamburgers or steak on the grill.
Huckabee: Ribeye steak on the grill.
McCain: Baby-back ribs.
Romney: Hot dog.

But my very favorite response is buried in the middle of the piece, in the section where candidates name their least favorite foods. Huckabee, it turns out, hates carrots. I mean, he really hates carrots:

Huckabee: "Carrots. I just don't like carrots. I banned them from the governor's mansion when I was governor of Arkansas because I could."

Now that's a manly move if ever there was one. Compared to the carrot proclamation, Edwards' response looks awfully milquetoast:

Edwards: "I can't stand mushrooms. I don't want them on anything that I eat. And I have had to eat them because you get food served and it's sitting there and you're starving, so you eat."

So he's going to choke down the offending mushrooms without a fight? Then who, under Edwards' watch, may I ask, is going to save America from emasculating veggies? This could be trouble.

—Kiera Butler

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Google Earth: The Ultimate NIMBY Tool

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 6:27 PM EST

The EPA has harnessed Google Earth to give us the most detailed picture of point-source pollution ever: a Google Earth map showing every major power plant, oil field, petroleum refinery, chemical factory, cement manufacturer and paper mill in America. In short, it's a NIMBY dream. From the comfort of your home you can pull up the biggest smokestacks in the hood and imagine precise amounts of NOx, SOx, VOCs drifting down to your lawn. Fun, fun, fun!

Of course, the EPA probably hopes the fun will make you forget how it substantially weakened requirements that companies disclose toxic releases this year, and that it now offers significantly less public info in its popular Toxics Release Inventory reports. Earlier this month the GAO found that the EPA had been pressured to scale back the reports by the White House. The EPA had "expedited" the decision to satisfy the Office of Management and Budget, which wanted to reduce the paperwork burden on industry, the GAO found.

So take the maps with a grain of salt. Air, for the time being, still can't be Googled.

Wal-Mart Sells Noncompliant Gas Cans...Again

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 3:45 PM EST

walmart200.jpgWal-Mart's up to its old tricks. For the fourth time in the last few years, the company has been caught selling illegal gas cans in California. The cans, which leak hydrocarbons that create smog, have been outlawed for some time in the state. This time around, Wal-Mart paid about $250,000 for violating air quality laws.

Between 2003 and 2007, the company sold about 3,000 illegal cans. Funny, since it was during those same years that the biggest big box really pumped up the volume on its environmental PR efforts. So here's the question: How do we make sure that Wal-Mart walks its talk? Considering the fact that in 2005, the company reportedly made $20,000 a minute, it'll take a whole lot more than a $250,000 fine, that's for sure.

—Kiera Butler

Housewives Are Better Recyclers Than College Kids

| Thu Dec. 27, 2007 1:59 PM EST

beer200.jpg
When one thinks about the demographics most likely to be great at recycling, college students spring immediately to mind. I mean, come on, they were made to separate out papers from plastics, what with their boundless reserves of idealism. And if they're not putting all that wide-eyed earnestness to good ecological use, what are they doing, anyway?

Lying around. According to a recent study, college students are actually less likely to recycle than housewives. The reason? Basically, sloth:

...the researcher points out that university students "have less control over glass recycling behaviour, given they perceive it as a series of barriers and limitations hard to overcome." The container being far from home and they having to make their way to it while carrying heavy bags full of glass, for example, is viewed as a difficulty for students, and not for housewives.

Okay, so the study was pretty small—only 525 students and 154 housewives participated. And the task on which participants were evaluated—separating glass from other trash—does not an ecologist make, to say the least. And maybe the fact that college students are lazy is not exactly a groundbreaking finding. But the main point that they researchers took away from this strange little study remains, nonetheless, an interesting one: Ecological awareness does not necessarily lead to action. In other words, just because someone considers herself an environmentalist, doesn't mean she's going to get off her butt and do something about it.

The next step: figuring out how to make environmental activism more compelling than, oh I don't know, stealing music off the Internet while pounding Bud Light. Or whatever.

—Kiera Butler

Elephants Get Safe Passage

| Sat Dec. 22, 2007 4:20 PM EST

asia_india_elephant_400h.jpg More than a thousand wild elephants have officially been given safe passage. A wildlife corridor linking two reserves in Karnataka, Southern India, has been handed over by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) to forest officials. WTI reports this is the first time land has been bought by a nonprofit and signed over to the government to protect the habitat of the endangered Asian elephant. "This is a great step forward for elephant conservation in India," says Vivek Menon, Executive Director of WTI and elephant biologist, "and a model I hope other wildlife groups will follow. One of the greatest threats facing Asian elephants today is the shrinking and fragmentation of their habitat. Protecting corridors that link these "inland islands" is vital to ensuring the species' survival." … Happy holidays.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.