Blue Marble

The Unsinkable John Lott Vs. "Freaky" Economics

| Thu Mar. 29, 2007 1:49 PM EDT
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The world of economics is predictably unpredictable; we know that markets will ebb and flow, but not when or often why. So too it goes with John Lott, the undefatigable conservative economist who is guaranteed to pop up in some new controversy of his own creation every so often. What keeps him going—and why places like AEI embrace him—remains a mystery. Lott is most infamous for his claims that crime rates are inversely proportional to rates of gun ownership; or as his book title put it, More Guns, Less Crime. Small problem: His research is far from bulletproof, and he's been repeatedly exposed and denounced for what could be charitably called sloppy research. In his defense, Lott has blamed "coding errors," claimed that some of his data have been destroyed, and in his finest moment, created a fictitious online identity to take on his critics. But none of this has slowed him down. For a good rundown of Lott's sins, see Chris Mooney's 2003 piece on our website, which shot some more holes into his work. More recently, Lott sued the Freakonomics guys for defamation after they wrote that he had "falsified his results." A judge threw part of his case out. Now Lott's firing back with a new book, Freedomnomics, a defense of the free market against "freaky theories," printed by renowned academic publisher Regnery. Fact checkers, statisticians, and economists, start your BS detectors...

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Read Fortune Not Working Mother

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 8:47 PM EDT

With all the greenwash these days, how would you go about picking the ten greenest corporations? Fortune's team of reporters started by soliciting 100 "nominations from environmentalists and consultants who have worked in the trenches of corporate America," according to the magazine. Sounds like a given. But other magazines actually run lists of best companies based on self-reported data and advertising dollars.

Most notoriously, Working Mother has named Union Pacific five times one of the best places for women to work, even though it pays for employees' Viagra and Rogaine but not contraceptives. The UP flack's spin is, "We are thrilled that Working Mother has recognized our efforts to create a culture that helps employees balance work and families." Working Mother also includes firms facing class-action suits for sex harassment. And it has named Allstate, American Express, and General Mills among the 8 best firms for women of color. But at each, 30% of new hourly hires are women of color, but 0% of newly hired executives are.

Distinguishing hype from hope in green business was a focus of Mother Jones' November issue. We reported BP's blundered but well-publicized attempt to go "Beyond Petroleum" and the near-religious conversion of a carpet industry captain.

Now for the names. Drum roll please. Fortune's "Ten Green Giants" are Honda, Continental Airlines, Tesco, PG&E, S.C. Johnson, Goldman Sachs, Swiss Re, Hewlett-Packard, Alcan, and Suncor. Any objections?

"Viagra for Women" on the British Market

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 8:09 PM EDT

A testosterone patch to increase the female sex drive went on the market this week in the UK. Intrinsa can be prescribed only to women who have had menopause or hysterectomies. Unlike Viagra, Intrinsa takes up to a few weeks to take effect. Intrinsa targets Female Sexual Dysfunction, which was only seven years ago officially recognized as a disorder.The UK's Daily Mail predicts that Intrinsa will become a "lifestyle drug." Salon worries Intrinsa will set up unreasonable expectations for the female libido. And I think that since the roots of Female Sexual Dysfunction are often social, not physiological, a designer drug may not be the best fix.

—Rose Miller

Paper or Potato?

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 1:48 PM EDT

Mother Jones' hometown, San Francisco, yesterday became the first U.S. city to ban non-recyclable plastic bags from use in retail stores. Not only do conventional plastic bags take up space in landfills—1,400 tons in San Francisco alone—they also require petroleum for their manufacture. City supervisor Ross Mirkarimi said, "We can't sleepwalk into the future. The end of the era of cheap oil is here."

Bags made from biodegradable materials such as potato starch are actually stronger than plastic bags, but cost more to produce.

Environmental Fact of the Day

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 12:21 PM EDT

A gallon of gasoline puts 19 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In California, passenger vehicles account for 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Mass transit: A (relatively) easy way to limit your contribution to global warming.

Weird Weather Watch: WTF?

| Wed Mar. 28, 2007 11:38 AM EDT

Tuesday "dawned clear and breezy" in Southern California, but by the end of the day the area had experienced downpours, hail, snow, and 40-mph winds (that's powerful by most standards but outrageous for Los Angelenos). 185,000 homes lost power. The creepiest thing of all is that an Orange County Fire Authority building had its roof torn off, although erratic weather like this are increasing the area's vulnerability to fire.

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Common Fungicide Causes Changes in Mating Behavior Generations After Exposure

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 11:43 PM EDT

Female rats avoid males whose great-grandfathers were exposed to a common fruit crop fungicide. Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin examined rats whose great-grandparents were exposed to the fungicide vinclozolin, which causes early onset of cancer and kidney disease in males.

Female rats can tell the difference between male descendants of rats that have or have not been exposed to vinclozolin, and strongly prefer males descended from unexposed rats. Proving for the first time that environmental contamination affects evolution through changes in mating behavior.

Vinclozolin causes changes in the male rats' germline cells, like sperm. It doesn't directly alter DNA, instead causing changes in elements that regulate DNA. This is known as an epigenetic change.

Early onset of disease caused by initial exposure to vinclozolin is passed down generation to generation through the germline of the males. The female rats can sense something is wrong, even though they can't see it. Since males move beyond their birth territory when they mature, they carry their unlovable and fatal defects with them.

Hmm. Is the biosphere cannily healing itself, one little rat at a time? Or are rats truly destined to inherit the Earth? --Julia Whitty

Disappearing Climate Zones Mean Disappearing Species

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 11:05 PM EDT

A new study forecasts the complete disappearance of existing climates in tropical highlands and regions near the poles. Meanwhile large swaths of the tropics and subtropics will likely develop new climates unlike any seen today, according to the National Science Foundation. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wyoming predict that existing climate zones will shift toward higher latitudes and higher elevations, squeezing out the climates at the extremes. In fact a lot of this is already underway, as species are already moving to higher latitudes and higher elevations to escape the heat.

The most severely affected parts of the world span heavily populated regions, including the southeastern U.S., southeastern Asia, parts of Africa. Known hotspots of biodiversity, including the Amazonian rainforest and African and South American mountain ranges will also experience radical change. Disappearing climates will affect biodiversity, increasing extinctions too.

The study's authors foresee the appearance of never-before-seen climate zones on up to 39 percent of the world's land surface area by 2100, and the global disappearance of up to 48 percent of current land climates, if current rates of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions continue. Julia Whitty

California: More Highways if You Want Them or Not

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 8:14 PM EDT

highways.jpgHumans have a really hard time planning for outcomes that feel abstract. Here we are 90 percent sure that we're destroying the planet and ourselves with it, and we're conducting business as usual.

One tough, but supremely logical, change we ought to be making is redirecting all money spent on road construction to mass transit systems and smart growth projects. (Even the greatest road warrior wouldn't complain about not being able to drive his SUV if there were a cheap, easy way to get where he was going.) The State of California, which touts itself as an environmental leader, is doing exactly the reverse. The state, whose efforts to build and expand highways have long been stymied by environmental lawsuits, has begun suing developers for money they say will mediate (i.e., accommodate on roads) the increased traffic their projects will generate. The state is using the lawsuits as a funding source—which might be fair if the suits weren't targeting smart growth projects designed to be accessible by mass transit.

Good news is, developers are irate and are lobbying Governor Schwarzenegger to stop his renegade agency. Looks like we'll get to see just how powerful developers are after all.

Cute Knut to Live, Knut-Mania Commences

| Tue Mar. 27, 2007 7:57 PM EDT

knut327.jpgCutie polar bear cub Knut made his public debut last week, to the sounds of thousands of cooing fans and 300 shutter-clicking media members. The fuzzy animal, now the size of a Labrador Retriever puppy, delighted visitors as he frolicked through a stream, kissed his keeper, and rolled in the dirt.

Berlin Zoo
officials say the cub is not in danger of being killed, as a few animal activists have suggested. Instead, hand-raised Knut is the zoo's star attraction, especially after his neighbor, 22-year-old panda Yan Yan died Monday, of constipation.

The Berlin Zoo has seen attendance jump by 300% since Knut appeared to the public, and the Zoo gift store had to order 10,000 more stuffed Knut dolls after their original 2,400 sold out. The cub now has his own television show, podcast, and a blog written from his imagined perspective. Graffiti artists are even spraypainting his name on concrete pillars under the bear-shaped logo for the Berlin Film Festival.

But for all the Knut-mania, is Knut really doing anything to preserve his kind? Well, kind of. The German Environmental Minister took a media-attended walk with Knut inside his pen, and has said Knut's the property of all Berliners. "Knut is in safe hands here," said the minister, "but worldwide polar bears are in danger and if Knut can help the cause, then that is a good thing." He then tickled the cub under its furry chin.

Knut's media attention may lead to increased awareness of the polar bear plight (though their plight is hardly obscure at this point). German public television is making a documentary about the bear, whose mother abandoned him and whose brother died of neglect. Schools across Germany are organizing "Knut trips" to go see the now-tiny (but soon to be huge) bear and learn about nature. And then there's the mysterious conservation campaign for which Knut will be the star, photographs courtesy Annie Leibovitz. Seems young Knut will be kept quite busy, both as a goodwill ambassador and as Berlin's (and the world's) latest object of affection.