June 25, 2016

The Roles of Bad Luck and Periodicity in Species Extinctions




To the extent that bad luck, and periodically recurring natural causes, explain species extinctions, the role of humans in causing extinctions may be less than is sometimes assumed.



(p. A21) Dr. Raup challenged the conventional view that changes in diversity within major groups of creatures were continuous and protracted, and advanced the theory that such changes can be effected by random events.

And he questioned the accepted notion that biodiversity -- that is, the number of extant species -- has vastly increased over the past 500 million years, pointing out, among other things, that because newer fossils embedded in newer rock are easier to find than older fossils in older rock, it is possible that we simply have not uncovered the evidence of many older species whose existence would undermine the theory. His conclusion, that the data of the fossil record does not allow the unambiguous presumption that biodiversity has increased, has profound implications.


. . .


Dr. Raup's most famous contribution to the field may have been the revelation in 1983, after a six-year study of marine organisms he conducted with J. John Sepkoski Jr., that over the last 250 million years, extinctions of species spiked at regular intervals of about 26 million years.

Extinction periodicity, as it is known, enlivened the study of huge volcanic eruptions and of changes in the earth's magnetic field that may have coincided with periods of mass extinction. It has also given rise to numerous theories regarding the history of life, including that the evolution of myriad species has been interrupted by nonterrestrial agents from the solar system or the galaxy.


. . .


"Much of our good feeling about planet Earth stems from a certainty that life has existed without interruption for three and a half billion years," he wrote. "We have been taught, as well, that most changes in the natural world are slow and gradual. Species evolve in tiny steps over eons; erosion and weathering change our landscape but at an almost immeasurably slow pace."

He continued: "Is all this true or merely a fairy tale to comfort us? Is there more to it? I think there is. Almost all species in the past failed. If they died out gradually and quietly and if they deserved to die because of some inferiority, then our good feelings about earth can remain intact. But if they died violently and without having done anything wrong, then our planet may not be such a safe place."



For the full obituary, see:

BRUCE WEBER. "David M. Raup, Who Transformed Field of Paleontology, Dies at 82." The New York Times (Thurs., JULY 16, 2015): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date JULY 15, 2015 and has the title "David M. Raup, Who Transformed Field of Paleontology, Dies at 82.")






June 24, 2016

Squid, Cuttlefish and Octupus Are Thriving



(p. 9) The squids are all right -- as are their cephalopod cousins the cuttlefish and octopus.

In the same waters where fish have faced serious declines, the tentacled trio is thriving, according to a study published Monday [May 23, 2016].

"Cephalopods have increased in the world's oceans over the last six decades," Zoë Doubleday, a marine ecologist from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and lead author of the study, said in an email. "Our results suggest that something is going on in the marine environment on a large scale, which is advantageous to cephalopods."

Dr. Doubleday and her team compiled the first global-scale database of cephalopod population numbers, spanning from 1953 to 2013.


. . .


"When we looked at the data by cephalopod group we were like 'Oh my God -- they're all going up,' " she said.

She said it was remarkable how consistent the increases were among the three cephalopod groups, which included species that swim in the open seas and creatures that scuttle through tide pools. They published their findings in the journal Current Biology.



For the full story, see:

NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. "One Resident of the Sea, Unlike Many, Is Thriving." The New York Times (Weds., MAY 25, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 24, 2016, and has the title "Squid Are Thriving While Fish Decline.")


The academic Current Biology article mentioned above, is:

Doubleday, Zoë A., Thomas A. A. Prowse, Alexander Arkhipkin, Graham J. Pierce, Jayson Semmens, Michael Steer, Stephen C. Leporati, Sílvia Lourenço, Antoni Quetglas, Warwick Sauer, and Bronwyn M. Gillanders. "Global Proliferation of Cephalopods." Current Biology 26, no. 10 (Mon., May 23, 2016): R406-R07.






June 23, 2016

Hidebound Banks Ride Uber, Hoping to Manage I.P.O.



(p. A1) Wall Street banks can be hidebound in their ways: insisting on suits and ties and handing out BlackBerries after everyone else has moved on to the iPhone. But if there is one thing that can push even the most conservative bank into the future, it is the prospect of business.

The latest reminder came this week when JPMorgan Chase announced that it would reimburse all of its employees for rides taken with Uber -- offering access to "Uber's expanding presence and seamless experience," the company said in a news release.

JPMorgan made its decision long after other parts of corporate America were already hailing cars through the California start-up. But banks have recently shown a fondness for the service -- with Goldman making the company part of its official travel policy in late May and Morgan Stanley putting out its own news release about its Uber use late last year.

Bank experts were quick to note that these moves come as the banks are jockeying to win a coveted spot managing Uber's initial public offering -- one that is not yet scheduled but that is assumed to be coming in the not-too-distant future. The I.P.O. for Uber, whose fund-raising so far has pegged its valuation at $50 billion, will most likely be the blockbuster I.P.O. in whatever year it takes place.



For the full story, see:

NATHANIEL POPPER. "An Uber I.P.O. Ahead, and Suddenly Bankers Are Using Uber. Coincidence?" The New York Times (Fri., JULY 10, 2015): B3.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 9, 2015 and has the title "An Uber I.P.O. Looms, and Suddenly Bankers Are Using Uber. Coincidence?")






June 22, 2016

Reforestation Can Absorb Much Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuel Energy



Matt Ridley has pointed out that agricultural innovations, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), allow us to grow more food on less farmland, and thus return more farmland to forests.



(p. D6) A new study reports that recently established forests on abandoned farmland in Latin America, if allowed to grow for another 40 years, would probably be able to suck at least 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

That is enough to offset nearly two decades of emissions from fossil-fuel burning in the region.



For the full story, see:

JUSTIN GILLIS. "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide." The New York Times (Tues., MAY 17, 2016): D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 16, 2016, and has the title "In Latin America, Forests May Rise to Challenge of Carbon Dioxide.")


An academic study mentioned above, is:

Chazdon, Robin L., Eben N. Broadbent, Danaë M. A. Rozendaal, Frans Bongers, Angélica María Almeyda Zambrano, T. Mitchell Aide, Patricia Balvanera, Justin M. Becknell, Vanessa Boukili, Pedro H. S. Brancalion, Dylan Craven, Jarcilene S. Almeida-Cortez, George A. L. Cabral, Ben de Jong, Julie S. Denslow, Daisy H. Dent, Saara J. DeWalt, Juan M. Dupuy, Sandra M. Durán, Mario M. Espírito-Santo, María C. Fandino, Ricardo G. César, Jefferson S. Hall, José Luis Hernández-Stefanoni, Catarina C. Jakovac, André B. Junqueira, Deborah Kennard, Susan G. Letcher, Madelon Lohbeck, Miguel Martínez-Ramos, Paulo Massoca, Jorge A. Meave, Rita Mesquita, Francisco Mora, Rodrigo Muñoz, Robert Muscarella, Yule R. F. Nunes, Susana Ochoa-Gaona, Edith Orihuela-Belmonte, Marielos Peña-Claros, Eduardo A. Pérez-García, Daniel Piotto, Jennifer S. Powers, Jorge Rodríguez-Velazquez, Isabel Eunice Romero-Pérez, Jorge Ruíz, Juan G. Saldarriaga, Arturo Sanchez-Azofeifa, Naomi B. Schwartz, Marc K. Steininger, Nathan G. Swenson, Maria Uriarte, Michiel van Breugel, Hans van der Wal, Maria D. M. Veloso, Hans Vester, Ima Celia G. Vieira, Tony Vizcarra Bentos, G. Bruce Williamson, and Lourens Poorter. "Carbon Sequestration Potential of Second-Growth Forest Regeneration in the Latin American Tropics." Science Advances 2, no. 5 (May 13, 2016). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1501639


The Ridley book mentioned way above, is:

Ridley, Matt. The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves. New York: Harper, 2010.






June 21, 2016

Half of Important Psychology Articles Could Not Be Replicated



(p. A1) The past several years have been bruising ones for the credibility of the social sciences. A star social psychologist was caught fabricating data, leading to more than 50 retracted papers. A top journal published a study supporting the existence of ESP that was widely criticized. The journal Science pulled a political science paper on the effect of gay canvassers on voters' behavior because of concerns about faked data.

Now, a painstaking yearslong effort to reproduce 100 studies published in three leading psychology journals has found that more than half of the findings did not hold up when retested. The analysis was done by research psychologists, many of whom volunteered their time to double-check what they considered important work. Their conclusions, reported Thursday [August 27, 2015] in the journal Science, have confirmed the worst fears of scientists who have long worried that the field needed a strong correction.

The vetted studies were considered part of the core knowledge by which scientists understand the dynamics of personality, relationships, learning and memory. Therapists and educators rely on such findings to help guide decisions, and the fact that so many of the studies were called into question could sow doubt in the scientific underpinnings of their work.



For the full story, see:

BENEDICT CAREY. "Psychology's Fears Confirmed: Rechecked Studies Don't Hold Up." The New York Times (Fri., AUG. 28, 2015): A1 & A13.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 27, 2015 and has the title "Many Psychology Findings Not as Strong as Claimed, Study Says.")


The Science article reporting the large number of psychology articles that proved unreplicable, is:

Open Science Collaboration. "Estimating the Reproducibility of Psychological Science." Science 349, no. 6251 (Aug. 28, 2015): 943.






June 20, 2016

Taxpayer Funded Stadiums Fail to Bring Promised Economic Development



(p. C14) The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have been an epicenter of the U.S. stadium-and-arena boom, rolling out five major sports facilities since 1990 that together cost more than $2 billion.

Now, the neighboring cities are readying for a sixth: a 20,000-seat, $150 million Major League Soccer stadium to be built by 2018 in St. Paul about halfway between the two downtowns.


. . .


But taken with the other facilities that have a combined seat count of nearly 200,000, this latest project illustrates how the Twin Cities are an acute example of the rapid increase in stadiums and arenas in U.S. cities. These developments come despite a growing chorus of warnings from economists who say the stadiums are almost always poor drivers of economic development. Even when these facilities do spur nearby investment, economists and critics say the cost to the public is typically far higher than with traditional economic-development programs.


"I've lived in the Twin Cities since 1976, and have seen this proliferation of new sports stadia," said Jane Prince, a St. Paul city council member who voted against the soccer stadium aid package. "I just don't see the promised economic development occurring in conjunction with all of these."


. . .


"There's not one group that makes these decisions--it was two city governments, it was a legislature, it was sports owners," said R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to 2014. Mr. Rybak said he had long been critical of sports subsidies but he grudgingly helped craft the aid package for the Vikings stadium after the team was poised to move elsewhere.

That deal, and the others, he said, were "also driven by the increasingly crazy politics of sports economics," in which teams want their own facilities, custom designed for their ideal crowd sizes.



For the full story, see:

ELIOT BROWN. "Twin Cities to Get Yet Another Stadium." The Wall Street Journal (Weds., March 23, 2016): C14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 22, 2016, and has the title "In Twin Cities, How Many Stadiums Are Enough?")






June 19, 2016

How Wal-Mart Benefits Small Entrepreneurs



(p. B1) At the headquarters of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. here, dozens of its buyers held half-hour meetings earlier this month with hundreds of prospective suppliers touting products--from frozen deep-fried turkeys to toddler dirt bikes--all eager for a chance to land on the shelves of the world's largest retailer.

Scott Bonge, a Little Rock, Ark., investor and father of three, was trying to interest Wal-Mart in his plastic shaving stencil, the GoateeSaver. With sales of shaving gear falling as more men embrace scruff and beards, Wal-Mart is looking for different shaving paraphernalia to sell.

The product "came out of my own need for something to keep my goatee looking even back in college," Mr. Bonge told Jason Kloster, senior buyer for personal care at Wal-Mart.

Mr. Kloster then drilled down into how many American men have goatees. Without an exact answer, Mr. Bonge noted that they are popular in the South among men over 25.

"I've been in the category for four years and I've never heard of your brand," Mr. Kloster said. "Your biggest challenge is awareness." Mr. Kloster suggested selling the device on Walmart.com to test demand before offering it in stores.

The daylong event provides a window into the relationship between Wal-Mart and its suppliers as well as the influence retailers have both on selecting the products for their shelves and how those products appear.

These meetings serve a clear purpose for prospective suppliers--a shot at vaulting into retail's big leagues.



For the full story, see:

SARAH NASSAUER. "Inside Wal-Mart's 'Shark Tank'." The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 23, 2015): B1 & B7.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 22, 2015 and has the title "Pitching Products to Wal-Mart, in 30 Minutes.")






June 18, 2016

Some "Rescue" Groups "Kidnap and Mutilate" Street Dogs



(p. D1) MONTAGUE, Mass. -- Think of all the dogs out there: labradors and poodles and labradoodles; huskies and westies and dogues de Bordeaux; pit bulls and spaniels and lovable mutts that go to doggy day care.

Add them up, all the pet dogs on the planet, and you get about 250 million.

But there are about a billion dogs on Earth, according to some estimates. The other 750 million don't have flea collars. And they certainly don't have humans who take them for walks and pick up their feces. They are called village dogs, street dogs and free-breeding dogs, among other things, and they haunt the garbage dumps and neighborhoods of most of the world.

In their new book, "What Is a Dog?," Raymond and Lorna Coppinger argue that if you really want to understand the nature of dogs, you need to know these other animals. The vast majority are not strays or lost pets, the Coppingers say, but rather superbly adapted scavengers -- the closest living things to the dogs that first emerged thousands of years ago.


. . .


(p. D6) In 2001, their book "Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution" challenged the way scientists thought about the beginnings of dogs.

They argued against the widely held view that one day a hunter-gatherer grabbed a wolf pup from a den and started a breeding program. Instead, they argued, dogs domesticated themselves.

Some wild canines started hanging around humans for their leftovers and gradually evolved into scavengers dependent on humans. Not everyone in canine science shares that view today, but many researchers think it is the most plausible route to domestication.


. . .


Although the Coppingers recognize the social cost of animals that are unvaccinated and running free, they argue that killing the dogs, as some countries do during rabies epidemics, does not help. It's impossible to kill them all, and because they breed rapidly, the population quickly rebounds.

Nor do the Coppingers have any sympathy for rescue groups that, as Dr. Coppinger puts it, "kidnap and mutilate" street dogs from the Caribbean and elsewhere to bring them to American shelters to live as pets, "where they are made totally dependent and entirely restricted." This is supposed to benefit the dogs, but Dr. Coppinger argues that they are taken from a rich social environment, with many dogs, to lives of relative isolation.



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Don't Call them Strays." The New York Times (Tues., APRIL 19, 2016): D1 & D6.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date APRIL 18, 2016, and has the title "The World Is Full of Dogs Without Collars.")


The dog books mentioned above, are:

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. What Is a Dog? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Coppinger, Raymond, and Lorna Coppinger. Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution. New York: Scribner, 2001.






June 17, 2016

Uber to Politicians: "Catch-Me-If-You-Can"



(p. B1) Last week, the home-sharing service Airbnb had more than 40,000 listings in Paris, making the French capital the company's most popular destination for travelers looking to rent a room or an entire apartment. Paris officials applaud it for bringing innovation to the city's hotel industry.

The ride-hailing company Uber had a much more difficult week.

Thousands of Parisian taxi drivers took to the streets to protest UberPop, the company's low-cost service that's similar to UberX in the United States. French politicians denounced the company for defying the country's transport laws. And two of Uber's top executives in France were detained by the police and accused of operating an illegal taxi business. By Friday [July 3, 2015], the company had suspended UberPop across the country.

Uber and Airbnb are similar in many ways. Both born in San Francisco, the companies are now two of the largest entrants in the so-called on-demand economy, in which services are available at the touch of a smartphone button. They are both flush with investor money -- with valuations in the tens of billions of dollars -- and are using the cash to expand rapidly around the world.

But the starkly different paths in France for these companies lay bare contrasting strategies as they encounter the world of global regulators. Since it began in 2009, Uber has entered city after city, in Europe and elsewhere, with a largely catch-me-if-you-can attitude. Airbnb, which offers more rooms than traditional hotel groups like Hilton and InterContinental, has instead tilted toward courting local politicians in many of its most popular markets.

So far, Uber's approach has not significantly slowed it down. The company operates in more than 300 cities in almost 60 countries and is valued by investors at more than $40 billion.



For the full story, see:

MARK SCOTT. "The Bumps in Uber's Fast Lane." The New York Times (Weds., JULY 8, 2015): B1-B2.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JULY 7, 2015, and has the title "What Uber Can Learn From Airbnb's Global Expansion.")






June 16, 2016

Government Elephant Ivory Bans Endanger Rare Helmeted Hornbills




Another unintended consequence of well-intentioned government policy.



(p. A3) BEIJING -- Even as China, the world's leading market for illegal ivory, promises to help safeguard elephants in Africa, a rare bird in Southeast Asia is in danger because its skull is being sold in China as an ivory alternative, conservationists say.


. . .


More than 2,000 helmeted hornbill skulls, or casques, were seized by the authorities in Indonesia and China in the past five years, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nongovernmental organization based in London. In some cases, Chinese citizens were caught trying to leave Indonesia with casques in their luggage.


. . .


China has joined the world in taking a stand against the trade in elephant and rhinoceros products. In September, during his state visit to the United States, President Xi Jinping pledged to "enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export."

But some conservationists worry that less celebrated but also threatened animals, including the helmeted hornbill, are being overlooked, becoming easy picks to meet the demand.

"Shifting to hornbill ivory is like grabbing a low-hanging fruit," Yokyok Hadiprakarsa, the director of the Indonesian Hornbill Conservation Society, wrote in an email.



For the full story, see:

SHAOJIE HUANG. "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Hornbill Bird." The New York Times (Weds., MARCH 23, 2016): A3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date MARCH 22, 2016, and has the title "Chinese Demand for Ivory Alternative Threatens Rare Bird.")









Eight Most Recent Comments:



Ed Rector said:

There are more than 2000 colleges in the USA offering tens of thousands of degrees/majors. Oh yes, there are also a few thousand JC's, trade schools and apprentice programs that train welders. Who should decide what any individual student wants to study?? Senator Rubio, the Mercatus Center or the individual student?? And you call yourselves 'freedom-loving Libertarians' !!



Aaron said:

You need a "like" button. Here's to enjoying bacon and eggs on an unusually warm fall day and doing so guilt free.



Aaron said:

I'd also suggest that work is just part of who some people are and a reason they got rich. A friend's dad comes to mind; he's a millionaire and in his 60s and a couple years ago I saw him cleaning one of his rental houses and wondered why he didn't pay someone to do it, but he's just one of those guys who'd rather work than golf or relax.



Jim Rose said:

It is often forgotten that the Minister for International trade and industry in the late 1960s up until 1971 was Tanaka – the most corrupt man in postwar Japanese politics. He had previously been Minister for Public Works, but to generate the necessary bribe income to pay an entire generation of Japanese politicians to step aside to allow him to become Prime Minister in the early 1970s at a young age, he thought the Ministry of International trade and industry was a better position to garner influence and donations. My professors in Japan worked in the Ministry of International trade and industry and the Ministry of Finance in the 1970s and 1960s. None of them seemed to carry over their picking winners skills into their private portfolios when they retired. see http://utopiayouarestandinginit.com/2014/03/14/if-you-are-so-smart-why-arent-you-rich/



Aaron said:

Interested to see how not only did Hamilton gain a vote, but also how Jefferson lost one.



Dave Megan said:

Merging of companies is always better when they have a better goal. It will give better service for the public.



Ed Rector said:

The 'quickened pace of production' of the early Reagan years was directly attributable to RR's massive deficit spending. The national debt almost tripled under the watch of St. Ronnie. BO will have to work overtime to even approach this record of accomplishment.



Aaron said:

The last two paragraphs comport perfectly with what Paul Tough describes in a book you posted on a few months ago, "How Children Succeed." Tough advocates that a stable, loving relationship between kids and their parents, especially in the first few years of life, produces self-assured and less anxious adults due to brain formation or chemical reactions that take place in a baby's brain (simplified summary). As always, appreciate the posts, especially the Paul Tough book.





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