Sunday, March 31, 2019

Air pollution can send you mad! Linked to psychotic episodes in teens

Groan!   Why does JAMA keep publishing these crap studies?  Weak effects, dodgy statistics and failure to control for the most likely confounder. That summary of their work will probably grieve the authors but the fact remains that their study proves nothing. I suppose both the authors and the editors feel that their study is within convention but I am not interested in convention.  I am interested in reliable evidence

So: they analysed their data using quartiles. That might sound very technical so let me spell it out:  They threw away much of the information they had before they even started to analyse it!  How does that sound?  Unfortunately use of quartiles is quite a common procedure in medical research.  Authors resort to it because using all the data would show no effect.

In this case they found the effect they expected only in the top quartile.  It did not exist in the data as a whole. Expressing the relationship between illness and pollution as a Pearsonian correlation coefficient would almost certainly make that brutally clear.  In their conclusions the authors did describe their findings accurately but the casual reader would almost certainly conclude that there was a overall correlation between psychiatric illness and air pollution. There was not.

And if there were, we would not know how to interpret it.  Why?  Because there was no control for income.  Probably the most consistent finding in the whole of the epidemiological literature is that the poor have worse health. So you must control for income or your findings could be due to the target group on balance having worse health.  Otherwise the lesser health you have found in that group could be simply a poverty effect.  And there are reasons to think that was so in this case.  The "teenagers living in areas of high pollution" could be living there because they were poorer.  Well off people can usually avoid "living in areas of high pollution"

And given the weak effects reported, it's not only possible but probable that income was the sole influence at work in the data.  Control for income would have knocked the effects down to negligibility

I know why they did not control for income: It is a more difficult datum to collect. But I usually controlled for it in my survey research career so it can be done if you want your findings to be taken seriously.

Sigh! Why do I so often have to spend an hour pointing all that stuff out?  It's just Greenie cussedness.  If they think a thing is so, they will twist the statistics to fit

Journal abstract appended

The first research ever to investigate the link between psychotic experiences and poor air quality found teenagers living in areas of high pollution suffered more than those in cleaner environments.

The researchers, from King's College London, used data from 2,232 children born in England and Wales.

They found that, overall, approximately a third of adolescents reported hearing or seeing something that wasn’t there, or feeling paranoid on at least one occasion between the ages of 12 and 18.

Such episodes, while not necessarily serious in themselves, can be a gateway to graver mental conditions such as schizophrenia.

The mental health data was compared against with hourly estimates of air pollution at their home addresses and two other locations where they spent a lot of time at the age of 17 such as a school.

"This study found that psychotic experiences were significantly more common among teens exposed to higher levels of air pollution," lead author Dr Joanne Newbury said.

"For example, teenagers exposed to the highest levels of nitrogen oxides had a 72 per cent greater odds for psychotic experiences compared to those with lower exposure.”

Adolescents exposed to the highest level of nitrogen dioxide had 71 per cent greater odds of having a psychotic experience, the study also found.

Meanwhile, those exposed to the highest levels of particulate matter, which can include carbon, liquids, metals and dust, had 45 per cent greater odds.

Previous research has shown a link between urban living and adolescent psychotic experiences, but the researchers said this is the first evidence of an association with air pollution levels.

Other studies have recently shown an association between dementia and air pollution levels, as well as strokes.

Some theories suggest that small particles from air pollution can enter the brain and cause inflammation or cause chemicals to enter the body, the researchers said.

The King's researchers said noise pollution may also play a role.

The paper is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.


Association of Air Pollution Exposure With Psychotic Experiences During Adolescence

Joanne B. Newbury et al.


Importance:  Urbanicity is a well-established risk factor for clinical (eg, schizophrenia) and subclinical (eg, hearing voices and paranoia) expressions of psychosis. To our knowledge, no studies have examined the association of air pollution with adolescent psychotic experiences, despite air pollution being a major environmental problem in cities.

Objectives:  To examine the association between exposure to air pollution and adolescent psychotic experiences and test whether exposure mediates the association between urban residency and adolescent psychotic experiences.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  The Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study is a population-based cohort study of 2232 children born during the period from January 1, 1994, through December 4, 1995, in England and Wales and followed up from birth through 18 years of age. The cohort represents the geographic and socioeconomic composition of UK households. Of the original cohort, 2066 (92.6%) participated in assessments at 18 years of age, of whom 2063 (99.9%) provided data on psychotic experiences. Generation of the pollution data was completed on October 4, 2017, and data were analyzed from May 4 to November 21, 2018.

Exposures:  High-resolution annualized estimates of exposure to 4 air pollutants—nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter with aerodynamic diameters of less than 2.5 (PM2.5) and less than 10 μm (PM10)—were modeled for 2012 and linked to the home addresses of the sample plus 2 commonly visited locations when the participants were 18 years old.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  At 18 years of age, participants were privately interviewed regarding adolescent psychotic experiences. Urbanicity was estimated using 2011 census data.

Results:  Among the 2063 participants who provided data on psychotic experiences, sex was evenly distributed (52.5% female). Six hundred twenty-three participants (30.2%) had at least 1 psychotic experience from 12 to 18 years of age. Psychotic experiences were significantly more common among adolescents with the highest (top quartile) level of annual exposure to NO2 (odds ratio [OR], 1.71; 95% CI, 1.28-2.28), NOx (OR, 1.72; 95% CI, 1.30-2.29), and PM2.5 (OR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.11-1.90). Together NO2 and NOx statistically explained 60% of the association between urbanicity and adolescent psychotic experiences. No evidence of confounding by family socioeconomic status, family psychiatric history, maternal psychosis, childhood psychotic symptoms, adolescent smoking and substance dependence, or neighborhood socioeconomic status, crime, and social conditions occurred.

Conclusions and Relevance:  In this study, air pollution exposure—particularly NO2 and NOx—was associated with increased odds of adolescent psychotic experiences, which partly explained the association between urban residency and adolescent psychotic experiences. Biological (eg, neuroinflammation) and psychosocial (eg, stress) mechanisms are plausible.

JAMA Psychiatry. Published online March 27, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0056

The "New Energy Economy": An Exercise in Magical Thinking


A movement has been growing for decades to replace hydrocarbons, which collectively supply 84% of the world’s energy. It began with the fear that we were running out of oil. That fear has since migrated to the belief that, because of climate change and other environmental concerns, society can no longer tolerate burning oil, natural gas, and coal—all of which have turned out to be abundant.

So far, wind, solar, and batteries—the favored alternatives to hydrocarbons—provide about 2% of the world’s energy and 3% of America’s. Nonetheless, a bold new claim has gained popularity: that we’re on the cusp of a tech-driven energy revolution that not only can, but inevitably will, rapidly replace all hydrocarbons.

This “new energy economy” rests on the belief—a centerpiece of the Green New Deal and other similar proposals both here and in Europe—that the technologies of wind and solar power and battery storage are undergoing the kind of disruption experienced in computing and communications, dramatically lowering costs and increasing efficiency. But this core analogy glosses over profound differences, grounded in physics, between systems that produce energy and those that produce information.

In the world of people, cars, planes, and factories, increases in consumption, speed, or carrying capacity cause hardware to expand, not shrink. The energy needed to move a ton of people, heat a ton of steel or silicon, or grow a ton of food is determined by properties of nature whose boundaries are set by laws of gravity, inertia, friction, mass, and thermodynamics—not clever software.

This paper highlights the physics of energy to illustrate why there is no possibility that the world is undergoing—or can undergo—a near-term transition to a “new energy economy.”

Among the reasons:

Scientists have yet to discover, and entrepreneurs have yet to invent, anything as remarkable as hydrocarbons in terms of the combination of low-cost, high-energy density, stability, safety, and portability. In practical terms, this means that spending $1 million on utility-scale wind turbines, or solar panels will each, over 30 years of operation, produce about 50 million kilowatt-hours (kWh)—while an equivalent $1 million spent on a shale rig produces enough natural gas over 30 years to generate over 300 million kWh.

Solar technologies have improved greatly and will continue to become cheaper and more efficient. But the era of 10-fold gains is over. The physics boundary for silicon photovoltaic (PV) cells, the Shockley-Queisser Limit, is a maximum conversion of 34% of photons into electrons; the best commercial PV technology today exceeds 26%.

Wind power technology has also improved greatly, but here, too, no 10-fold gains are left. The physics boundary for a wind turbine, the Betz Limit, is a maximum capture of 60% of kinetic energy in moving air; commercial turbines today exceed 40%.
The annual output of Tesla’s Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory, could store three minutes’ worth of annual U.S. electricity demand. It would require 1,000 years of production to make enough batteries for two days’ worth of U.S. electricity demand. Meanwhile, 50–100 pounds of materials are mined, moved, and processed for every pound of battery produced.


House Dems Unveil Bill Blocking Trump’s Pullout from Paris Climate Deal

How pointless can you get?  Do they seriously think Trump will sign this?

House Democrats proposed a bill Wednesday that would prevent President Trump from pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, as he announced he would in July 2017.

The Climate Action Now Act would require the president to propose a plan for keeping the U.S. in accord with the Paris deal’s emission-reduction goals, which were agreed to by President Obama in 2015. It would also prohibit the administration from using federal funds to pull out of the deal, as Trump has promised to do in November 2020, the moment it becomes legally possible.

The Paris deal requires the U.S. to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 and 26 to 28 percent by 2025, as defined by 2005 pollution levels.

Introducing the Climate Action Now Act, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called climate change the “existential threat of our generation, of our time, a crisis manifested in natural disasters of epic proportions.”

“This is about jobs,” Pelosi said. “It’s about good-paying green jobs. It’s about public health, clean air, and clean water for our children. It’s about defending our national security.”

Representative Kathy Castor of Florida, chairwoman of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis, sponsored the five-page proposal.


Latest ecological fake news scare: Like the ‘honeybee armageddon’ narrative, pesticide-driven ‘insect-pocalypse’ claim is collapsing

Jon Entine

It was only a few years ago that headlines in Europe and North America were screaming about the coming “bee armageddon”. Honeybees were going extinct, we were told, and because these vital pollinators are vital to our food supply, we were on the verge of global starvation. And pesticides were mostly to blame for the crisis.

The problem with that thesis was that honeybee populations aren’t declining, let alone headed for extinction. As I’ll explain below, the media have finally updated their doomsday reporting (years behind the Genetic Literacy Project, which has been documenting the faux crisis for years).

 However, no sooner does one apocalypse slip from the headlines than another springs up to take its place. Recently, news and advocacy groups sites have been afire with dire warnings that man’s days on earth are (once again) numbered, this time due to the accelerating extinction of all of the world’s insects.

The Guardian in the UK escalated the concern to worldwide panic with a February article warning, Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’. Within days, numerous media and environmental advocacy outlets jumped on the story, all of them. What was the source?  One study, which more accurately was a selective “review” of other studies, conducted by two scientists, one from Australia and one from China. It was remarkable for a number of reasons, not the because of the decidedly un-academic, almost hysteria-like tone, of its authors.

If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” explained the study’s lead author, Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, of the University of Sydney, Australia. The rate of loss – 2.5 percent a year according to his calculations – is very rapid, he said. “In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.

Not everyone saw catastrophe ahead. While most journalists and websites were content with promoting sensationalist quotes and running with superficial rewrites of the media kits promoting the study, many scientists took a more skeptical and academically responsible view. As several pointed out on Twitter, even a cursory glance at the study’s methodology raised serious questions. The authors’ describe their search process of the scientific literature:

We aimed at compiling all long-term insect surveys conducted over the past 40 years that are available through global peer-reviewed literature databases. To that effect we performed a search on the online Web of Science database using the keywords [insect*] AND [declin*] AND [survey], which resulted in a total of 653 publications.

Reflect on this for a moment. The researchers ostensible purpose was to survey the scientific literature on the state of insect populations around the world. But the words they used as search terms suggest a distinct bias in how they framed the question. The authors limited their review from the get-go to only those papers that reported a decline. Any paper that found stability or even increases in insect populations was likely to be eliminated by this Boolean search.

Where are the insects?

But that is only the beginning of the concerns raised about this paper. As others have pointed out, although the authors claimed to do a “worldwide” assessment, the data they used was almost exclusively gathered from North America (primarily the US) and Europe.

The only data from Asia, apart from Japan, were studies of managed honeybees and not the general insect population. The same holds for Australia. And there is no data at all from equatorial Africa and almost none from the vast continent of (insect-filled!) South America. Assessing trends in worldwide insect species while largely ignoring the Amazon and other equatorial regions simply doesn’t make sense. It’s estimated that some 30 million insect species inhabit the tropical forests of the world, compared to 91,000 in, say, the US, where a disproportionate number of these studies originate.

But it’s not just what’s missing. Focusing on northern latitudes is likely to skew results in other ways as well. Insect populations at northern and southern latitudes are subject to dramatic changes due to fluctuations in weather from year to year (even short of gradual overall warming due to climate change). Species on the edge of their range may spread northward during warmer years and snap back again due to a particularly cold winter. This hardly represents meaningful species loss, however.

Which brings us to the many unknowns concerning this paper. A review such as this is critically dependent on the judgement by the authors, not only on which studies to include (in this case, as we’ve seen, only studies headlining a “decline”) but also on how to interpret and analyze those studies. And here again, there is reason to question.

Study doesn’t focus on pesticides but authors do in their public comments

While the paper examines many reasons for insect declines, Sanchez-Bayo tellingly has largely emphasized the role of pesticides in his media interviews. The stepping far outside his area of expertise, and discoursing on issues not covered in the study, he repeatedly has  called for a switch from conventional to organic farming. He is apparently ignorant of the fact that organic farmers use large amounts of “natural” pesticides, some of which are highly toxic to insects.

Much more HERE  (See the original for links, graphics etc.)

Although hyped, Climate change turned out to be a non-issue in an Australian State election

It was utter bunkum; but typical self-delusion by those ideological crusaders determined to do whatever it takes ‘to save the planet’ – at whatever the cost. ‘Climate change is now a more pressing matter for NSW voters than hospitals, schools and public transport’ asserted the green-left Sydney Morning Herald in the run-up to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s outstanding victory. And to reinforce the message against carbon emissions, it added that among the top environment concerns was coal. Other media within this inner-city bubble of group-think unreality included SBS which warned pre-election that ‘Climate change will be a vote changer’, while the ABC inevitably listed environment on top, claiming that ‘Voters in dozens of seats appear to be signalling to parties that without a clear plan to address climate change they will be punished at the polling booth’.

But climate change played no role in determining the outcome. The Greens, the Coalition and Labor all of which had climate policies that, to differing degrees, imposed heavy cost burdens on the economy and energy consumers involving job losses in industry, all lost some ground. The Coalition, especially the Nationals, should heed the lesson that the only big election winners were the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party that won three lower house seats despite the New Zealand gun massacre news. And, contrary to the warnings from the left media, the SFF election policy took strong objection to the major parties’ anti-emissions rhetoric. ‘Environment laws should not be aimed at appeasing minority city-based extreme green viewpoints… Affordable and reliable energy is the key to success… Government should not divert large sums of public money into intermittent energy sources; with the increasing saturation of renewable energy comes greater risks to energy reliability that is best provided by large coal-fired generators. We believe that it is logical to construct two new baseload High Efficiency Low Emission (HELE) coal-fired power stations in the Hunter Valley’.

If the Nationals were unhappy before the election with the Liberals’ ‘Labor-lite’ emissions limitation policies (the NSW Liberal target is zero net emissions by 2050 as against Labor’s 100 per cent by then and 50 per cent by 2030) it is unlikely they will wear them after losing seats to the SFF. And the federal Nationals have every reason to be worried about the threat to their regional seats of the SFF energy policy. The outcome of the coming federal election may depend on whether the Nats’ concerns and pressure for reliable affordable energy (including coal) will have a greater impact on Morrison than the fears of Josh Frydenberg that Kooyong could turn into another climate-dominated Wentworth unless due obeisance is made to the emissions gods. And, unlike the USA, that the government will stick with the Paris Agreement targets, despite their having inconsequential effects on the world’s greenhouse gasses.

But despite the clear evidence that the only impact of emissions policy in last weekend’s NSW election was a positive one for the SFF, Morrison is reluctant to embrace HELE coal-fired generation that, contrary to anti-coal propaganda, is booming overseas. According to the authoritative S&P Platts report, China is adding 1,171 coal-fired power stations to its existing 2,363, Japan is adding 45 to its 90, South Korea another 26 to its 58, the Philippines 60 to its 19, India 446 more to its 589, South Africa 24 to its 79, Turkey 93 to its 56 and even the EU (with some prominent anti-emissions members), is adding 27 to its 468. Most will be potential customers for Australian coal, which is already our major export.

But the sovereign risk of potentially antagonistic political decisions means that despite their economic viability overseas, there has been no investment in even one HELE generator here. So Australian energy gets increasingly expensive and unreliable to the benefit of our overseas competitors.

Berejiklian promised after last weekend’s impressive victory to help Morrison in May’s federal election. Her greatest contribution would be for her government to shut-up about climate change – and ensure that cabinet members like her factional friend Energy Minister Don Harwin, cease publicly undermining federal Liberal colleagues on emissions policy. Energy in NSW might be a more appropriate portfolio for a Nat.



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1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

Regarding the New Energy Economy (or whatever they are calling it this week); I want to know the following;

Suppose that tomorrow, by magic, all the technical difficulties of running the national energy economy on 'renewable' energy sources disappear. Those wishing us to shift over to wind and solar power propose to take an enormous amount of energy out of the environment. WHAT DOES THAT DO? That energy is presumably doing SOMETHING, and so far as I can tell nobody is asking what that something might be.