Putting Einstein’s special relativity to the test.
After two decades of trying, physicists at CERN have reported the first ever measurement of the light emitted by an antimatter atom, revealing that antihydrogen is the exact mirror image of regular hydrogen.
The result, which finally confirms what has long been predicted by the laws of physics, opens up a new way of testing Einstein’s special theory of relativity, and could help us answer one of the biggest mysteries in modern physics – why is there so much more regular matter than antimatter in the Universe?
“This represents a historic point in the decades-long efforts to create antimatter and compare its properties to those of matter,” theoretical physicist Alan Kostelecky from Indiana University, who was not involved in the study, told NPR.
If you’re not familiar with the whole “Where is all the antimatter?” problem in physics, here’s some background info.
The law of physics predicts that for every particle of regular matter, there’s an antiparticle. So for every negatively-charged electron, there’s a positively charged positron.
That means for every regular hydrogen atom, there’s an antihydrogen atom, and just as a hydrogen atom is made up of an electron bound to a proton, an antihydrogen atom is made up of an antielectron (or positron) bound to an antiproton.
If an antiparticle happens to find a regular particle, they will cancel each other out, releasing energy in the form of light.
This fact creates two rather hefty problems. The first is that because there’s so much regular matter in the Universe, it’s virtually impossible for physicists to find antimatter in nature, because it’ll be annihilated before they even get the chance to start looking.
The second problem is why there’s so much more regular matter than antimatter – if our current physics models suggest that an equal amount of regular particles and antiparticles were produced by the Big Bang, shouldn’t everything in the Universe have cancelled itself out?
“Something happened, some small asymmetry that led some of the matter to survive, and we simply have no good idea that explains that right now,” says one of the team, Jeffrey Hangst, from the ALPHA experiment at CERN in Switzerland.
That might all be about to change though, because for the first time, scientists have been able to measure the kind of light given off by an antihydrogen atom when hit by a laser, and compare that with the light given off by a regular hydrogen atom.
That might not sound like much, but it’s the first time we’ve been able to control an antihydrogen atom long enough to directly measure its behaviour, and compare it to its regular hydrogen counterpart.
“Using a laser to observe a transition in antihydrogen and comparing it to hydrogen to see if they obey the same laws of physics has always been a key goal of antimatter research,” Hangst said in a press statement.
Because it’s impossible to find an antihydrogen particle in nature – seeing as hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, so easily cancels out any lurking antihydrogens – scientists need to produce their own anti-hydrogen atoms.
Over the past 20 years, the ALPHA team has been figuring out how to produce enough of these antihydrogen atoms to actually get a chance to work with them, and have finally come up with a technique that allows them to create about 25,000 antihydrogen atoms every 15 minutes, and trap around 14 of them.
Previous methods could only ever trap 1.2 antihydrogen atoms per 15 minutes.
These trapped particles would then be blasted by laser light to force their positrons to ‘jump’ from a lower energy level to a higher one. As the positrons returned to the lower energy level, the light amount that’s released can be measured.
The team found that the antihydrogen atom emitted the exact same light spectrum as regular hydrogen atoms put through the same test.
“It’s long been thought that antimatter is an exact reflection of matter, and we are gathering evidence to show that is indeed true,” Tim Tharp from ALPHA told Ryan F. Mandelbaum at Gizmodo.
This result is consistent with the Standard Model of particle physics, which predicts that hydrogen and antihydrogen will have identical light-emitting characteristics, but now physicists have the chance to test even more spectra emissions by using different types of lasers.
“Explaining exactly why special relativity requires antimatter to mirror matter involves a lot of math. But in a nutshell, if that mirror relationship were not exact, then the basic idea behind special relativity couldn’t be exactly right.
Special relativity assumes that a single unified thing called spacetime splits differently into space and time for observers moving relative to each other. It posits that neither observer can say who is really moving and who is stationary. But, that can’t be exactly right if matter and antimatter don’t mirror each other.”
From the Saint Loup Chapel in Pompaples to the soon-to-be-completed Vidy Theatre Pavilion in Lausanne, the lab run by Yves Weinand is developing new innovations based on an age-old material: wood. A newly published book highlights the lab’s most important discoveries, for scientists and wood-industry professionals alike.
Taking inspiration from origami, basket-weaving, and the history of carpentry, researchers at EPFL’s Laboratory for Timber Constructions (IBOIS) have used “low-tech” wood to develop innovative structures and architectural concepts that are not only modern and stylish, but also durable and uniquely original. Laboratory head Yves Weinand has just published a book showcasing the lab’s main innovations over his ten years-plus at EPFL. His book aims to build awareness about the many advancements in wood-based technology in his lab and demonstrate wood’s potential as the construction material of the future.
What was your main priority when you joined EPFL in 2005?
Our aim was to develop contemporary architectural designs based on timber, so as to encourage its use as a building material. We wanted people to look beyond the traditional chalet style that is typically associated with wood. But we knew that would require winning architects over with elegant designs. The thesis projects carried out at the lab until 2010 focused on developing computer-assisted design software as well as new construction methods employing wood. Our software expanded the range of applications for the engineered wood products introduced on the market some 20 years ago. It also helped create a new field of R&D in timber construction.
What are the special features of wood as a building material?
The materials we work with are mainly cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels and laminated veneer lumber (LVL) made from coniferous trees and, more recently, deciduous trees. These panels inspire engineers, since they have impressive mechanical properties and retain their shape well. In conventional timber structures, the load-bearing elements are straight, like beams. But with these panels, we can create structures where the load-bearing elements are incorporated into the façade – which is an innovation. We were able to develop such technology by bringing in PhD students from a range of fields – including architecture, civil engineering, computer science, and mathematics – from the very start to work on cross-disciplinary projects. A number of architects have expressed an interest in our work; the first thesis projects at our lab culminated in the construction of the Saint Loup Chapel in Pompaples, in Vaud Canton, in 2008.
What has more recent PhD research focused on?
Over the past five years, we have been working more on developing computer-assisted design software incorporating load specifications. These mathematical models enable us to resolve problems related to cutting, manufacturing, and assembling wooden panels and to evaluate interactions between absolute and local geometries, especially for testing building resistance. The shapes of our buildings aren’t chosen at random. They are calculated by our models to withstand a given set of loads. It’s a whole new way of thinking about architecture. Assembly methods have also changed over the past five years. While the panels in the Saint Loup Chapel and the Vaud parliament building were assembled using metal joints, those in the Vidy Theatre Pavilion will be assembled using exclusively wood joints. That will make the Pavilion even more sustainable, since it will be easier to dismantle and recycle. And it will eliminate the cost of sorting metal screws from wood during the recycling process.
How important is the inauguration of the Vidy Theatre Pavilion, in 2017, for your laboratory?
It’s one of our flagship projects. It is a concrete example of the new construction principles we advocate. It is also the cornerstone project of a new teaching method I used this year in a course for architectural students here at EPFL.
What’s next for the IBIOS lab in terms of research?
Our next challenge will be to increase the clear span of our arches from 20 meters – like those at the Vidy Pavilion – to 50 meters. That will entail developing more complicated mechanical designs and enhancing our software. Ditto for wood panel assembly methods. The next building we design will have 23 double-curvature vaults with clear spans of 52 meters. We are also developing structures that can be assembled with robots instead of manually. We plan to build an industrial hall with this aim in mind.
Apart from robotized assembly, what do you think will be your main innovation in the coming years?
We hope to eventually bypass the panel-cutting step and cut the shapes we want directly from trees. That means we’ll need to develop a robot that can pick the best trees for a given structure, and then carve out the elements we need. That would make our process even more coherent and sustainable by reducing the number of trees that would have to be cut down. This will be the topic of future thesis projects.
Anytime a patient is required to — or elects to — have surgery, there are always risks involved. Some surgeries, however, carry with them a higher risk due to the difficulty of the procedure, the importance of the organ and the part of the body being operated on. Thanks to the skilled medical professionals who perform these surgeries, along with advanced medical technologies, mortality rates and complications have been significantly reduced. But despite ongoing medical advancements, there are still procedures that present high risk for complications during the procedure or recovery period. Here’s a list of the 10 riskiest medical procedures: 10. Bariatric surgeries/Gastric Bypass As with many other major surgeries, there are risks that patients take when electing to undergo them, but these patients’ excessive weight poses even more threats.
Surgeons have a harder time operating and must use special instruments because internal organs are often hard to separate and have may layers of slippery fat surrounding them. These patients also have an increased risk for complications with anesthesia, because it’s often difficult to insert the tube into their airways, and drugs or anesthetic gases may need to be given in higher dosages because they are easily absorbed by fat. Breathing must also be closely monitored before, during and after the surgery, as these patients have a higher risk of developing of pneumonia. 9. Septal Myotomy This surgical procedure is performed to reduce the thickening of the heart muscles, a symptom of patients diagnosed with advanced stages of a complex type of heart disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). This is a complicated procedure because it requires the patient to be placed on cardiopulminary bypass, or the “heart-lung machine”, so that the surgeon can work on a still heart. In total, this surgery can last anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, and the recovery period requires a stay in the Intensive Care Unit. 8. Pancreatectomy This procedure comes along with a fairly high risk of complications. In fact, a Johns Hopkins study documented complications in 41% of pancreatectomy cases. These include serious problems like post-operative bleeding, delayed gastric emptying — a condition in which food and liquids are slow to leave the stomach — internal anastomatic leaking. The good news is that in recent years, the mortality rate for this procedure has decreased to a range of 5-10%. 7. Thoracic Aortic Dissection Repair Aortic dissection, or a tear in the innermost layer of the heart, can trigger a number of high-risk complications like heart failure, stroke or even a rupture of the aorta, making its repair vital to the survival of the patient. Immediate treatment is required and this often results in the surgeon removing the area of dissected aorta and rebuilding the blood vessel with a synthetic graft. 6. Esophagectomy This is a major surgery which carries a lot of risk because of the reconstruction of the area between the stomach and the healthy part of the esophagus. Three different methods of this surgery can be performed depending on the patient’s condition, but they all carry with them serious risks, such as a leakage of the fluid from the stomach or esophagus where the new connection was made. Despite the risks, most patients recover well and have few complications. 5. Bladder Cystectomy This procedure is most often performed to remove a part of, or the entire urinary bladder, in patients diagnosed with bladder cancer. The major risks for this procedure are the highest for an infection of the intestine which can lead to peritonitis or the inflammation of the membrane lining the abdomen. For procedures that remove only a part of the bladder, there is a high risk for urine leakage from the bladder incision site, which can cause a number of other internal problems.
Plants have scientifically been show to draw alternative sources of energy from other plants. Plants influence each other in many ways and they communicate through “nanomechanical oscillations” vibrations on the tiniest atomic or molecular scale or as close as you can get to telepathic communication.
Members of Professor Dr. Olaf Kruse’s biological research team have previously shown that green algae not only engages in photosynthesis, but also has an alternative source of energy: it can draw it from other plants. His research findings were released in the online journal Nature Communications.
Other research published last year, showed that young corn roots made clicking sounds, and that when suspended in water they would lean towards sounds made in the same frequency range (about 220 Hz). So it seemed that plants do emit and react to sound, and the researchers wanted to delve into this idea further.
Working with chili plants in their most recent study, specifically Capsicum annuum, they first grew chili seeds on their own and then in the presence of other chili plants, basil and fennel, and recorded their rates of germination and growth. Fennel is considered an aggressive plant that hinders the germination of other plants around it, while basil is generally considered to be a beneficial plant for gardening and an ideal companion for chili plants.
Germination rates were fairly low when the seeds were grown on their own, lower when grown in the presence of fennel (as expected). Germination rates were better with other chili plants around, and even better with basil.
Since plants are already known to ‘talk’ through chemical signals and to react to light, the researchers separated newly planted seeds from the other plants using black plastic, to block any other kind of ‘signaling’ other than through sound. When fennel was on the other side of the plastic, the chemical effects of its presence, which would have inhibited germination of the chili seeds, were blocked. The chili seeds grew much quicker than normal though, possibly because they still ‘knew’ the fennel was there, ‘knew’ it had the potential to have a negative effect on their germination, and so they quickly got past the stage where they were vulnerable.
If even bacteria can signal one another with vibrations, why not plants, said Monica Gagliano, a plant physiologist at the University of Western Australia in Crawley.
Gagliano imagines that root-to-root alerts could transform a forest into an organic switchboard. “Considering that entire forests are all interconnected by networks of fungi, maybe plants are using fungi the way we use the Internet and sending acoustic signals through this Web. From here, who knows,” she said.
As with other life, if plants do send messages with sound, it is one of many communication tools. More work is needed to bear out Gagliano’s claims, but there are many ways that listening to plants already bears fruit.
According to the study: “This demonstrated that plants were able to sense their neighbours even when all known communication channels are blocked (i.e. light, chemicals and touch) and most importantly, recognize the potential for the interfering presence of a ‘bad neighbour’ and modify their growth accordingly.”
Then, to test if they could see similar effects with a ‘good neighbour’, they tried the same experiment with other chili plants and then with basil. When there were fully-grown chili plants in their presence blocked by the plastic, the seeds showed some improved germination (“partial response”). When basil was on the other side of the plastic, they found that the seeds grew just as well as when the plastic wasn’t there.
“Our results show that plants are able to positively influence growth of seeds by some as yet unknown mechanism,” said Dr. Monica Gagliano, an evolutionary biologist at UWA and co-author of the study, according to BioMed Central. “Bad neighbors, such as fennel, prevent chili seed germination in the same way. We believe that the answer may involve acoustic signals generated using nanomechanical oscillations from inside the cell which allow rapid communication between nearby plants.”
What Can Humans Learn?
Flowers need water and light to grow and people are no different. Our physical bodies are like sponges, soaking up the environment.
“This is exactly why there are certain people who feel uncomfortable in specific group settings where there is a mix of energy and emotions,” said psychologist and energy healer Dr. Olivia Bader-Lee.
“When energy studies become more advanced in the coming years, we will eventually see this translated to human beings as well,” stated Bader-Lee. “The human organism is very much like a plant, it draws needed energy to feed emotional states and this can essentially energize cells or cause increases in cortisol and catabolize cells depending on the emotional trigger.”
Bader-Lee suggests that the field of bioenergy is now ever evolving and that studies on the plant and animal world will soon translate and demonstrate what energy metaphysicians have known all along — that humans can heal each other simply through energy transfer just as plants do. “Human can absorb and heal through other humans, animals, and any part of nature. That’s why being around nature is often uplifting and energizing for so many people,” she concluded.
Read more at http://itsallabouti.info/scientists-find-plants-are-intelligent-and-communicate-telepathically/#voVCck3Gbc8zLPHD.99
Objective To determine which factors influence whether Santa Claus will visit children in hospital on Christmas Day.
Design Retrospective observational study.
Setting Paediatric wards in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Participants 186 members of staff who worked on the paediatric wards (n=186) during Christmas 2015.
Main outcome measures Presence or absence of Santa Claus on the paediatric ward during Christmas 2015. This was correlated with rates of absenteeism from primary school, conviction rates in young people (aged 10-17 years), distance from hospital to North Pole (closest city or town to the hospital in kilometres, as the reindeer flies), and contextual socioeconomic deprivation (index of multiple deprivation).
Results Santa Claus visited most of the paediatric wards in all four countries: 89% in England, 100% in Northern Ireland, 93% in Scotland, and 92% in Wales. The odds of him not visiting, however, were significantly higher for paediatric wards in areas of higher socioeconomic deprivation in England (odds ratio 1.31 (95% confidence interval 1.04 to 1.71) in England, 1.23 (1.00 to 1.54) in the UK). In contrast, there was no correlation with school absenteeism, conviction rates, or distance to the North Pole.
Conclusion The results of this study dispel the traditional belief that Santa Claus rewards children based on how nice or naughty they have been in the previous year. Santa Claus is less likely to visit children in hospitals in the most deprived areas. Potential solutions include a review of Santa’s contract or employment of local Santas in poorly represented regions.
Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas, St Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santy, or simply Santa) is a popular Christmas figure celebrated for travelling around the world to give children presents on Christmas Day (25 December).
It has long been thought that Santa Claus visits children depending on whether they have been naughty or nice in the past year (fig 1⇓). This belief finds textual support in the popular holiday song “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” written by Fred Coots and Haven Gillespie and published in 1934.1 The Christmas classic goes on: “he sees when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Yet no empirical evidence exists to support the assertion that Santa Claus rewards children based on good behaviour or to establish whether this is the only factor determining the likelihood of a visit from him.2 We chose to study paediatric hospital wards because sick children are the most deserving of a visit from Santa Claus at Christmas. We evaluated the relative importance of children’s behaviour, distance to the North Pole, and contextual socioeconomic deprivation on the likelihood of a visit from Santa Claus.
Fig 1 Many children believe that Santa Claus rewards good behaviour. Written by Fred, aged 7
Because auditing departments close over Christmas, hospitals hold no records on visits by Santa Claus. Therefore we telephoned every UK hospital with a paediatric ward (obtained from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health) and asked the ward staff to identify someone who worked on Christmas Day 2015 and could attest to a visit by Santa Claus. We recorded the name and position of the witness and whether or not Santa Claus had visited. We also collected additional information about other superheroes who visited the ward on this festive occasion. Data collection occurred in July and August 2016.
We used the website FreeMapTools (www.freemaptools.com) to record the distance (km) between the hospital (closest city or town to the hospital) and North Pole, as the reindeer flies. We considered two sources of data as potential indicators of naughtiness. Firstly, rates of absenteeism from primary school as a proxy for child behaviour were obtained from national government databases in 2015, available online for each respective country (England,3Scotland,4 Northern Ireland,5 and Wales6) and regions within England. School absenteeism was defined by the total number of authorised and unauthorised absences, counted in sessions where each session is equivalent to half a day. Secondly, we obtained data from the Ministry of Justice on the conviction rate for crimes by young people per 1000 of the 10-17 year old population.7 Data were unavailable for Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Thames Valley, Wessex, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. For regions within London we assigned values based on the conviction rate for ages 10-17 years in all of London. Contextual socioeconomic deprivation was characterised by the index of multiple deprivation, which combines data on seven domains of deprivation: income, employment, health deprivation and disability, education skills and training, barriers to housing and services, crime, and living environment, as calculated by each of the four countries.891011 Each hospital was assigned a score based on the decile ranking of the area in which it is located. Since publically available index of multiple deprivation deciles in Wales are classed into broader categories (deciles 1, 2, 3-5, 6-10), paediatric wards in Wales were assigned to the midpoint of their deprivation category. We carried out subanalyses restricted to regions within England, and for analyses involving conviction data to selected regions within England as well as Wales. Table 1⇓ presents the summary statistics for the determinants.
Distribution of covariates across 186 paediatric hospital wards in the UK, 2015
For modeling purposes we reversed the coding of the deprivation variable (making 10 most deprived and 1 least deprived) so that our odds ratios could be interpreted in relation to the effect of increased deprivation on the odds of Santa’s visit.
We calculated the proportions of paediatric wards visited by Santa Claus for each of the four countries and for regions within England (table 2⇓). Fisher’s exact test was used to detect differences between areas in the likelihood of visits.
Regional and national patterns of visits by Santa Claus to 186 paediatric hospital wards in the UK, 2015
To explore associations between school absenteeism, conviction rates in young people, distance to North Pole, and contextual socioeconomic deprivation, we fit logistic regression models for the odds of no visit by Santa Claus, with each predictor modeled linearly. To evaluate potential regional clustering, we fit logistic mixed effect models with random regional effects but found no evidence of a statistically significant component for regional variance. Accordingly, the results of the models are reported based on traditional logistic regression models (table 3⇓). All analyses were conducted in R.12
Logistic regression models: association of school absenteeism, conviction rates, distance from hospital to North Pole, and socioeconomic deprivation with odds of no visits to 186 paediatric hospital wards in the UK by Santa Claus, 2015
No patients were involved in setting the research question or the outcome measures, nor were they involved in developing plans for recruitment, design, or implementation of the study. No patients were asked to advise on interpretation or writing up of results. There are no plans to disseminate the results of the research to study participants or the relevant patient community.
Santa Claus visited 168 (90%) of the 186 paediatric hospital wards in the UK. Of the original 191 paediatric wards obtained from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, we excluded five. Of those five (all in England), staff of one ward declined to answer and four wards had closed or been transferred to another hospital.
All eight of the paediatric wards in Northern Ireland were visited by Santa Claus, representing the most successful coverage of visits by Santa. Scotland achieved second place, with 93% coverage (14/15 wards), and Wales came third with 92% coverage (11/12 wards). Notably, the proportion of wards visited in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales was higher than the 89% (135/151 wards) visited in England (although relatively smaller numbers of paediatric wards led to Fisher’s exact P values of 0.42 for Northern Ireland, 0.53 for Scotland, and 0.64 for Wales compared with England) (table 2⇑). Within England, regional variation was observed in the proportion of paediatric wards visited (from a minimum of 50% in the north east to 100% in south London, Thames Valley, and Wessex, fig 2⇓). The low proportions of paediatric wards visited in the north east (50%) and in north west London (71%) point to the need for urgent corrective action by Santa Claus.
Fig 2 Regional variations in visits by Santa Clause in England, 2015
Naughty or nice?
Based on the results of logistic regression models summarised in table 3⇑, regional rates of school absenteeism were not statistically significantly associated with the odds of no visit by Santa Claus in either the full UK analysis or the England subanalysis, although the point estimate in the England subanalysis was substantially higher than in the UK analysis. Furthermore, we found no association between conviction rates in young people and visits from Santa Claus in the subanalysis of English regions and Wales.
Distance between hospital and North Pole
In neither the UK analysis nor England subanalysis did distance (km) of hospital to the North Pole have a statistically significant effect on whether Santa Claus would or would not visit a paediatric ward (table 3⇑).
Contextual socioeconomic deprivation
In the UK analysis, the index of multiple deprivation was marginally associated with the odds of not being visited by Santa Claus: a 1 unit change in the index of multiple deprivation decile from least deprived to most deprived was associated with a 1.23 times increase in the odds of not being visited by Santa Claus (95% confidence interval 1.00 to 1.54, P=0.06). In the England subanalysis, the odds ratio for a 1 unit change in the index of multiple deprivation decile was 1.31 (1.04 to 1.71, P=0.03). We also explored the relation between index of multiple deprivation decile and proportion of visits (fig 3⇓). A generally decreasing pattern of visits was observed with increasing deprivation across the top five deciles (1-5) of deprivation, with only 79% of paediatric wards in the fifth decile reporting visits. The pattern of visits varied across the bottom five deciles (6-10), with all showing fewer visits than the top four deciles (1-4).
Fig 3 Proportion of paediatric hospital wards visited by Santa Claus according to deprivation, 2015. Deprivation deciles from 1 (least deprived) to 10 (most deprived)
Santa Claus was not the only non-clinical visitor to the paediatric wards on Christmas Day. Twenty three different fictional and non-fictional characters also brought festive cheer. Of those, the most popular were elves, followed by footballers, pantomime characters, and clowns. Elsa (from the animated movie, Frozen) was joint fifth with firemen (fig 4⇓).
Fig 4 Local superheroes who also spread festive cheer on paediatric wards, 2015
Our findings do not support the widely accepted belief that Santa Claus only visits children who are nice.13Dispelling the “naughty or nice” myth has important implications, including a possible increase in outbursts of bad behaviour by children over Christmas if they find out. This raises the important ethical question: should children be told about this?
Our most important finding is that Santa Claus is less likely to visit hospitals in deprived areas. Of note was the significant association of visits with index of multiple deprivation decile in England (P=0.03). One possible reason for the weaker association observed in the UK analysis (P=0.056) is that the index of multiple deprivation is calculated and summarised differently in each of the four countries. A nation specific index of multiple deprivation is preferred for policy, planning, and resource allocation as it is sensitive to each nation’s unique patterns of deprivation, but future analyses of Santa’s visitation patterns in relation to contextual deprivation across the UK would benefit from a consistent and comparable deprivation metric.14
A surprising finding was that Santa Claus does not discriminate against children based on country or region (for example, we hypothesised that he would prefer to visit Wales and Scotland owing to these countries seemingly more habitable climates for reindeers). Indeed this study shows that distance from the North Pole was not a factor that influenced whether Santa Claus visited a hospital and confirms the widely held belief that he is not limited by distance or time and is capable of delivering gifts across the globe within a 24 hour period.15
It is the authors’ anecdotal experience that children rarely voluntarily admit to being naughty. Our study therefore included two potential indicators of child naughtiness: regional primary school absenteeism and conviction rates in young people. Neither is ideal as they are measured at a relatively coarse level of geographical aggregation, and in the case of conviction rates are subject to uneven reporting across the regions. The fact that we found no significant associations with either indicator suggests that the “nice or naughty” myth can be dispelled, but future research should attempt to obtain better individual level estimates of naughtiness in children to confirm this finding. We must also acknowledge the limitations of these ecological variables: we would hope that Santa Claus makes his decisions to visit sick children in hospital independent of the naughtiness of other children in the region. There are also other potential predictors of his visits that could not be included in our analysis. For example, despite the authors’ best efforts, information on the size and characteristics of paediatric wards was not available for further analysis of the data. A response to the authors’ freedom of information request to NHS England was that this information was not available. We also caution that although our study shows that Santa Claus is less likely to visit paediatric wards in more deprived areas, we cannot conclude from our correlational study why this association exists. Finally, other variables such as the quality of whisky left for him in hospitals, availability of Christmas dinners,16 availability of chimneys, and free NHS parking spaces for reindeers may need to be explored. Whether Santa Claus actively discriminates or whether deeper structural factors are at play needs to be examined through further studies.
Why do children in the most deprived areas have it worse? One possible theory is that Santa Claus is forced to sustain existing inequality, as he is contractually not allowed to change anyone’s socioeconomic status.17 Giving children presents beyond their economic means might result in Santa Claus gaining political power and thereby causing widespread discontent. This would run directly contrary to the primary mission statement of the North Pole: the deliverance of cheer.
Finally, the authors (and the hospital staff who participated in the survey) salute the local heroes and visitors who devote their time to visiting sick children in hospital over Christmas. Even if Santa Claus does not reach all areas equally, this is counterbalanced by the work of these local heroes, who do a wonderful job spreading good cheer to sick children, naughty or nice. Surprisingly, the most popular visitors apart from Santa Claus were elves and not Elsa!
It has long been thought that Santa Claus gives presents to nice but not naughty children. This is the first study, to our knowledge, to dispel the myth that Santa visits children based on behaviour and suggests socioeconomic deprivation plays a greater role in determining a visit. It raises important ethical dilemmas, such as whether children should be told and what should be done about Santa.
Santa Claus has an incredibly tough job to ensure that all the nice children receive presents. Undoubtedly deeper socioeconomic factors are at play, even impacting Santa Claus’s abilities to reach out to every child. Whether his contract needs to be reviewed or local Santas employed in “hard to reach” areas, all we want is for every child to be happy this Christmas.
Documentary explores the dangers of genetically engineered (GE) foods, including the adverse economic impact of having our exports refused by countries opting out of GMOs
64 countries now require labeling of GE foods; more than 90 percent of Americans favor similar labeling in the U.S.
HR 1599, which would bar states from implementing GMO labeling, may go to the Senate for a vote as soon as September, so time is running out to set your senators straight; talking points suggested
While no one knows exactly what the effects of consuming pesticide-soaked genetically-engineered (GE) crops will be over time, all of humankind serves as “lab rat” as a few massive corporations profit handsomely from their experiment.
The good news is, although we’ve lost some battles, we seem to be winning the war.
Awareness about the potential risks of GE foods continues to grow, largely through the publicity generated by state direct ballot initiatives that bypass the legislatures. The latest polls suggest more than 90 percent of Americans now want to know what’s in their food.
As a result of increased public awareness, industry has ramped up their efforts to maintain the status quo, pouring exorbitant amounts of money into anti-labeling campaigns in order to control the public, press and government.
Economic Impacts That Are Rarely Discussed
With mounting scientific evidence about the human and environmental costs of GE foods and industrial agriculture, 64 nations now require the labeling of foods containing GE ingredients.1
Many nations have banned GE crops altogether, including parts of the EU, Austria, China, India, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Greece, Bulgaria, Poland, Italy and Russia.2
With so many rejecting GE foods, major U.S. exports of soy and corn have lost international trade value. One expert estimated $200 to 300 million per year are lost in European exports alone.
With regard to China, U.S. corn exports dropped 85 percent in one year (2013 to 2014), according to the trade association, which bases its estimates on data from export companies.3
In Europe, the GMO tug-of-war continues, as 58 GE foods remain legal for import, with 17 new ones added in April 2015 (maize, cotton, soybean, oilseed rape, sugar beets, and carnations).4Individual EU states are granted the option of opting-out.5
Here in the U.S., industry’s greed rages on. Corporate leaders and government officials refuse to heed GMO warnings — even from their own scientists.
Those who sound the alarm are frequently “managed” by means more typically associated with gangsters. They are targeted to be discredited with harassment, ridicule, and tactics best described as “corporate terrorism.”
Why GMOs Can Never Be Safe
Genetic modification interferes with the naturally occurring genetic modifications organisms undergo in order to survive.
An organism’s genome is not static but fluid, and its biological functions are interconnected with its environment and vice versa. Trying to control genetic changes via artificial modification is a dangerous game.
Compared to natural genetic modification (vertical gene transfer), artificial genetic modification is inherently hazardous because it lacks the precision of the natural process, enabling genes to be transferred between species that would never have been otherwise exchanged.
Artificial genetic modification uses horizontal gene transfer, which involves injecting a gene from one species into a completely different and naturally incompatible species, yielding unexpected and often unpredictable results — including the transfer of foreign genes into humans.
EPA Has Raised Allowed Limits for Carcinogen Levels in Your Food
The claim that GE foods are materially comparable to conventional foods, and therefore inherently safe, falls flat when you consider GE crops are designed to be different.
For example, “Roundup Ready” crops are engineered to withstand the herbicide Roundup, which would normally threaten the survival of the crop if sprayed too liberally.
Moreover, in a 2014 study6 titled “Compositional Differences in Soybeans on the Market: Glyphosate Accumulates in Roundup Ready GM Soybeans,” the authors specifically conclude that nutritional and elemental variables “without exception” demonstrate “substantial non-equivalence” between GM soy and non-GM varieties.
With the advent of Roundup Ready crops, use of glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup) has significantly risen, with about 1 billion pounds sprayed on crops every year.
Glyphosate’s toxicity is well established, with adverse health effects ranging from birth defects to endocrine dysfunction to cancer. Unbelievably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) admits foods are not tested for glyphosate residues due to the high cost of doing so.7
However, GE crops are much more heavily contaminated with glyphosate than conventional crops by nature of their very design, and this fact alone blows a massive hole in the safety claim.
Glyphosate was recently classified as a Class 2A “probable human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Even in the midst of mounting questions about glyphosate’s safety, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised the allowable limits of glyphosate8 in our food and feed crops back in July 2013. Allowable levels in oilseed crops such as soy were doubled, from 20 ppm to 40 ppm. Permissible glyphosate levels in many other foods were raised to 15 to 25 times previous levels.
Root and tuber vegetables, with the exception of sugar, got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm. The level for sweet potatoes was raised to 3 ppm.
Enough Already — It’s Time to Boycott
By now, it should be clear you cannot depend on industry or government to ensure the safety of the foods you eat. You must take matters into your own hands. I invite you to vote with your wallet and join me in boycotting GE foods and other tainted foods, including CAFO meat and dairy as they’re typically fed GMO feed and treated with antibiotics and growth-accelerating drugs.
Boycotting contaminated foods might not be as easy as you think, as many foods labeled “natural” are not really natural. Many “mom and pop” companies that started out on the right foot are later swallowed up by big corporations, with concerns over food quality tossed right out the window. True Activist assembled a printable list of nearly 70 food companies owned by Monsanto, which you can download here.9 Other small companies have fallen prey to other corporate buy-outs, such as: 10, 11
Burt’s Bees was bought by Clorox
Krave Jerky was sold to Hershey
Naked Juice was purchased by Pepsi
Odwalla now belongs to Coca-Cola
Applegate Farms sold out to Hormel
In fact, just 10 corporations control almost every product on grocery store shelves. How many of your products are owned by these ten mega-corporations?
Prevent Your Senator from Voting Yes on HR 1599
HR 1599 is a measure looming ominously over your right to know what’s in your food, ironically misnamed the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act.”
The bill was introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan) in order to preempt states’ rights to enact GMO labeling laws, and specifically prohibit Congress or individual states from requiring mandatory labeling of GMO foods or ingredients. Under this bill, food manufacturers would be allowed to use the word “natural” on products that contain GMOs. HR 1599 is commonly referred to as the “Deny Americans the Right to Know” or DARK Act.
Unfortunately, on July 23, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 1599 — greased with lots of GMA and biotech money (Grocery Manufacturers Association, aka Junk Food Industry). According to a report12 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), food and biotechnology companies spent $63.6 million in 2014 to lobby specifically for this kind of anti-labeling legislation. That’s nearly three times the amount spent on anti-labeling efforts in 2013.
And not surprisingly, House members who voted to ban GMO labeling received on average three times more money from the agribusiness industry during the 2014 election cycle than those who voted against it.13
Republican dissention in the Senate is our last hope for killing this monstrous bill, which is simply the latest tactic aimed at protecting Monsanto and its minions. It’s imperative you contact your senators today, urging them not to support HR 1599. Tell them this bill is an attack on consumer rights and states’ rights, and you expect your elected officials to protect you.
You can find your senators’ contact information by clicking the button below, or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. A phone call has greater impact than an email, but a face-to-face meeting will usually make the strongest impact of all. The Senate went into a month-long recess on August 10, during which time senators often return to their home states. You can find out where they are and set up an appointment by calling the district office.
It’s really imperative to concentrate our efforts on our senators right now, and to inform them accurately. They’re being deceived by industry lobbyists, and this is our last chance to preserve our right to know what’s in our food.
HR 1599 Eliminates States’ Rights
In addition to barring states from creating their own GMO labeling requirements, HR 1599 also preempts all state and local regulation of GE crops, and further weakens federal oversight.14 Rather than simply labeling foods containing GE ingredients, the bill calls for the creation of a USDA non-GMO certification program similar to its National Organic Program — essentially shifting all of the costs over to those wanting to declare their foods non-GMO.
This system is as backwards as it gets. If GMOs were labeled as they rightfully should be, there would be no need for GMO-free labeling, which was originally nothing more than a workaround to give consumers what they want — the right to make informed purchasing decisions.
The basic purpose of food labeling is to inform you of what you’re buying, its basic ingredients, and additives — rather than what’s NOT in the food (unless it relates to a known health risk, such as peanut allergy or gluten intolerance).
Under HR 1599, any food that’s not part of a man-made genetic experiment will be forced to declare that it’s “normal” on the label, or be assumed to contain GMOs. It’s complete nonsense, and the only beneficiaries of such a convoluted system are the biotechnology and processed food industries.
If GE foods were as wonderful as industry claimed, Monsanto and its cohorts would be vociferously in favor of stamping their labels with an official “proof of GMO seal” — it would be free advertising for them! But instead they spend tens of millions of dollars fighting it. The only explanation that makes sense is they have something to hide, and they know consumers are onto them.
Four Talking Points to Review BEFORE Speaking to Your Senator
In order to help you educate your senators about the necessity and appropriateness of labeling GE foods, I devoted the majority of a recent article to HR 1599 talking points. A much more comprehensive discussion of the following four issues can be found in that article, so I recommend your reading it in detail before you meet with your Senator. Very briefly, the four points are the following:
GMO labeling will NOT increase food costs
Consumers expect traditional foods — not GMOs — to be the norm, so transgenic foods should carry the label and distinction of being “different”
Three reasons GMO foods are unsafe (primary contributors to chronic disease, pesticide/herbicide resistance, and antibiotic resistance)
Several claims made by the GMO industry are false (insecticide-resistant crops have NOT reduced insecticide use; herbicide-producing GE crops have NOT decreased herbicide use; and GE plants have actually created insecticide and herbicide resistance).
A new ProPublica analysis has found that the odds of having a child born with birth defects were more than a third higher for veterans exposed to Agent Orange than for those who weren’t.
by Charles Ornstein and Hannah Fresques, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh for The Virginian-PilotDecember 16, 2016
ARMY VETERAN WILLIAM PENNER used to jokingly call the thick yellow crust that crept across his young son Matthew’s scalp “Agent Orange” after the toxic defoliant sprayed on him in Vietnam before the boy was born. The joke turned sour a few years ago, when Matthew, now 43, was diagnosed with a host of serious illnesses, including heart disease, fibromyalgia and arthritis.
They, like thousands of others, are grappling with a chilling prospect: Could Agent Orange, the herbicide linked to health problems in Vietnam veterans, have also harmed their children?
For decades, the Department of Veterans Affairs has collected — and ignored — reams of information that could have helped answer that question, an investigation by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot has found.
Its medical staff has physically examined more than 668,000 Vietnam veterans possibly exposed to Agent Orange, documenting health conditions and noting when and where they served. For at least 34 years, the agency also has asked questions about their children’s birth defects, before and after the war.
But the birth defect data had never received scrutiny by the VA or anyone else until this year, when ProPublica, working with The Virginian-Pilot, obtained it after submitting a detailed plan describing how it would be used and agreeing to protect patients’ identities.
The analysis that followed was revealing: The odds of having a child born with birth defects during or after the war were more than a third higher for veterans who say they handled, sprayed or were directly sprayed with Agent Orange than for veterans who say they weren’t exposed or weren’t sure. The analysis controlled for such variables as age and health status.
The data has some caveats. The VA, for example, had no way of verifying the vets’ Agent Orange exposure and did not independently confirm information about their children’s birth defects. Even so, experts said the results should prompt the VA to take the issue seriously.
“It’s like a sign that says ‘Dig Here’ and they’re not digging,” said Dr. David Ozonoff, a professor of environmental health at Boston University and co-editor-in-chief of the online journal Environmental Health, after reviewing ProPublica’s findings. “It raises questions about whether they want to know the answer or are just hoping the problem will naturally go away as the veterans die off.”
Joel Michalek, co-author of a major Air Force study into Agent Orange exposure and birth defects, said ProPublica’s analysis suggests the issue should be revisited. In the 1980s, he and his team found a higher rate of post-war birth defects in the children of veterans who handled Agent Orange than in the children of those who didn’t, but they later concluded that herbicide exposure was not the cause.
“You see parallel patterns of what we saw back then,” said Michalek, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “That, to me, is a signal.”
In a written response on Thursday, the VA called ProPublica’s findings “interesting” and “a step in the right direction,” saying they raise additional questions.
But the agency also said it does not have the in-house expertise to study birth defects, deferring to academic researchers and other parts of the federal government. “VA believes that research to understand the relationship between exposure and intergenerational transmission of disease, if conducted, should be done where scientists with expertise in the relevant fields of inquiry can provide leadership.”
The VA said it should play “an ancillary role.”
Concerns that Agent Orange was not just sickening vets but also causing birth defects in their children surfaced after troops returned from war four decades ago. Veterans reported that some of their children had unusual defects — missing limbs, extra limbs and other diseases — that didn’t run in their families. Some government studies were done, including Michalek’s, but they generally dismissed an association.
Since then, those findings have guided the government position on disability benefits for children of Vietnam vets. The VA makes payments only to those who have spina bifida, in which the spinal cord doesn’t develop properly, and the children of a small number of female Vietnam vets with 18 other diseases. That leaves out the vast majority of vets’ ailing children.
Last week, after repeated recommendations by federal scientific advisory panels, Congress passed a bill that requires the VA to pay for an analysis of all research done thus far on the “descendents of veterans with toxic exposure.” It also requires the agency to determine the feasibility of future research and, if such studies are possible, to pursue them.
In its written response, the VA said it has already requested a related report from the National Academy of Medicine.
Recent advances in science, especially in the burgeoning field of epigenetics, have shown that chemical exposure can affect multiple generations. Changes in gene expression — whether a gene for a trait is turned on or off — can be passed from one generation to the next, research shows. A 2012 study, for example, showed that gestating female rats exposed to dioxin, a byproduct found in Agent Orange, passed mutations to future generations.
“I think there’s kind of a paradigm shift that’s been going on,” said Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. “While I used to be pretty skeptical about reports, especially related to Agent Orange exposures of predominantly male soldiers we had at the time, I’m not as skeptical as I was.”
If researchers conclude that troops’ wartime exposures can affect future generations, the implications go well beyond Vietnam veterans and their descendants. Vets from subsequent conflicts have similar concerns that their proximity to burn pits, depleted uranium and other toxins might be affecting their children.
Vietnam vets and their advocates believe a brutal calculation may lie at the heart of why their claims have gone unexamined. Caring for and compensating veterans themselves already costs tens of billions of dollars a year. If a link to their children is proven, it could add billions more.
Many Vietnam veterans, reaching the ends of their lives, are increasingly haunted by thoughts of the full cost of their service.
Blackledge, who fathered a healthy child before the war and two sick ones after, believes the government that exposed troops to Agent Orange should care for those it harmed — including their children.
“I probably wouldn’t have had kids,” he said, “had I known that there would be an impact on them.”
MIKE RYAN, AN ARMY VET, recalled seeing planes spraying Agent Orange overhead during his 13-month Vietnam tour but thought little of it until 1976, when his wife, Maureen, made the connection between the toxic herbicide and their daughter, Kerry.
From 1962 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of potent weed killers, including Agent Orange, over Vietnam to kill dense jungle foliage and eliminate places for the enemy to hide, exposing as many as 2.6 million service members in the process.
Many, like Ryan, returned home, eager to put Vietnam behind them, starting new families or adding to ones they had. Kerry was born in 1971 with a hole in her heart, no lower digestive system, dysfunctional kidneys, a deformed arm and fingers, spina bifida and more than a dozen other health problems.
Mike Ryan’s mother, the head obstetrician at a Long Island hospital, delivered baby Kerry and knew immediately something was terribly wrong.
“Can you imagine the trauma of it?” he said. “Seeing your new granddaughter come out like that?”
For years, the Ryans were baffled by their daughter’s problems. There had been no history of birth defects on either side of the family. Neither were smokers or drug users. A second child, born a few years later, was relatively healthy. It wasn’t until Maureen Ryan read a magazine article that suggested a link between dioxin and birth defects that it dawned on them that her husband’s tour in Vietnam might be connected to Kerry’s problems.
By that time, there had been reports suggesting that Vietnamese children born in areas heavily contaminated by Agent Orange had high rates of defects, though some U.S. researchers said rigorous scientific studies never established a link.
Mike Ryan also had an ugly rash, called chloracne, that’s considered a signature effect of Agent Orange exposure. He remembered drinking rainwater collected from the tops of tents in Vietnam, not realizing it may have been contaminated with chemicals sprayed from above.
The Ryans went public with their concerns at a press conference in 1978, drawing the nation’s attention to the children of Vietnam veterans.
A year later, the Ryans pushed Kerry into a congressional hearing in a wheelchair to testify about her struggles, prompting then Rep. Al Gore, D-Tennessee, to ask, “I wonder what the reaction of the VA would be if the enemy had used Agent Orange?” In the fall of 1980, President-elect Ronald Reagan arranged a meeting to learn about their struggle and concerns about the herbicide.
But after that, the momentum died.
Instead, in the years that followed, the Reagan administration worked to undermine the Ryans’ cause in court as the couple served as one of the lead plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the chemical companies that made Agent Orange.
Weinstein, who’d expressed doubt that veterans had been harmed, was even more skeptical about their children, writing, “however slight the suggestion of a causal connection between the veterans’ medical problems and Agent Orange exposure, even less evidence supports the existence of an association between birth defects … and exposure of the father to Agent Orange.”
Mike Ryan wasn’t surprised. “I knew we had no shot,” he said.
In 1997, when the VA finally began offering compensation for children with spina bifida, the Ryans didn’t bother applying. Mike Ryan said it was never about the money; it was about recognition of the debt he believes his country owes his daughter. “She has 22 birth defects, and they want to pay only for spina bifida? Come on, give me a break.”
Mike Ryan, now 71, said he hadn’t kept up with scientific advancements that potentially confirm what he’s spent years arguing — that a father’s exposure to toxins can cause health problems in offspring. In the end, it won’t matter what researchers discover, he insisted.
“They will never admit it,” he said, “because if they do, then America is admitting to drafting the unborn.”
The same year Weinstein cited a lack of evidence connecting Agent Orange and birth defects, an Air Force scientist believed he’d found some.
In 1979, a team of researchers had embarked on a $143 million, 20-year study of those Air Force vets who’d had the greatest exposure to Agent Orange: Those who’d sprayed it. The study was extremely detailed, verifying what veterans said with a host of medical exams and biological specimens, including blood, semen and urine samples. Five years in, Dr. Richard Albanese, a lead investigator, and his team made what they considered an intriguing finding — children born to exposed Air Force vets after the war had more defects than children of those who hadn’t handled Agent Orange.
The researchers wrote up the results in a report, but their superiors halted its release, saying more research was needed, including physically examining all the children to verify whether they had birth defects, Albanese recalled in a recent interview. After Albanese spoke up about the delay, he was taken off the project and reassigned.
Meanwhile, two major studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that there was little connection between exposure to herbicides and birth defects. One examined babies born in the metropolitan Atlanta region and found that Vietnam veterans fathered a similar percent of babies with birth defects as other men. A second study compared the rates of birth defects among babies fathered by Vietnam vets to those born to veterans who served elsewhere during the war. Vietnam veterans reported a higher rate of birth defects in their children but that finding was not validated in follow-up reviews of hospital records. The reports did suggest a possible association between herbicide exposure among vets and spina bifida in their kids.
Finally in 1988, under pressure from members of Congress, the study Albanese had worked on was released, but with only his name on it. His study found “a statistically significant increase in reported birth defects” among veterans who handled Agent Orange. Then, four years later, the Air Force published a follow-up paper that claimed no evidence had been found linking Agent Orange exposure to birth defects in the men’s children.
The 1992 report looked at the data in a different way. If there indeed was an association, the researchers wrote, they would have expected to find that veterans with more dioxin lingering in their blood would have higher rates of birth defects in their children, but that wasn’t the case. They concluded that the few links between dioxin and birth defects “were generally weak, inconsistent or biologically implausible” and the data “provided no support” for such a connection.
To this day, Albanese believes his findings were correct while those of his former colleagues were flawed.
“These people really bent over backwards to try to disprove a connection,” he said. “That’s my feeling.”
Albanese, who now runs a small defense consulting company in San Antonio, said he believes the episode was part of a broader government effort to suppress findings connecting Agent Orange to the health of veterans and their children.
“I’m so sad and so angry that science could be corrupted this way,” said Albanese, who served in the Air Force. “I’m a faithful military man, but this was not honorable behavior.”
Seven years later, some of Albanese’s concerns were investigated by the Government Accountability Office and at a congressional hearing in 2000. The GAO noted the unusual way in which the Air Force report was handled and said one veterans’ organization believed it may have delayed the VA’s decision to provide benefits to children with spina bifida.
Air Force researchers have denied that their findings were manipulated and said they needed the extra time to verify each birth defect against medical records to ensure it was correct.
Meanwhile, thousands of Vietnam vets have added information every year to the VA’s growing body of data, deepening a potentially rich pool for researchers. Yet, for decades, nobody looked.
By 1978, Agent Orange and its potential effects had become a national controversy. In response, the VA began offering veterans free examinations and regular notifications when new information about Agent Orange came to light. As part of the effort, information was gathered about each vet and entered into a newly established Agent Orange Registry.
The questionnaire collected detailed information about veterans’ service, health conditions and possible exposure to herbicides, asking vets whether they handled or sprayed Agent Orange, were directly sprayed with it, were in an area recently sprayed with it, ate or drank food that may have come in contact with it, or were exposed to other herbicides. The VA also collected information about children born before and after the vet’s service with spina bifida or other birth defects.
The questionnaire didn’t define what constitutes a birth defect, leaving it to each vet to do so. In an email last month, the VA said it “would expect” parents to accurately answer questions about whether their children have birth defects, since such defects affect about 3 percent of all births. Yet in its statement on Thursday, the agency said that it anticipated “significant variation in the accuracy” of the self-reported information.
ProPublica looked for differences in birth defect rates among children of veterans who said they were exposed to Agent Orange compared to those who said they weren’t or weren’t sure. The analysis focused on a group of 37,535 veterans who had children born before their service in the war as well as during or after, in part because many of the factors relevant to birth defects wouldn’t change, including the veterans’ genetic makeup.
A veteran was considered exposed if he answered “definitely yes” to the questions about handling or spraying Agent Orange or being directly sprayed with it. Fewer than 10 percent of veterans fit this criteria. If a veteran said he was unsure or definitely was not exposed, he was considered unexposed.
The analysis showed that both groups saw a substantial increase in birth defects among their children born after the war, but the rate was higher for those who were exposed. Slightly more than 13 percent of veterans who sprayed, handled or were sprayed with Agent Orange reported having a child with birth defects born during or after the war, compared to nearly 10 percent of veterans who were not exposed or were unsure. The two groups had similar rates of birth defects among children born before the war, but the odds of having a child born during or after the war with birth defects was 30 percent higher for exposed veterans.
ProPublica ran its methodology by experts in the field, including Michalek, who was involved in the Air Force birth defects study, and Birnbaum, the director of the federal environmental health research agency. The analysis has its limitations, including the self-selected nature of the veterans who took part in the registry and the self-reported information they provided. It also does not prove that Agent Orange caused the increased rate of birth defects, but it does raise important questions for future research, they said.
At one point in the mid-1980s, the VA also saw the research value of its registry, “namely to provide a means of detecting clues or suggestions that specific health problems or unexpected health trends are showing up in this group of veterans,” according to a fact sheet prepared at the time.
Indeed, when a preliminary analysis of the registry in 1983 showed no unusual health problems in Vietnam veterans, Alvin Young, the head of the VA’s Agent Orange Projects Office at the time, announced the results at a news conference, drawing newspaper headlines that suggested Agent Orange hadn’t harmed vets.
Since then, the VA has grown dismissive of the registry’s value. Today the registry is primarily used to keep track of vets’ contact information. In its statement Thursday, the VA said “observation of birth defects was not the primary purpose of the Agent Orange registry.”
“VA has taken a very cautious approach in the use of the registry data, but is currently exploring ways to better utilize this resource for research using administrative records or supporting research recruitment,” the agency said.
Over the past 18 months, more than 6,000 vets and their family members confronting Agent Orange-related issues have shared their stories with ProPublica and The Pilot. Some said it was inexplicable that VA had collected all their information, then simply stashed it away unexamined.
Royal Gee, a Marine Corps veteran from Georgia, completed a registry exam a few years ago. He has rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other health problems. His daughter born before the war is healthy but the one conceived afterward was born with cysts on her head. She’s had ongoing problems with cysts in her joints and now suffers from an immune system disorder.
“They say it has nothing to do with my service in Vietnam and it stops right there,” he said. “There’s got to be a reason.”
Experts, too, have seen their calls for more research die without explanation.
Federal scientific advisory panels have repeatedly urged the VA to research Agent Orange’s effect on offspring. In 2007, a panel of the prestigious Institute of Medicine said the VA “should review all the possible cognitive and developmental effects in offspring of veterans. Such a review should include the possibility of effects in grandchildren.”
In 2009, 2012 and 2014, other IOM panels reiterated that recommendation and expanded on it.
This year, yet another IOM panel weighed in, reporting no progress on the earlier recommendations and encouraging more research in animals. “To date there has been minimal investigation of whether paternal exposure poses a risk of adverse effects in their offspring,” it said.
Before joining the VA, Linda Schwartz, now the agency’s assistant secretary for policy and planning, looked into birth defects among the children of vets as an associate clinical professor of nursing at Yale University. She and a colleague, George Knafl, reassessed the findings of the Air Force study. They found that, contrary to the main published findings, “there is distinct evidence” that the children of those who handled Agent Orange had more birth defects and developmental disabilities. They presented the work at a 2003 international dioxin meeting, but their manuscript was not accepted for publication in a scientific journal.
Schwartz, in a recent interview, said if the U.S. conceded that Agent Orange caused birth defects, the Vietnamese government might seek compensation for children who’ve been harmed over there. “We ran into a wall,” she said. “People were deathly afraid that the Vietnamese would then lodge a horrendous lawsuit against the United States.”
For now, the VA pays to store the blood, semen and tissue specimens from the former Air Force spray crews in a freezer at a base in Ohio, leaving open the possibility for future studies.
Schwartz’s role at the VA doesn’t put her in charge of such studies. But she said new technology could be used to answer at least some questions. “Maybe it’s not the answer that people want, but at least it would be an answer.”
In the absence of new government research into Agent Orange and birth defects, advocates around the country have pursued their own strategies for drawing attention to the issue.
Heather Bowser was born in 1972, three years after her father, William Morris, returned from Vietnam. His base was less than 10 miles away from Bien Hoa Air Base, which served as the hub for the Air Force crew that sprayed Agent Orange across the country. The airplanes returning from short missions would often dump Agent Orange in the river alongside his base, he told her.
Bowser weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces at birth. She was born missing her right leg below the knee and several of her fingers. She had no big toe on her left foot, and the remaining toes were webbed. “The doctor said, ‘If they’re that messed up on the outside, they’re usually that messed up on the inside,’” she said. “My parents had no idea. There was no ultrasound and that kind of stuff, so I made quite a shocking entry into the world.”
Five years ago, Bowser co-founded Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, which has since grown to nearly 4,000 members who swap stories or vent about doctors who dismiss their concerns about Agent Orange. “Our stories are very similar … very similar birth defects, very similar health issues later,” she said. “Neural tube defects, shortened limbs, webbed toes, missing limbs, extra vertebrae, missing vertebrae, autoimmune disorders. The list goes on.”
Bowser, who lives in Canfield, Ohio, said her group has been limited by a lack of funding, but they have reached out to scientists working on the issues in the United States and Vietnam. “I don’t think it’s too late. Quite honestly, it’s not the monetary payoff. It’s the acknowledgement that a parent suffered, we suffered, and something needs to be acknowledged. … This isn’t a figment of your imagination. This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is something that happened to you and your family.”
Matthew Penner, whose dad is an Army veteran, found Bowser’s group and said reading others’ stories “just blew my mind. That really put it together for me.”
While Bowser has been working to help the children of veterans connect with one another, Mokie Porter has been working to get veterans to share their medical and exposure information with their children in case they don’t live long enough to see a connection made.
Porter is the director of communications for the Vietnam Veterans of America, based in Silver Spring, Maryland. The group has been a forceful advocate for compensating veterans for health problems linked to Agent Orange.
Porter, who has worked there since 1985, said she became particularly interested in vets’ children in 2009 when her own daughter was being treated for cancer at Johns Hopkins Health System. While there, Porter’s daughter befriended the grandson of a Vietnam veteran who also was sick.
After that, she helped launch the VVA project Faces of Agent Orange. They’ve held more than 250 town hall meetings across the U.S., urging veterans to share their families’ stories. At the first one, in Louisville, Kentucky, “the room was filled,” Porter said. “Everybody in the room was surprised that they weren’t alone.”
Porter and her colleagues also encourage the children of veterans to file claims with the VA for benefits related to Agent Orange even though the department currently doesn’t cover most defects. Their hope is that the VA will keep the claims on file, and, should it change its position, pay benefits retroactively.
Since 2001, the VA has received claims for benefits from more than 8,100 people citing spina bifida and other birth defects, an agency spokesman said. Of those, only 1,325 claimants have received benefits.
Porter also serves on the board of Birth Defect Research for Children, which has attempted to gather data on birth defects to be analyzed in a way the VA has not done. It is led by Betty Mekdeci, who first started gathering data on birth defects and environmental exposures in the 1980s after her son was born with health issues, then became fixated on helping the children of Vietnam vets.
She believes her data shows elevated numbers of birth defects — especially those affecting a child’s immune and nervous systems — in offspring of Vietnam veterans, though those findings have not been confirmed in a published study.
“I think if we send young people to war, to defend us, our way of life, whatever, that we have a contract with them,” said Mekdeci, who despite a lack of formal scientific training has presented her findings to Congress and the IOM. “We have a contract to take care of them if they’re injured, and if their children are injured because of their exposures, we have a contract to take care of them, too.”
With the passage of time, hope dims for answers to the questions about Agent Orange and birth defects.
In a report this year, an IOM panel said the military and the VA should set their sights on forward-looking projects, like tracking which chemicals soldiers are exposed to in real time.
“Revisiting what happened 50 years ago, 40 years ago, is essentially impossible,” said Dr. Kenneth Ramos, who chaired that IOM panel, while speaking at a forum this summer in Washington sponsored by ProPublica and The Pilot. “We’re not going to be able to scientifically go back and reconstruct what could have happened 50 years ago.”
In an interview, Michael Skinner, a Washington State University professor of biological sciences and one of the leaders of the study of epigenetics, said he, too, wonders whether it makes sense to delve too deep into the question of Agent Orange and birth defects. He was a co-author on the 2012 paper that found dioxin induces lingering effects in the offspring and future generations of female rats. But he said he hasn’t found additional funds to continue the work in male rats.
Besides, he said, the epidemiology is always going to be complicated. Just because someone’s child or grandchild manifests a health problem linked to dioxin exposure, that doesn’t mean Agent Orange caused it. People could have been exposed to dioxin in a variety of ways because the chemical was prevalent in urban areas in the U.S. until the late 1970s.
“There’s a point at which we have to say, ‘Look, a really bad thing happened, but you have to stop pointing fingers.’”
Such sentiments don’t sit well with veterans or their children. “A lot of people probably don’t think about it because a lot of people don’t want to think about it,” said Ralph Thornburgh, an Army vet whose two daughters born after Vietnam have had health problems, including one with leukemia. “They want to just go about their everyday life.”
The VA is working on a long-awaited study on whether Vietnam veterans, generally, have “different patterns of illness that are unlike their non-Vietnam deployed military counterparts, and members of the U.S. population.” It will also look at the health of their children. It is not specifically looking at effects of Agent Orange, but it has been praised by veterans groups as an important effort.
Schwartz said more needs to be done about Agent Orange and its impact on the children of veterans.
“These individuals deserve an answer,” Schwartz said at the forum hosted by ProPublica and The Pilot. “This is the right thing to do, and although we may not have all of the wonderful information, we have some. Let us at least take a stab at this.”
Apart from being noble in the public’s eye, the medical profession also comes with a lot of perks that are deemed reasonable in accordance to the weight of responsibilities that come with it. Medical doctors are some of the highest paid professionals in the world, and undeniably, that does make the profession even more attractive, though not necessarily a primary incentive. On that note, let’s take a closer look at how Malaysian doctor salaries fare against doctors from other Southeast Asian countries:
Malaysia The starting salary of a doctor, no doubt, looks good on paper. The Malaysian Government announced a time-based promotion in 2010 that appealed – and continues to appeal – to a lot of medical doctors. The promotion stipulates that the longer they stay, the higher their wages will be. It is also a smart move to keep doctors in the government sector, preventing them from venturing into private practice. Regardless of their performance, as long as no disciplinary actions have been taken against the doctors, promotion to a higher grade will be granted in accordance to the years of service. After completing two years of housemanship, doctors’ grade will be automatically raised from UD41 to UD 44, which comes together with an additional MYR 1,000 (USD 245) in the pocket. Another 3 years of service in UD 44, and doctors will be promoted to UD48, which brings in another extra MYR 1,000 (USD 245). Following another 4 years and 3 years of service, doctors will then be promoted up to UD52 and UD54 respectively. Although government doctors’ salaries have improved tremendously over the past 15 years, the rising costs of living continue to be a thorn most of the time. The starting salary for a House Officer in Malaysia is MYR 2,600 (USD 639), with other allowances that amount to almost MYR 1,500 (USD 369). Apart from this, House Officers on-call also receive an additional allowance of MYR 600 (USD 147). However, the take-home salary is around MYR 3,900 (USD 959) after an 11% deduction for EPF and tax. On the plus side, government servants are entitled to extra privileges: free medical service for parents, spouse or children; pension after 30 years of service; 60% of final salary and 25 days of annual leave, just to name a few. Under SBPA, the starting salary for U54 (U1 – 6) is MYR 7,110 (USD 1,749) with multiple allowances which makes a total of MYR 9,860 (USD 2,425) before EPF and tax deduction. A specialist will get the specialist allowance of MYR 2,800 (USD 688). A Medical Officer with 12 years of service will take home around MYR 8,200 (USD 2,017) per month.
According to the Singapore Doctors’ Directory, A Senior Consultant in a Singapore hospital may earn up to an annual salary of SGD 300,000 (USD 221,017); a Consultant may earn around SGD 200,000 (USD 147,344); a Registrar earns around SGD 120,000 (USD 88,406); and a Medical Officer earns around SGD 80,000 (USD 58,937). The figures above are the income ceilings for doctors who shift from clinical work to a research role. The corresponding grade specialist in a clinical environment could still earn more. This is especially true for surgeons who perform a high number of procedures and surgeries at their centres. The income of private practice doctors varies across a broader range, and as such more difficult to estimate, depending on their business structures etc. Indonesia It is common for a General Practitioner in Yogyakarta to be paid Rp 15,000 per hour in the clinic (USD 1.10). Hospitals pay slightly more – around Rp 20,000 (USD 1.47) per hour. The average monthly salary is around Rp 3,000,000 (USD 220.35), with their shifts lasting between 7-10 hours. Most doctors need to work straight for few days in order to earn more. Although there are other places that pay more, they are relatively rare, according to Dr. Afkar Aulia, a GP from Yogyakarta.
Thailand’s public hospital staff earn roughly THB 20,000 – 30,000 (USD 571 – 856) per month. Extra allowances are given depending on experience and expertise. As for private hospitals, the monthly pay pocket could be anywhere between THB 60,000-160,000 (USD 1,713 – 4,568), again depending on the hours, experience, skills and most importantly, seniority. Some private clinic practitioners could earn between THB 2-3 million (USD 57,105 – 85,658) per annum.
PHILLIPPINES’ residents in the public hospitals can get as much as PHP 20,000-25,000 (USD 424 – 530) per month, plus bonuses that are given out to all government employees. There has been an internal debate over the maldistribution of doctors in the country. Doctors who choose to practice in the province have a good thriving practice and make better money. They charge considerably less than in major cities, but they have more patients due to the scarcity of doctors in the region. Being a doctor anywhere in the world is a good economic investment. Medicine is ever-changing and thus, specializations and sub-specializations often come with extra financial perks. It takes years of hard work to build a practice, but when doctors manage to do so, it is very rewarding both professionally and financially.
We’ve all heard sad stories of people quitting jobs to get away from gruesome bosses, unreasonable work hours, or places with weird smells, but in truth, the reasons people quit are often less dramatic – and more positive – than those horror stories might lead us to believe. A recent LinkedIn survey of over 10,000 people around the world found the reasons people quit are pretty universal.
LinkedIn surveyed people around the world and found out that they quit jobs mostly because they didn’t have room to grow (45%). There wasn’t room for advancement if they stuck around, even if they were great at what they did.
In the modern lifecycle of the typical worker, that’s not hard to believe. Gone are the days when you were celebrated for spending 40 years with “the company” and were sent off with a gold watch and hearty pat on the back. In fact, a certain amount of job hopping can actually be beneficial to your career, boosting your pay and giving you broader horizons than if you’d stayed put.
Other Reasons People Quit
When you look around and can’t trust the captain of the ship, that’s a problem, right? The second most common reason people quit their job was poor leadership (41%). Just when you think people don’t notice the bosses quietly lurking on the edge of the masthead, something like this comes out to show you how important it is to have good people in charge. Besides, if the ship runs aground, you’ll be in trouble too. Better to have a good job at a rising star of a company than, yeah we’ll say it, a sinking ship.
The only satisfied drones are those in a beehive, not your cubicle row. Coming in about even at third and fourth in the recent survey, were quitters wanting better work culture and wanting more challenging work (36% for both). We respond better to jobs that are as agile as our brains. Repetition only leads to carpel tunnel, so why stay somewhere that’s going to lead to harm?
Coming in at fifth and sixth, the survey showed that 34 and 32% of quitters (respectively) wanted better pay and better recognition at work. It’s probably surprising that they came in so low on the scale when you hear tons of anecdotal evidence that a high-paying gig is the reason why most people leave a job. (Get a free PayScale salary report to see how much you should be getting paid at your current job.)
So next time you hear a story about someone quitting their job because they wanted to go join the circus, nod and smile at them, knowing that they likely just wanted a job that would encourage their trapeze lessons on Tuesday nights and give them something new to juggle at work.