Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Walkabout wednesday: I'm really messed up, gender equality in hiring, and pretty pictures!

My Health

Cristi Vlad has a nice post this week looking at a carefully controlled, but short, dietary intervention on a bunch of physiological metrics. My typical "low carb" gets into the range of the low carb diet there in terms of total grams, but not in terms of percentage calories. These folks were eating way more than me! Of course, the subjects were all obese, with average BMI of 34 (mine is currently 24). Other than weight I'm much more messed up than these subjects, with more inflammation (hs-CRP), higher triglycerides, lower hdl, etc etc.

Your Education

My field (or at least my academic unit) is far, far behind on gender diversity among the faculty. But at least some departments at UNL have fixed that problem, and as a result it improves the recruitment of women into their graduate programs, which makes it easier to recruit women faculty etc etc. I don't know how well our graduate program does at recruiting and graduating women. Hmm, might be worth a look for the 2015 Academic Program Review.

Our Environment

This is a really nice visualization of increasing global temperature. I like visualizations that use the ability of an animation to move time off the x-axis in a meaningful way. Although, I don't think that visualizations like this increase the likelihood that we (as in, members of the species Homo sapiens sapiens) are likely to "...act hard and fast." 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Walkabout Wednesday: vampire aphids

Does red meat trigger immune reactions, what is the value of a postdoc, and vampire aphids. No kidding.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

How do perennial plants avoid senescence?



If you know, please tell me! The following is part of a pre-proposal that Brigitte and I are submitting to NSF. This is our justification for continuing to spend a week each summer counting fruits on a small shrubby, not particularly attractive plant. I mean, other than the fantastic hiking and fishing in the area.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Walkabout Wednesday: is your liver screaming, campus drinking, and independent monitoring of energy impacts on wildlife.

Your liver starts screaming long before you're diagnosed as a type 2 diabetic, UNL is a leader in tackling on campus drinking, and we should have independent monitoring of energy impacts on wildlife.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Walkabout Wednesday: who funds nutrition research, and happy holidays!

My Health

A while back I wrote about why I gave up gluten, and a study that suggests it's not really gluten but actually FODMAPs that cause gastro-intestinal distress. That study is still echoing around the social media sphere. Dr. Perlmutter (author of Grain Brain) brought up some interesting points about the study:
I discovered that the funding for this research was provided by a company called George Weston Foods as you will see at the bottom of the report. ... There you will find that George Weston Foods is one of Australia’s and New Zealand’s largest purveyors of breads, pastas, cakes, and a host of other gluten containing foods.
Well damn. That explains a lot. Of course, if I apply Perlmutter's metrics to this paper on the effects of increasing carbohydrate on health I would throw it out too. Small sample size and funded by industry groups:
This work was funded by a grant from Dairy Research Institute, The Beef Checkoff, the Egg Nutrition Center, and the Robert C. And Veronica Atkins Foundation.
The problem is that research, especially careful, experimental research on humans, isn't cheap. Someone's got to foot the bill. The PlosOne article also says
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
which is great, but you can bet dollars to donuts (er, ... well, maybe steaks) that they won't keep funding someone that keeps finding that dairy, beef and eggs are bad for you. I guess we get the research we're willing to pay for via taxes.

Sweden recently reversed government guidelines on diet to focus on carbohydrate rather than fat. LCHF diets became popular there in the early 2000's and butter sales started to soar. So far, the experiment seems to be working, as Myocardial Infarction rates are continuing to decline despite Swedes eating more fat.

I've been taking a Vitamin D supplement since my mega-blood-work back in August indicated I was a bit low. I tend to avoid sunlight because of my (probably auto-immune) vitiligo means I burn easily. However, it turns out that the level of vitamin D considered "adequate" isn't well defined. I had a level of 24 ng/dl back in August, which is apparently well above what is considered deficient by everybody. So I needn't have worried. As of late october I'm up at 48 ng/dl, which is lots. Good!

Our Environment

You can thank the Bakken Shale in North Dakota for cheap gas at the pump these days. Just remember that it doesn't come cheap when all the costs are accounted for. That's a long story, but some amazing graphics. There's a second part to the article exploring political connections. I do like North Dakota's approach to fines for environmental violations though: if you pay 10% the remaining 90% is suspended as long as you have no further violations for a year. I wish governments would do that for traffic violations. The idea is that it encourages the company to "do better". Hmm. Based on the data it doesn't seem to be working.  

Whenever you declare that a species is in trouble, there's a chance you've got it wrong. According to Connors et al. (2014), that chance might be really high:
Based on the taxa we examined, at low classification thresholds (30% decline in abundance) and short observation windows (10 years), false alarms would be expected to occur, on average, about 40% of the time assuming density-independent dynamics, whereas false-negatives would be expected to occur about 60% of the time.
Of course you're even more likely to be wrong if you say they're doing fine. Longer time series, bigger thresholds for "trouble", and including density dependence reduce errors. Good thing Trevor Hefley included density dependence in his analysis of 20+ years of bobwhite data.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Walkabout wednesday: the reason I'm inefficient.

Yes. This is why I'm so inefficient. ht: Evan Cooch. Really. It has nothing to do with procrastibooking.

My Health

This is a nice little peer-reviewed review of where the story is on saturated fat in the diet. The upshot is that replacing saturated fat in the diet with carbohydrate is probably a bad idea; replacing it with poly- or mono-unsaturated fats might help a little bit. Or you could just stop worrying about fat altogether. 

I reviewed Kaayla Daniels' "The Whole Soy Story" a few weeks ago. Coach Mike liked it, and had a couple more studies on soy that I need to follow up on. I'll be honest; any study that shows brain shrinkage scares me much, much more than a 20% increase or decrease in my risk of heart disease. Also an interesting link on how much soy is eaten in Japan (hint: not very much).

Truvia is fine, but definitely not natural. That's reassuring, because I've been using it as a sweetener for the past year or so. Finding out the backstory of Truvia as a highly refined product from industrial food giants Cargill and Coca-cola was less reassuring.

Your Education

What you study as an undergraduate affects what you earn, quite a lot. I find some aspects of this list depressing. We pay people in marketing research much more than secondary school teachers, and elementary school teachers earn less than someone with any associates degree. That's like an active penalty for choosing to follow the career that ultimately drives economic growth for the whole country. Also the conclusion is that a college degree is a worthwhile investment has an important caveat: that you didn't pay too much for it. I bet there comes a point where the cost of the degree outweighs the benefit. 

Americans, and indeed, most people in the world, badly overestimate the unemployment rate. One way to interpret this is to think everyone is an ignoramus. However, it is well known that people have trouble understanding probabilities and percentages. The unemployment rate is usually reported as a percentage, but the survey asked for estimates on a frequency scale. Maybe we should report the jobless rate on a frequency scale too? 1 in every 20 working age people are unemployed and looking for work. Sounds much better than 6% to me!

And here's a response to that article citing studies where people get it right when asked for a percentage. Called it!

Our Environment

Chris Helzer reminds us that "Land managers make assumptions all the time. If we didn’t, we’d never get anything done." I agree, but would go one step farther: those assumptions represent implicit models. 

I love a good visulization, and this video of global CO2 distribution across a single year is amazing. I'd never thought about heterogeneity in CO2 levels before, but it makes sense that it's not constant as the sources and sinks vary in space as well. I'd always assumed that diffusion would even things out more. The concentrations in the Arctic are way, way higher than in the Antarctic for example. I wonder if that contributes to the differences in how the Arctic and Antarctic ice packs are changing with time. 

Does our military know something we don't about global warming? Um. Yes! And they've known it for a while, apparently. I liked this quote from Adrian Sokoloff in 1990:
The central problem is that outside the security sector, policy processes confronting issues with substantial uncertainty do not normally yield policy that has high economic or political costs.
So in 1990 they recognized a threat to U.S. security and infrastructure, and expected that the government would be unable to react in time.

Waaaay, waaay back, when I was a PhD student at the University of Adelaide, I noticed that the size of protected areas in South Australia was negatively correlated with rainfall. Makes sense, higher rainfall means more ag productivity. This tradeoff became the basis for the game Buy-O-diversity. And it turns out that this sort of inequality in representation holds globally too.