Sunday, October 31, 2010

98. Attempt to Regulate the Dog Breeding Industry in Missouri

In an ideal world, there would be no pets and certainly no pet industry.  Domestication of animals, beginning with domestication of the wolf 12,000 years ago, was part of the process of alienation of humans from nature, and our subsequent and ongoing attempt to control it.  Enslavement of animals preceded alienation and subsequent subjugation of humans by other humans, that is, the rise of the class society about 10,000 years ago.  The capitalist system has commodified animals on massive scale.  The pet industry is organized to make profit for an ever-larger market for pets.  

Dog breeding industries in Missouri produce and sell one third of the puppies in the U.S. market for dogs.  The Proposition B on ballot in Missouri is an attempt by the Humane Society and its allies to regulate the worse offenses of this industry in Missouri.  If successful, it will impact animal welfare positively throughout the United States.  It should be supported. 

Opponents "describe Proposition B as a proxy battle in the Humane Society’s larger war to end pet ownership, ban hunting and institute vegetarianism throughout the United States

The New York Times article below describes the electoral fight surrounding Proposition  B.

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By A. G. Sulzberger and Malcolm Gay, The New York Times, October 30, 2010

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This is an agricultural state, home to more than 100,000 farms and exporter of an outsize share of the nation’s yearly haul of beef, pork, milk and soybeans. But this year, attention has focused on another local commodity: puppies.

More than one of every three dogs sold in pet stores nationwide come from Missouri, whose breeders produce hundreds of thousands of dogs — from poodles to pit bulls — each year, according to one estimate. That distinction has made this state the target of a well-financed ballot referendum to place tougher regulations on businesses that raise and sell dogs.
The effort pits animal rights groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States, which compiled the estimate, against agricultural interests — old foes who have recently done battle in many states over the welfare of farm animals. Animal rights groups have won a number of protections for animals, as those who make their living selling livestock complain that they are being regulated out of business.

“I am an American; I have a right to raise dogs,” said Joe Overlease, president of the Professional Kennel Club of Missouri, who owns a large breeding operation of cocker spaniels in southern Missouri that was cited by the state this year for overcrowding and inadequate shelter. “I have a right to bark at the moon if I want.”

The Missouri ballot measure, known as Proposition B, would limit the size of dog breeding operations and establish minimum quality of life standards, including requiring additional space, access to the outdoors and periods of rest for females between litters. It would not increase the number of inspectors, currently 12 for the 1,450 licensed breeders statewide. Similar laws have been adopted by 15 states in the last three years, according to the Humane Society, and a recent Mason-Dixon poll showed wide support.

The campaign in support of the proposition has blanketed the state with advertisements against “puppy mills,” the label critics prefer, featuring grainy video images of law enforcement raids on breeding facilities where frail and listless dogs live cramped in wire cages piled with excrement.

“We’ve seen extremely poor overall health because of puppy mill owners putting profit above the health of their breeding stock,” said Kathy Warnick, president of the Humane Society of Missouri, which often assists on the raids.

But leaders of the livestock industry have worked to turn the vote into a referendum on the Humane Society, a nonprofit group based in Washington that has spent more than $2 million in support of the initiative. Outgunned financially, opponents describe Proposition B as a proxy battle in the Humane Society’s larger war to end pet ownership, ban hunting and institute vegetarianism throughout the United States — charges the Humane Society calls ridiculous.

“This is just a first step,” said Charles E. Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, echoing the sentiment of many of his members. “It’s pretty clear their ultimate desire is to eliminate the livestock industry in the United States.”

In recent years, the Humane Society has scored several significant victories in its campaign to limit the use of factory farming techniques with more conventional livestock like cattle, pigs and chickens — winning a California ballot initiative in 2008 to increase the size of animal cages and, last summer, wresting similar concessions from producers in Ohio.
The group has also taken aim at some forms of hunting, including campaigning for a ballot measure in North Dakota that would prohibit big game hunting in fenced enclosures.
But Michael Markarian, chief operating officer of the Humane Society, said the Missouri effort was unrelated to the others. “We have concerns with factory farming, and we’ve worked to make it more humane,” he said. “This is a separate matter related only to dogs. And most people don’t think that dogs should be treated like livestock.”

Opponents, like the State Veterinary Medical Association, say Missouri, unlike many states, already has a robust set of laws to protect its breeding dog population, adding that the bulk of problems occur with unlicensed breeders. But Humane Society leaders say they decided to push for greater changes here because Missouri remains the hub of the industry and because legislative efforts have repeatedly failed.

Over the past 10 years, three state audits have criticized the state’s failure to regulate dog breeders adequately, and a recent study by the state’s Better Business Bureau warned that without strict enforcement, breeders, “with seeming impunity, will continue to send sick puppies to be purchased by unwary consumers.”

Nonetheless, most breeders say they take animal welfare into account.

Dave Miller, a 71-year-old cattle rancher, began raising Newfoundlands and other dogs seven years ago because, he says, at his age dogs are easier to handle. He sells about a hundred puppies a year, and he rails against the proposed changes, saying that he spent $180,000 building spacious kennels to meet state and federal requirements.

“It’s going to cause a lot of pain and grief for people who have invested their lives in a business,” Mr. Miller said.

97. Dramatic Climate Change Is Unpredictable

ScienceDaily, October 29, 2010

For millions of years the Earth's climate has alternated between about 100,000 years of ice age and approximately 10-15,000 years of a warm climate like we have today. The climate change is controlled by the Earth's orbit in space, that is to say the Earth's tilt and distance from the sun. But there are also other climatic shifts in the Earth's history and what caused those?The results have just been published in Geophysical Research Letters.

Dramatic climate change of the past
By analysing the ice cores that are drilled through the more than three kilometer thick ice sheet in Greenland, scientists can obtain information about the temperature and climate going back around 140,000 years.
The most pronounced climate shifts besides the end of the ice age is a series of climate changes during the ice age where the temperature suddenly rose 10-15 degrees in less than 10 years. The climate change lasted perhaps 1000 years, then -- bang -- the temperature fell drastically and the climate changed again. This happened several times during the ice age and these climate shifts are called the Dansgaard-Oeschger events after the researchers who discovered and described them. Such a sudden, dramatic shift in climate from one state to another is called a tipping point. However, the cause of the rapid climate change is not known and researchers have been unable to reproduce them in modern climate models.
The climate in the balance
"We have made a theoretical modelling of two different scenarios that might trigger climate change. We wanted to investigate if it could be determined whether there was an external factor which caused the climate change or whether the shift was due to an accumulation of small, chaotic fluctuations," explains Peter Ditlevsen, a climate researcher at the Niels Bohr Institute.
He explains that in one scenario the climate is like a seesaw that has tipped to one side. If sufficient weight is placed on the other side the seesaw will tip -- the climate will change from one state to another. This could be, for example, an increase in the atmospheric content of CO2 triggering a shift in the climate.
In the second scenario the climate is like a ball in a trench, which represents one climate state. The ball will be continuously pushed by chaos-dynamical fluctuations such as storms, heat waves, heavy rainfall and the melting of ice sheets, which affect ocean currents and so on. The turmoil in the climate system may finally push the ball over into the other trench, which represents a different climate state.
Peter Ditlevsen's research shows that you can actually distinguish between the two scenarios and it was the chaos-dynamical fluctuations that were the triggering cause of the dramatic climate changes during the ice age. This means that they are very difficult to predict.
Warm future climate
But what about today -- what can happen to the climate of the future? "Today we have a different situation than during the ice age. The Earth has not had such a high CO2 content in the atmosphere since more than 15 million years ago, when the climate was very warm and alligators lived in England. So we have already started tilting the seesaw and at the same time the ball is perhaps getting kicked more and could jump over into the other trench. This could mean that the climate might not just slowly gets warmer over the next 1000 years, but that major climate changes theoretically could happen within a few decades," estimates Peter Ditlevsen, but stresses that his research only deals with investigating the climate of the past and not predictions of the future climate.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Copenhagen, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:
1. Ditlevsen, P. D., and S. J. Johnsen. Tipping points: Early warning and wishful thinkingGeophys. Res. Lett., DOI:10.1029/2010GL044486

Friday, October 29, 2010

96. Cuba Announces New Tax Code for the Self-Employed

By Nelson Acosta, Reuter, October 25, 20101

Cuba has set income tax rates at 25 to 50 percent for its soon to be expanded private sector, with the biggest earners paying the most taxes, according to official decrees published on Monday.

The rates will range from nothing for those making 5,000 pesos -- equivalent to $225 -- or less a year to 50 percent for those in the highest bracket, which is more than 50,000 pesos, or $2,252.

The new tax rates came out in the Official Gazette as the government prepares to cut 500,000 workers from state payrolls and issue 250,000 new licenses for self-employment to create new jobs in President Raul Castro's biggest economic reform so far.

Those making more than 5,000 pesos will have to pay taxes, starting at a rate of 25 percent and rising from there as income increases.
The cash-strapped government is looking to the self-employed to increase tax revenues to help pay for expensive social programs such as free health care and education.

Last week the government, in a story in Communist Party newspaper Granma, warned that tax scofflaws "will feel the weight of the law imposed upon them by those mandated to enforce it, the National Tax Office."
The gazette, where the government publishes in thick legalese its new laws and decrees, is not usually a hot seller, but on Monday in Havana people could be seen lining up at newsstands to buy copies, then quickly leafing through them on the street.


Many Cubans have expressed interest in opening their own businesses, with the hope of earning more than the country's $20 a month average salary.

Currently, about 85 percent of the country's labor force of more than 5 million works for the state. Castro, who took over from his ailing older brother Fidel Castro in 2008, wants to trim that number and cut costs.
As of the end of 2009, there were only 143,000 licensed self-employed, although thousands more worked for themselves illegally.

Reaction on the street to the thick decrees, which came out in two separate editions of the gazette, was mixed.

Antonio Soria, a shoemaker working for the state, said he intends to start his own business and views it as a chance to help both himself and the state.

"As a private shoemaker I can retire and have financial support for the future," he said.

"This is a way to contribute to the state's income. Remember that health care and education are free and now that we have the chance to have small businesses, we have to help the country."

Transport worker Ibrahim Fernandez said he supports the private sector expansion, but worried taxes will be too high to encourage small businesses.

"From what I've been able to understand, the topic of the licenses has a defect, which is that they are overcharging taxes. Very expensive, the taxes," he said.

In last week's Granma story, the government outlined a new tax code it said was friendlier to small businesses because while it requires new taxes, it also allows bigger tax deductions.

For the first time since Cuba nationalized small businesses in 1968, the self-employed will be able to legally hire workers.

The regulations issued on Monday said they would have to pay a labor tax amounting to 25 percent of the average salary for their work.

Additional reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Jeff Franks and Jerry Norton) 

Monday, October 25, 2010

95. Commodification of Academic Research

"The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers."  Manifesto of the Communist PartyKarl Marx and Frederick Engels, 1848.

*     *     *, October 25, 2010

With universities facing pressure to show the value of their research, to promote economic development and to find new sources of revenue, links between academic researchers and business are being encouraged and scrutinized intensely. The essays in a new book --The Commodification of Academic Research: Science and the Modern University (University of Pittsburgh Press) -- explore these issues. The authors of the essays and their content explore these issues in the United States and other countries as well. The editor of the volume is Hans Radder, a professor of the philosophy of science and technology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, who responded to e-mailed questions about the themes of the volume.

Q: Academic research has always cost money to produce, and led to products that made money for others. How is the "commodification" of research different today than in past periods?

A: Commodification means that all kinds of activities and their results are predominantly interpreted and assessed on the basis of economic criteria. In this sense, recent academic research is far more commodified than it was in the past. In general terms, one can say that the relation between "money" and specific academic activity has become much more direct. Consider the following examples: first, the amount of external funding acquired is often used as a measure of individual academic quality; second, specific assessments by individual scientists have a direct impact on departmental budgets; for instance, if I now pass this doctoral dissertation, my department receives a substantial sum of money; if not, it ends up with a budget deficit; third, the growing practice of patenting the results of academic research is explicitly aimed at acquiring commercial monopolies. Related to these financial issues are important and substantial changes of academic culture. Universities are increasingly being run as big corporations. They have a top-down command structure and an academic culture in which individual university scientists are forced to behave like mini-capitalists in order to survive, guided by an entrepreneurial ethos aimed at maximizing the capitalization of their knowledge.

Q: What do you see as the main dangers of this commodification?

A: First, the prevalence of economic criteria may lead to bad science. The most well-known example of this is the manipulation of medical research by pharmaceutical companies. However, a significant feature of our book is that it presents many more examples of commodification of research within a variety of academic disciplines. A further problem of academic commodification is that societal benefits or cultural significance are reduced to economic utility. Research that is deemed to be economically useless or is unable to attract wealthy sponsors will have a hard time finding appropriate funding. This does not just apply to the study of ancient languages but also to research into the social (rather than the physical) causes of illness. Finally, commodified research tends to focus on short-term economic gain, while a significant social function of academic research has always been to provide a more general "knowledge infrastructure" that can be drawn upon when confronted with novel future challenges.

Q: Many academic leaders say they have no choice but to pursue closer industry ties if they are to finance needed research -- do you agree that they lack other sound options?

A: In some cases it will be true, in others not. There is no general answer to this question, so university administrators should not use it to shore up an unqualified endorsement of academic commodification. Furthermore, not all contract research necessarily entails the same degree of commodification. A high degree of commodification is likely when there is a significant commercial impact on research methods and outcomes, as is often the case in current medical research sponsored by pharmaceutical companies. But less commodification would occur, for instance, if pharmaceutical companies contributed to a general fund for research on, say, drugs for diabetes, and not just fund academic research involving their own drugs for this disease. Last but not least, the question entails that the issue of commodified science needs to be addressed not only at the level of university administration but also, and primarily, at the level of the more general politics and policies of science. Ultimately, solving this problem requires both a different academic culture and a changed conception of the socio-cultural significance of science.

Q: How do you see these issues playing out in different ways in the United States and elsewhere?

A: I hope it has become clear so far that commodification is not an all-or-nothing matter. In different countries we may find different forms and degrees of commodification. For instance, large-scale academic patenting started in the U.S. in the 1980s but did not reach Europe until the 1990s, and for developing countries this situation will be different again. Or, to mention another example, privately funded universities (where a substantial degree of commodification can be expected) are quite common in the U.S. but not in various other countries. The book includes a lot of material that contributes to describing and explaining these different forms and degrees of academic commodification.

Q: What kinds of safeguards are needed today to protect the values of academic science?

A: The academic research world needs to re-uphold the values and basic standards of good research rather than just economic goals. This reorientation can only succeed, however, if it is supported by concomitant changes in the still dominant neo-liberal world-view and politics. Perhaps recent growing criticism of neo-liberalism is a sign of forthcoming change. A big step in the right direction could be made if universities would consistently adhere to the ethical codes of good scientific conduct they have developed over the years, not merely in assessing the behavior of individual scientists but also, or even primarily, in the structural measures and policies taken by academic institutions and governmental bodies.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

94. Secret Iraq War Files Shed Light on Crimes of the Empire

Today's Washington Post carries the following very important report based on secret U.S. files released by WikiLeaks.  The released documents sheds some light on the crimes the U.S. government and its allies have committed in Iraq and  the mass media has by-and-large refused to report.  For instance, some like the New York Times consistently reports on U.S. causality in the war.  However, no U.S. media keeps attempts to collect data and report a tally of Iraqi causality, either those who defend Iraq against imperialist invasion and occupation or the civilians.  

Thus, the U.S. government hides its crimes against humanity and the mass media looks the other way.  Let's just take one statistic.  According to the data revealed in the documents leaked and reported in the article below, for every one coalition forces killed in Iraq more than six  resistance fighters ("enemy") and more than 17 civilians have been killed during 2004-09

It is the moral responsibility of humanity, especially of the American public in whose name the U.S. government commits these crimes, to voice their opposition to all U.S. wars.  In the U.S., please consider joining regional protests this fall and the planned national demonstration next April called for by United Against War Coalition.

*     *     *

By Greg Miller and Peter Finn, The Washington Post October 23, 2010

A massive cache of secret U.S. field reports from the Iraq war provides grim new details about the toll of that conflict, indicating that more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed during a six-year stretch and that American forces often failed to intervene as the U.S.-backed government brutalized detainees, according to news organizations given access to the documents by the WikiLeaks Web site.

The nearly 400,000 records are described as offering a chilling, pointillist view of the war's peak years, documenting thousands of civilian deaths - including hundreds killed at checkpoints manned by U.S. soldiers - and the burgeoning role that American contractors came to play in the conflict.

But the logs are perhaps most disturbing in their portrayal of the Iraqi government that has taken control of security in the country as U.S. forces withdraw.

The documents, including some dated as recently as 2009, report the deaths of at least six detainees in Iraqi custody because of abuse, and cite hundreds of other cases in which prisoners were subjected to electric shock, sodomized, burned, whipped or beaten by Iraqi authorities, according to an account in the Guardian, a British newspaper that was among several news organizations given advance access to the logs.

The others included the New York Times, the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite television network, Germany's Der Spiegel magazine, the French newspaper Le Monde and the Channel 4 news program in Britain. WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group that uses servers in several countries, published the records on its Web site ( Friday evening.

There appear to be no major revelations in the latest logs. Much like those WikiLeaks released earlier this year on the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq documents are mainly low-level field reports that reflect a soldier's-eye view of the conflict but do not contain the most sensitive secrets held by U.S. forces or intelligence agencies.

The Pentagon condemned the release but did not question the authenticity of the files.

"We deplore WikiLeaks for inducing individuals to break the law, leak classified documents and then cavalierly share that secret information with the world, including our enemies," said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. He said the military would not comment on the information contained in the records but stressed that the "reports are initial, raw observations by tactical units. They are essentially snapshots of events, both tragic and mundane, and do not tell the whole story."

Even so, the spilling of so many once-secret files into public view allows for a fine-grained examination of the war. The 391,832 files included in the release cover a period from the beginning of 2004 to the end of 2009, and are more than quadruple the number of records that WikiLeaks published on the war in Afghanistan.

WikiLeaks has not disclosed the source of the materials. But suspicion has centered on Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, an Army intelligence analyst whom the military arrested this year, charging him with the downloading and transfer of classified material.

Although narrow in nature, the records provide new insights into the toll of the conflict. According to al-Jazeera, the documents show that the U.S. military kept a tally of Iraqi casualties, even while insisting that such statistics were not maintained.

The files indicate that 285,000 casualties were recorded, including at least 109,032 violent deaths, although reports suggested some double-counting. Of those, 66,081 were civilians, 23,984 were "enemy," 15,196 were members of the Iraqi security forces, and 3,771 were U.S. and allied service members.

The numbers correspond roughly to figures released by the Pentagon this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the Associated Press. Iraq Body Count, a London-based organization that has tracked civilian casualties, said it had identified 15,000 previously unrecorded deaths in the newly released files.

Beyond the broad outlines of the casualty counts, the records offer glimpses of the circumstances in often-heartbreaking detail.

The logs document the killing of as many as 681 civilians at checkpoints - "escalation of force incidents" in the military parlance - where troops fearing suicide bombers opened fire on often-confused drivers who did not know how to act when approaching soldiers, especially at night.

The Guardian reported that in September 2005, near Musayyib, south of Baghdad, two U.S. soldiers opened fire on a car when it continued to approach them after the driver ignored flashing lights and warning shots. A man and his wife were killed, and their 9- and 6-year-old children were wounded.

A month later, again at night, two children were killed in Baghdad when a female driver continued to approach a checkpoint after a single warning shot was fired.

The files also record the bloody toll of soldiers and civilians killed by insurgents' increasingly sophisticated use of roadside bombs: 31,780 deaths were attributed to improvised explosive devices.

The logs record numerous and often horrifying instances of torture and abuse by Iraqi military and police forces, many of which U.S. troops chose to ignore because of orders to refer such matters to senior Iraqi officers, according to the Guardian's reading of the documents.

In one case, in August 2009, a U.S. military doctor found "bruises and burns as well as visible injuries to the head, arm, torso, legs and neck" on the body of a man that police said killed himself.

In another case, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, coalition forces reported that three Iraqi officers poured acid on the hands of a man and cut off some of his fingers. Two years after the event no arrests had been made, according to one of the documents.

The logs do record attempts by U.S. and coalition forces to stop the abuse by conducting spot-checks on Iraqi facilities where they found prisoners "covered in injuries," the Guardian reported.

But U.S. soldiers often could do little more than demand that the torture stop. An order, issued in June 2004, instructed troops to make an initial report but not to investigate breaches of the laws of war "unless directed by HQ," according to documents cited by al-Jazeera and the Guardian.

The records do not represent the first time that abuses by Iraqi authorities have been disclosed. In November 2005, U.S. troops discovered a Ministry of Interior-run prison in which more than 150 Sunni inmates were being held without charges. The prisoners were emaciated and several lifted up their shirts to show bloody whip marks where they had been beaten, according to U.S. officials who took photographs of the facility. News of the facility was leaked to U.S. and Iraqi newspapers, and U.S. commanders confronted then- Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari about the facility. No punitive action was taken.

In 2007, Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the top commander in Iraq, put pressure on the Interior Ministry to replace virtually all of the battalion and brigade commanders in the Iraqi National Police, a force that had been repeatedly accused of killing and torturing Sunnis in Baghdad.

Revelations about rampant state-sanctioned torture could shape the political debate in Iraq amid protracted negotiations toward the formation of a government. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to hold on to his post but has failed to get a simple majority in parliament on his side.

The logs accuse Iran of providing extensive, lethal support to Shiite militias in Iraq as part of an effort to weaken the standing of Sunnis in government and engage in a proxy campaign against the United States. The New York Times cited documents indicating that Iran's Quds Force collaborated with Iraqi extremists to encourage the assassination of Iraqi officials.

But some of news reports treated the claims with skepticism. The Guardian noted that sources for some of the reports on Iran were described as "untested or of low reliability."

WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 by a former computer hacker, Julian Assange. In contrast to the release of the Afghan documents, WikiLeaks redacted names and locations in what members said was a step to ensure there was no chance of exposing Iraqi civilians to reprisal.

The organization has undergone stresses of late. Several members have left in recent months, citing differences with Assange and the direction of the group. Assange is facing allegations in Sweden of rape and sexual harassment, which he has denied, saying the charges are part of a U.S.-orchestrated smear campaign.

Correspondent Ernesto Londono in Baghdad and staff writers Ellen Nakashima and Greg Jaffe and staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

Friday, October 22, 2010

93. Americans' Knowledge of Climate Change

Because of the sheer size of its economy and the degree of its material development,  the United States has held the key to the world's problems for decades.  And that in two opposite senses. 

As the hegemonic imperialist power since World War II, it has blocked the progress of humanity, or rather attacked it, to defend its capitalist class interests. 

Yet, the United States working people share the same interest as the rest of the humanity and they are themselves victims of the same policies that have undermined the world progress. 

The key to the progress in the U.S., and indeed the world, is in the awakening of the American working people to the fact that the capitalist economy they work to perpetuate and the politicians they keep voting into office are responsible for these policies.  These policies range from the longest U.S. wars in progress today to climate change.  And yet, consciousness lags in the United States. Thus, the myth of American democracy perpetuates. How can a country where its citizens are not aware of the most pressing world problems, their causes and consequences, and possible solutions, can lay claim to be democratically run and presume to force its will on other nations with the claim to spread democracy? 

It is in this context that the findings of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC) is important to review.  It underscores how ill-informed the American public continues to be about climate change and global warming, and, their causes and consequences. Also, it indirectly shows how the failure of the educational institutions in the United States, including schools but also the mass media to educate the public about a central, if not the central, challenge facing the humanity.  This not because of a lack of interest in learning.  The report states: Americans also recognize their own limited understanding of the issue. Only 1 in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change, and 75 percent say they would like to know more. Likewise, 75 percent say that schools should teach our children about climate change and 68 percent would welcome a national program to teach Americans about the issue.

What follows is the Executive Summary of the YPCCC report.  I urge you to read the full report downloadable in PDF format from the YPCCC web site.  

*     *     *
Executive Summary

Americans’ Knowledge of Climate Change reports results from a national study of what Americans understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming. 

The study found that 63 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, but many do not understand why. In this assessment, only 8 percent of Americans have knowledge equivalent to an A or B, 40 percent would receive a C or D, and 52 percent would get an F. The study also found important gaps in knowledge and common misconceptions about climate change and the earth system. These misconceptions lead some people to doubt that global warming is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks. Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making in a democratic society. For example, only:

• 57% know that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat;
• 50% of Americans understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities;
• 45% understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface; 
• 25% have ever heard of coral bleaching or ocean acidification.

Meanwhile, large majorities incorrectly think that the hole in the ozone layer and aerosol spray cans contribute to global warming, leading many to incorrectly conclude that banning aerosol spray cans or stopping rockets from punching holes in the ozone layer are viable solutions. 

However, many Americans do understand that emissions from cars and trucks and the burning of fossil fuels contribute to global warming, and that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution.

In addition, despite the recent controversies over “climategate” and the 2007 IPCC report, this study finds that Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming.  In addition, despite the recent controversies over “climategate” and the 2007 IPCC report, this study finds that Americans trust scientists and scientific organizations far more than any other source of information about global warming. 

Americans also recognize their own limited understanding of the issue. Only 1 in 10 say that they are “very well informed” about climate change, and 75 percent say they would like to know more. Likewise, 75 percent say that schools should teach our children about climate change and 68 percent would welcome a national program to teach Americans about the issue.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

92. Monarch Butterflies Use Medicinal Plants to Treat Offspring's Disease

ScienceDaily,  October 12, 2010

Monarch Butterfly Egg
on Milkweed Leaf
Abstract: Monarch butterflies appear to use medicinal plants to treat their offspring for disease, research by biologists at Emory University shows. Their findings were published online Oct. 6 in the journal Ecology Letters.

"We have shown that some species of milkweed, the larva's food plants, can reduce parasite infection in the monarchs," says Jaap de Roode, the evolutionary biologist who led the study. "And we have also found that infected female butterflies prefer to lay their eggs on plants that will make their offspring less sick, suggesting that monarchs have evolved the ability to medicate their offspring."

Few studies have been done on self-medication by animals, but some scientists have theorized that the practice may be more widespread than we realize. "We believe that our experiments provide the best evidence to date that animals use medication," de Roode says.

"The results are also exciting because the behavior is trans-generational," says Thierry Lefevre, a post-doctoral fellow in de Roode's lab. "While the mother is expressing the behavior, only her offspring benefit. That finding is surprising for monarch butterflies."

The findings also may have implications for human health, says University of Michigan chemical ecologist Mark Hunter, who collaborated with de Roode's group on the research.

"When I walk around outside, I think of the plants I see as a great, green pharmacy," Hunter says. "But what also strikes me is how little we actually know about what that pharmacy has to offer. Studying organisms engaged in self-medication gives us a clue as to what compounds might be worth investigating for their potential as human medicines."

Monarch butterflies are known for their spectacular migration from the United States to Mexico each year, and for the striking pattern of orange, black and white on their wings. That bright coloration is a warning sign to birds and other predators that the butterfly may be poisonous.

Monarch caterpillars feed on any of dozens of species of milkweed plants, including some species that contain high levels of cardenolides. These chemicals do not harm the caterpillars, but make them toxic to predators even after they emerge as adults from their chrysalises.

Previous research has focused on whether the butterflies choose more toxic species of milkweed to ward off predators. De Roode wondered if the choice could be related to the Ophryocystis elektroscirrha. The parasites invade the gut of the caterpillars and then persist when they become adult monarchs. An infected female passes on the parasites when she lays her eggs. If the adult butterfly leaves the pupal stage with a severe parasitic infection, it begins oozing fluids from its body and dies. Even if the butterflies survive, they do not fly as well or live as long as uninfected ones.

Experiments in de Roode's lab have shown that a female infected with the parasites prefers to lay her eggs on a toxic species of milkweed, rather than a non-toxic species. Uninfected female monarchs, however, showed no preference.

Researchers have studied the kinds of leaves that primates eat in forests, but this work with butterflies stresses the point that even insects in our own back yard can be useful indicators of what might be medicinally active, Hunter says.

De Roode recently received a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which he will use to see if the lab results can be replicated in nature, in different populations of monarchs in various regions of the world. Hunter received $150,000 from the NSF to identify the chemicals that account for the medicinal properties of the milkweed plants.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Emory University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:
  1. Thierry Lefèvre, Lindsay Oliver, Mark D. Hunter and Jacobus C. De Roode. Evidence for trans-generational medication in natureEcology Letters, 2010; DOI:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2010.01537.x