Archive for 2014 February

Hyperactivity linked to moms taking Tylenol-type painkilers

On the front page of the Los Angeles Times, Melissa Healy tells a story of a huge study in Scandanavia that shows that the active ingredient in Tylenol and Excedrine and many other over-the-counter medicines is an endocrine disruptor plausibly linked to hyperactivity and other developmental disorders. 

Healy makes a strong case simply by quoting the findings:

In analyzing data on more than 64,000 Danish women and their children, researchers found that kids whose mothers took the painkiller at any point during pregnancy were 29% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than were kids whose mothers took none. The risk increased the most — by 63% — when acetaminophen was taken during the second and third trimesters, and by 28% when used in the third trimester alone.

Could this explain the upsurge in developmental and behaviorial issues linked to mental disorders in recent decades? Healy doesn't speculate. 

Nor does she explain why a known endocrine disruptor, acetaminophen, was allowed to be sold freely without warnings, even when it — like many other products — was suspected capable of harm. 

Endocrine disrupting EDC-figure

[image reference]

She does quote plenty of experts who point out that this is just one study, first of all, and that many doctors — even those aware of the linkage and risk — may continue to prescribe acetominophen to reduce fever and pain.

She doesn't mention that children can overdose and even die fromtaking acetominophen, as dramatized in a blockbuster This American Life, nor that it has been linked by experts to causation of asthma

But she closes on an ominous note:

The international team that conducted the study will next investigate their data for evidence of the neuropsychiatric and other mental health effects of a variety of medications taken during pregnancy. Among the outcomes they will be looking for is autism.,0,3832225.story#ixzz2uVAWD6G1


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Facing Drought Together: The Ojai Retreat 3/9/2014

Bill O'Brien, a civil engineer, Victoria Loorz, a pastor, myself, and Ulrich Brugger, who directs The Ojai Retreat, are putting together a public conversation which we hope will help motivate people of the Ojai Valley to take a serious look at our drought and what we can do about it.  



 We also intend to ask for help. 

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Adams, and thank you —

Expect your images will live about as long as Yosemite Valley:


“To the complaint, 'There are no people in these photographs,' I respond, There are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.” 
― Ansel Adams

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A little good news — rain! — for CA next week?

So suggests the probabilistic outlook from NOAA:



Doesn't look so good for SoCal, unfortunately.

From Matt Weiser at the Sacramento Bee. John Fleck at the Albuquerque Journal suggests reporters watching 6-10 outlooks for rain are drought-obsessed. Weiser cheerfully admits it (on Twitter). 

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Scariest drought image of the year (to date)

From a tree-ring scientist, Ed Cook, what has to be the scariest drought image for the West. 


Click to enlarge. Via Andrew Revkin's tumblr blog.

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Leading British scientist links warming to flooding

In this country, scientists have been historically averse to link weather disasters — such as flooding caused by huge storms — to climate change.

The scientific cliche is well-known: No single meteorological event can be caused by climate change. 

A leading theorist of climate communications, Naomi Oreskes of UC San Diego argues that the general public is desperate for leadership on the subject of climate change, and that by always qualifying away the linkage between climate and meteorology, scientists are undermining their own authority. 

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times last year after Typhoon Haiyan, she wrote:

When we emphasize the uncertainty, we appear to justify a course of no action on climate.

Instead, we might focus on the reality of the threat that warming poses, even though we can't say with any certainty that it caused the particular case in front of us. We might focus on the fact that we expect warming to cause exactly this type of extremely intense typhoon to occur more often — as well as a range of other harmful and irreversible consequences, some of them quite certain.

Well, In the UK this year, after the worst flooding in 248 years, Dame Julia Sligo — the chief scientist of the Met Office — did exactly what Oreskes counseled,and bluntly warned that climate change means more such disasters to come, and unapologetically linked climate change to the flooding. 

Climate change is almost certainly to blame for the severe weather that has caused chaos across Britain in recent weeks, the Met Office's chief scientist has said.

Dame Julia Slingo said there was not yet "definitive proof" but that "all the evidence" pointed to a role for the phenomenon.


Climate change is almost certainly to blame for the severe weather that has caused chaos across Britain in recent weeks, the Met Office's chief scientist has said [to Rupert Murdoch's SkyNews network]. 

Dame Julia said the southerly track of the storms had been something of surprise.

She said: "They have been slamming into the southern part of Britain. We also know that the subtropical, tropical Atlantic is now quite a lot warmer than it was 50 years ago.

"The air that enters this storm system comes from that part of the Atlantic where it is obviously going to be warmer and carrying more moisture.

"This is just basic physics.'"

To an audience at the American Geophysical Union a couple of years ago, Dame Sligo said that her office was working on ways to forecast extreme events. Be interesting to find out if that system worked for the UK this year.

Here's a picture of one creature that might actually enjoy flooding — in Worcester last week, from the Daily Mail. 


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A Tale of Two Towns: Can a federal grant make a real change for the poor in Ventura County? | Reporting on Health

For an upcoming fellowship in health reporting at USC's journalism school, I'm working on a couple of long-form stories. This is the first of them — a look at how a federal grant aims to balance the scales of health for poor people in Ventura County. Hope it's of interest. 

A Tale of Two Towns: Can a federal grant make a real change for the poor in Ventura County? | Reporting on Health.

Here's an excerpt: 

ChildinpovertyIn Ventura County, which lies just north of Los Angeles in the sprawl of Southern California, great wealth — in towns such as Thousand Oaks or Ojai — can be found not far from great desperation, in towns such as Oxnard or Santa Paula.  

Some of the contrasts startle. In Santa Paula, for example, about 14 percent of married couples live in poverty. In Ojai, a comparable in size community less than twenty miles to the north, 0 percent of married couples live in poverty, according to Census Bureau numbers. 

Overall the statistics — from a report backed by the Centers of Disease Control — show that wealthy Ventura County residents eat better, they have better access to exercise, their lives are less stressful, and they live longer – almost nine years longer on average.  

And a chart — the heart of the piece in some ways. [Click to enlarge]:


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Ojai has the oldest population in Ventura County: Study

Sometimes the news you would like to cover is not the news you encounter in a day at work — but it's still news.

Here's just such a fact which tumbled, unannounced, from a 127-page assessment of Ventura County's overall health by its healthcare agency, in a major report released in December (2013), whose funding was backed by a substantial grant from the Centers for Disease Control:



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As trade winds strengthen, more drought for CA?

Much of climate science is settled and doesn't need repeating. We know that injecting increasing amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere leads to warming, for instance.

But how that warming will play out in atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns, although often discussed, remains to be seen.

Several past studies suggested warming could lead to a weakening of trade winds over the Pacific, but, as Richard Allan of the University of Reading discusses in a fascinating new post on a major new study from Nature Climate Change, that might be all wrong. Maybe warming will lead to a strengthening of these trade winds, as the new study argues, which could feed into exisitng ocean circulation patterns.

Other studies have suggested that the warming expected in the atmosphere has been diverted into the ocean: this study posits a mechanism to explain that. 

It's complicated as this — no doubt simplified — diagram shows:


But especially fascinating for us on the West Coast are the implications, which Allan discusses in an offhand style near the end of his post:

The implications or these changes could be substantial. It would be surprising if these large changes in atmospheric and ocean circulation over the last 2 decades (including also apotentially long-term decline in the Atlantic ocean circulation), have not already disrupted our weather patterns. The map shows this seasons sea surface temperature departures from normal (from NOAA), with a cool East Pacific and unusual patterns over the north Pacific and north Atlantic that are associated with this seasons extreme weather, including drought in California, intense cold in eastern north America and flooding in the UK and Europe. 

"Including drought in California." Hmmm. 

Update: Michael Mann on HuffPost updates with the $64,000 question for California:

Such conditions are basically equivalent to the flip-side of El Niño, known as La Niña. In other words, the slowing of global warming may relate, at least in part, to the tendency for more frequent La Niña-like conditions in recent years. That gives us stronger trade winds in the eastern tropical Pacific, more burial of heat below the ocean surface, colder tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures, and slightly cooler global average temperatures than we might otherwise have seen.

The $64,000 question, then, is whether this increased tendency for La Niña-like conditions over the past decade is entirely natural in origin, or whether it might instead in some way be tied to climate change itself. 

For California, especially Southern California, the 64k question is whether we will be seeing more La Nina conditions, or if this apparent tendency will pass. (As opposed to the question of global temps.) More on this and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation as the news comes in. 

Why winds explain the global warming hiatus
Stronger Pacific winds explain global warming hiatus: study
Pacific winds 'pause' global warming
Patzert: The history of the world is written in droughts

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A dirty secret — cauliflower w/pine nuts and anchovies

A couple of years ago Judith Thurman had a great piece in The New Yorker about pine nuts (sadly still not available to non-subscribers). She off-handedly included a great cauliflower recipe with a dirty secret. (Here's Gustiamo's version of that recipe.) She says the dirty secret is pine nuts: I say it's anchovies. 

Regardless — here it is. 

Boil a cauliflower for about seven minutes. Let it cool: heat six tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron fry pan: add a minced onion, cook until translucent, five or ten minutes. (Start some pasta at this point.)

Add the cooked florets, a little saffron, and — for grittiness — some anchovies. Mash and mix them with the cauliflower and onions. Roast the pine nuts a little first for some extra toastiness, then mix in about one-quarter cup pine nuts and one-quarter cup golden raisins or currents. In a little chicken broth gently simmer the mix, stirring well so the anchovies disappear into the whole. 


It's a unique recipe — sweet, salty, healthy, inexpensive. Top with toasted breadcrumbs for the grit of appetite, sated. 

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