Tag Archives: island

Man, this sea ice situation has really looked better.

One of the five newly installed turbines off the shore of Block Island, Rhode Island, will be late getting spinning because someone at the General Electric factory in Saint-Nazaire, France, left a six-inch drill bit inside it, which damaged critical magnets.

Fortunately, the turbine is still under warranty, so it’s GE’s responsibility to pay for floating new 60-pound magnets out to the broken turbine, hoisting them 330 feet into the air, and repairing the turbine’s generator.

The Block Island Wind Farm is noteworthy not because offshore wind is new (Europeans have been doing it since the ’90s), but because, as the first such installation in the U.S., it could herald a whole lot of offshore wind development along the Atlantic coast. The region is a significant user of coal, oil, and natural gas, but it’s geologically well-suited for offshore wind and many of its residents and leaders are motivated to switch to clean energy by the already-visible effects of sea-level rise.

Block Island has been getting its electricity from diesel generators, but now it will be able to ditch them (except for one it’ll keep for backup). Three other offshore wind projects in the region are already in the works.

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Man, this sea ice situation has really looked better.

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We Have Effective Treatment for Hepatitis C. So Why Don’t States Give It to 100,000 Inmates?

Mother Jones

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Less than 1 percent of inmates with hepatitis C are receiving treatment in state prisons, according to a new study by prison officials, doctors, and researchers. It’s largely because prisons can’t afford the drugs they need to fight the dangerous liver disease that spreads through blood and bodily fluids.

Hepatitis C kills more Americans than any other infectious disease, including HIV and tuberculosis; about 17 percent of the prison population in America is suffering from it, compared with 1 percent of the general population. New treatments have been developed but are extremely expensive, so over the last two years, inmates in Tennessee, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania have sued for access to the drugs.

The study, published in Health Affairs, comes on the heels of those lawsuits. It was conducted by researchers at Yale University in collaboration with the Association of State Correctional Administrators, which includes the heads of corrections agencies in every state as well as the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Researchers collected data from 41 states about hepatitis C infections and treatment in prisons. They found that more than 106,000 inmates in state prisons had the disease as of January 2015, and of those, only about 950, or less than 0.9 percent were being treated.

Prison officials who helped conduct the study have blamed the high cost of treatment. In 2013, new drugs were released that have proved very effective, curing the infection in 90 percent of cases in a few months. (Previous treatment options cured roughly half of cases, took much longer, and resulted in debilitating side effects.) But the cost of the new drugs can be prohibitive: A 12-week course of medication can range from $54,600 to $94,500, depending on the particular drug.

Some government agencies can get discounts. The federal prison system receives 24 percent off, while the Department of Veterans Affairs may have a discount of 50 percent, the researchers found. But state prisons aren’t so lucky. Many of them get a discount of less than 10 percent, and one state gets no discount at all. As a result, state prison officials say they must make tough choices about whom to treat.

Treating hepatitis C patients “requires resources and discounts we don’t have,” A.T. Wall, director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “What we desperately need are less costly drugs and more funding.”

Corrections departments in 16 states reported spending at least 10 percent of their total budget for drugs on hepatitis C medication. But states could actually save money in the long run if they invest in treatment right away, the researchers noted. When left untreated, patients with hepatitis C may need a liver transplant, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and they can spread the infection to others. To get the drugs for less money, the researchers encouraged state prisons to partner with qualified health centers that can receive discounts through a federal program.

Thomas Castelli, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who is representing inmates in Tennessee, said in a statement, “Incarcerating people under conditions that erode their health, safety and human dignity amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, which not only has devastating long-term effects for those individuals, but which undermines the purported purpose of a rehabilitative criminal justice system.”

Health Affairs

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We Have Effective Treatment for Hepatitis C. So Why Don’t States Give It to 100,000 Inmates?

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Trump shows us what happens to a climate denier in denial

If Donald Trump is trying to run away from his well-known position as a climate change denier, he’s doing a terrible job at it.

Less than 12 hours after a debate against Hillary Clinton in which he personally denied calling climate change a hoax, Trump’s campaign manager and running mate offered different versions of what the candidate supposedly believes: He thinks it exists but isn’t human-made, or he thinks it is human-made but doesn’t want to do anything about it.

Regardless of what his surrogates are saying on TV this morning, there’s a long Twitter record of Trump’s unscientific statements about climate to fall back on. His position is clear: It’s a hoax. What’s less clear is what he hopes to gain by changing that position now. Could it be that even the Trump campaign recognizes that climate denial in the face of clear evidence is a losing position in a general election?

Certainly Clinton seems to think it’s a strong avenue of attack: Unprompted by moderator Lester Holt during the debate last night on Long Island, Clinton said: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.”

Because he couldn’t help himself, Trump only managed to emphasize her point by interjecting, “I did not,” sending all the fact checkers to Twitter, where his four-year-old tweet saying exactly that became the top retweeted tweet during the debate:

Oops?

The lying doesn’t stop there, though. Tuesday morning, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway was asked on CNN if her candidate thinks global warming is a hoax. Conway insisted, no, he doesn’t believe it’s a hoax, but he does believe “that climate change is naturally occurring, that there are shifts naturally occurring.”

Then, on the very same show, Trump’s vice presidential pick took an abruptly different tone on climate change. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who himself once called global warming “a myth,” suggested that greenhouse gases have “some impact” on the climate.

“There’s no question that — that — that the activities that take place in this country and in countries around the world have some impact on the environment and some impact on climate,” Pence said. “But Donald Trump and I say: Let’s follow the science, but for heaven’s sakes, let’s not go rushing into the kind of restrictions on our economy that are putting Americans out of work.”

When it isn’t Trump himself talking, his campaign has sometimes tried to soften his position on the climate issue. “Perhaps we should be focused on developing energy sources and power production that alleviates the need for dependence on fossil fuels,” Trump (or his campaign) wrote to ScienceDebate earlier this month.

It’s clear why Clinton wants to emphasize Trump’s inconsistent and unscientific climate positions. In light of recent polls, her campaign has zeroed in on more millennial-friendly messaging, in hopes of winning over young voters looking to third-party candidates like Green Jill Stein or Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Clinton largely sidelined climate change in her speeches after Bernie Sanders conceded in the primary contest, but she’s now turning to the issue again as part of a strong messaging strategy. The differences between her and Trump are more stark on climate change than on nearly any other issue — one accepts scientific consensus, the other doesn’t.

So while Clinton’s plan was clear, what the hell was Trump doing?

Clearly, calling a respected field of science a “hoax” on the national stage is not the image his campaign wants to put forward. Trump’s position on climate and energy isn’t that different from the rest of the GOP, but in a normal presidential year, he might have at this point recast his climate denial as mere reluctance to act, to make the position more palatable to the general election voter.

Yet Trump’s not running a normal campaign in any sense, so climate change gets the same brash treatment as every other issue the candidate touches on.

There were plenty of other positions that the candidates skirmished over last night, and Clinton implored the “factcheckers, get to work” a few times. Trump once again said he never supported the Iraq war, which was a lie; he did.

Conway, Trump’s spokesperson, in fact tried to pivot to the Iraq war this morning on CNN when asked about Trump’s climate answer. The Trump campaign clearly isn’t eager to answer questions on the subject.

But in denying his denial, what’s the logic? He’s been fine with it for years. His 2012 China tweet wasn’t just a poorly considered slip, but one of many:

As recently as late 2015, Trump still was fine saying: “a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, okay?”

Then in January, as Politifact points out, Trump tried to play off the tweet about China as a joke: “I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change.”

Was Trump joking all those times he called it a hoax?

Hard to believe. And his voters sure don’t.

Other than Trump’s unexpected backtrack (or not) on climate, we didn’t learn anything new about either candidate’s energy positions in this debate. The themes of “prosperity” and “securing America” might have lended themselves to discussing both climate, which the military calls a significant threat, and clean energy, which has overtaken the fossil fuel industry as a job creator. But as is usual in presidential debates, the moderator didn’t see fit to steer the candidates in those directions.

Clinton, however, did cite two of her climate and energy proposals: deploying a half-billion solar panels and rebuilding the electric grid. Trump never once mentioned his energy proposals, even forgetting his promises to wave a wand and restore coal country, despite the debate’s focus on American industry in the first 15 minutes.

In the end, though, Clinton didn’t need to go on at length about her climate solutions, because it’s enough for her to draw out the contrast with Trump. He has no position on climate, except for his plan to appoint a climate change denier to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition.

Clinton for now is content to use Trump’s words against him and let his position speak for itself. Their little exchange on Trump’s tweet did more to help put climate change on the map for future debates than any of Clinton’s policy positions.

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Trump shows us what happens to a climate denier in denial

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About That New Lead Study….

Mother Jones

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A new study was released recently about the effect of childhood lead poisoning on future academic performance. After reading it, I decided not to post about it, but since it’s getting some attention I should probably explain why. This will take a while, so be patient.

First things first: The basic idea here is uncontroversial. We’ve known for decades that childhood lead exposure reduces IQ, stunts academic development, and leads to lower test scores. But most of the original studies in this area were done a long time ago, when childhood lead levels were much higher than they are now. Blood lead levels are measured in micrograms per deciliter, and kids in the 70s and 80s frequently had levels as high as 20 or 30. Today that’s rare, so this paper focuses on something different: small changes in children who already had fairly low lead levels. For example, what would be the effect of a drop from 4 to 3?

To measure this, they rounded up records for nearly every third-grader in Rhode Island. These records included both blood lead levels in infancy and academic performance later in childhood, which is just what you need. The problem is that you can’t just compare those two things. It’s common knowledge that kids with high lead levels also tend to be poor, have less educated mothers, belong to minority groups, etc. Since all of these things are correlated with poor academic performance, you have to control for them somehow. It’s very difficult to do properly since you can never be entirely sure there isn’t something you haven’t overlooked.

So the authors looked at another variable unique to Rhode Island. Starting in 1997, Rhode Island required landlords to certify their rentals as lead-free. Kids who live in certified housing are likely to have lower lead levels, which means you can compare that to academic performance instead. Unfortunately, you run into the same problem: people who live in certified housing are unlikely to be a random subset. You have to control for different stuff, but you still have to run a lot of controls.

To address this, the authors used an instrumental variables approach. They constructed a remarkably complex variable that models “the probability that a child’s home was certified at the time of birth as a function of the number of certificates that had been issued in their census tract as of their year of birth, as well as family characteristics, and tract, year, and month of birth fixed effects.” After all that, though, they found only small effects:

The estimated effects of lead in these models are strongly statistically significant but relatively small: The column (4) estimates suggest that a one point increase in mean BLLs is estimated to reduce reading scores by .306, and math scores by .193.

So going from a lead level of 4 to 3 raises test scores by less than a third of a point on an 80-point scale. A 3-point reduction—which is fairly large these days—would raise test scores by about a point in reading and half a point in math.

But that’s not the end. There are two ways of measuring lead levels: venous (a standard blood draw) and finger pricks. Venous is more accurate, but finger pricks are more common. The venous measures show a stronger effect from lead exposure, so the authors constructed yet another instrumental variable to take this into account, and that produced a bigger estimate of lead on test scores: about half a point for reading and a third of a point for math.

But we’re not done yet. The authors then generate another instrumental variable, along with all the usual controls, and this produces an even bigger estimate: about one point for reading and 0.4 points for math. In both cases, however, the standard errors are quite large and the correlation coefficients are minuscule. In the case of math, the results are not statistically significant even at the 10 percent level.

This is the point at which I emphasize that I’m no expert in the design of studies like this. Controls are perfectly legit. Instrumental variables are perfectly legit—though you have to be careful not to get over-clever about them. Trying to correct for measurement problems is perfectly legit. And yet, when you put this all together it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. There are lots of controls. The main instrumental variable might be appropriate, but I couldn’t quite convince myself of that. It’s also a very complex instrument, which makes it hard to evaluate. The measurement stuff looks suspiciously like a post-hoc way of generating a bigger effect. It all feels very fragile. And even after all this, the statistical value of the results is weak.

I may be wrong about every aspect of this. It will take a real expert to go through the paper and make an informed judgment. In the meantime, though, I’d take it with a grain of salt. There’s no question that childhood lead exposure reduces academic performance, but for now I’d say I’m skeptical that the effect is as large at low levels as the authors suggest.

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About That New Lead Study….

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America’s First Offshore Wind Farm May Power Up a New Industry

A just-completed project off the coast of Rhode Island, though relatively tiny, is at the forefront of a sea-based transition to renewable energy. View article:  America’s First Offshore Wind Farm May Power Up a New Industry ; ; ;

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America’s First Offshore Wind Farm May Power Up a New Industry

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