I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

August 23, 2010

National Academies’ meeting on what caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill

A committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council is conducting a technical analysis of the causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  It held its first public meeting Aug. 12 and 13 to gather information on government oversight and regulation of deep water oil exploration and drilling.

That was the third meeting of the committee.  The fourth is being held today and tomorrow.  See the National Academies’ Project System for more info.

Background documents from the Aug. 12-13 meeting can be found at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/BlowoutPrevention/documents/index.htm.  They include PowerPoint presentations from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, American Petroleum Institute, Coast Guard, Marshall Islands, and American Bureau of Shipping.  Right now they’re available only in PowerPoint so you will need that or one that can open PPT docs.

Under Related links you will find a link to a 1990 National Research Council report on Alternatives for Inspecting Outer Continental Shelf Operations.

In addition, the summary of the Institute of Medicine’s June workshop on Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health is now available at http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Assessing-the-Effects-of-the-Gulf-of-Mexico-Oil-Spill-on-Human-Health.aspx.

Advertisements

Sept. 15 meeting on Breast Cancer and the Environment, Washington, DC

The Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Breast Cancer and the Environment will hold its third meeting in Washington, DC, on September 15-16, 2010.  The afternoon session on the 15th will be open to the public.

The agenda for the public session includes invited presentations and a brief opportunity for public comment.  One of the invited presenters is the executive director of the Silent Spring Institute, which conducts and sponsors research on the links between the environment and breast cancer, other environmental health issues, and green chemistry.  Silent Spring maintains science review databases and other tools on the environment and breast cancer.

Its publications include the Guide to Breast Cancer Cohort Studies and

Self-reported chemicals exposure, beliefs about disease causation, and risk of breast cancer

Zota, A.R., A. Aschengrau, R.A. Rudel, and J.G. Brody. 2010. Self-reported chemicals exposure, beliefs about disease causation, and risk of breast cancer in the Cape Cod Breast Cancer and Environment Study: a case-control study. Environmental Health, 9:40. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-9-40
Abstract, Article, Press Release

Attending the IOM meeting

If you’re interested in attending the IOM meeting or commenting you should probably contact the Institute beforehand. (You can register for the meeting online.)

They’ve listed the contact information on the meeting page, but below is the information as of today:

Activity Contact Information

For More Information Contact

Ashley McWilliams

Phone: 202-334-1910
Fax: 202-334-2862
E-mail: BreastCancerandtheEnvironment@nas.edu

Mailing Address

Keck Center
W726
500 Fifth St. NW
Washington, DC 20001
This Institute project is sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.  Links to the two previous meetings and background material can be found on the project page. (Susan G. Komen for the Cure® also sponsors the Silent Spring Institute’s science review databases.)

August 22, 2010

Resources on how your privacy online is threatened

A recent Wall Street Journal series, “Your Privacy Online: What They Know”, described the efforts by internet marketers and tracking firms to compile information on just about everyone.

Other resources

Center for Democracy and Technology

CDT’s Guide to Online Privacy

Issues:

CDT’s Deeplinks Blog covers issues ranging from Anonymity to Locational privacy to Online behavioral tracking.

Dotrights.org

Describes what information about you is gathered online and how it is used. Sponsored by ACLU of Northern California.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

Electronic Privacy Information Center – http://epic.org/

Covers a wide range of privacy issues.

August 21, 2010

Nature: an antidote for what ails us?

Sites for children to learn more about nature

In a post from last spring, I discussed what some people have called “Nature Deficit Disorder” and how that could be another factor contributing to increased obesity rates, a decline in mental well-being, decreased happiness, and other problems.  Here are some resources that could help counter that.

Discover the Foresthttp://www.discovertheforest.org/

A USDA Forest Service website, sponsored in part by Dreamworks (if you’ve seen the public service announcement, you know that Shrek is part of this campaign) and The North Face.

Includes information on:

  • Where to Go – Find Forests and Parks (based on the National Wildlife Federation’s NatureFind app – see below)
  • What to Do – Forest Snapshot game, animal sounds, animal tracks, tree leaves, how to use a compass, how to become a Junior Forest Ranger.

Note about the Forest Snapshot Game: Kids have an opportunity to upload photos of their own.  This may not be widely known, but GPS-enabled cameras and smartphones can embed locational data in photos.  If they or you are posting such pictures on the Web, you are letting EVERYONE know where you live.  There are supposed to be ways to disable that feature, so if you’re concerned about that you might want to consider turning disabling that before you basically upload information about where you live to the Web.  (For more information on potential problems resulting from posting locational information, see the Please Rob Me website.)

That said, this is a neat idea.  (Note: The game took a minute or two to load on my PC.)

Provides links to resources, information on getting kids outdoors more (and maybe yourself, too!)

  • The Why page links to nature websites and tips on how to enjoy nature without ruining it.

Children and Nature Initiative

One of the Discover the Forest campaign’s recommended sites is the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Children and Nature Initiativehttp://neefusa.org/health/children_nature.htm

NEEF’s Children and Nature Initiative, launched in May 2010, addresses two important issues—preventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature. Research indicates that unstructured outdoor activities may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress, and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders. The Children and Nature Initiative educates pediatric health care providers about prescribing outdoor activities to children. The program also connects health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas.

A fact sheet on Children’s Health and Nature describes benefits of children’s exposure to the natural environment and includes recommendations from the CDC, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine.

Problems that may be caused by (or at least exacerbated by) a lack of outdoor activity

  • Childhood obesity
  • Attention disorders
  • Vitamin D deficiency

The fact sheet includes summaries of research showing connections between nature and health.

Unstructured outdoor play time is important for children’s overall well-being. How does nature play a role in children’s health? The fact sheet describes highlights from the published literature on the health benefits of the natural environment.  Free play is important.

Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC’s National Trail Days website – http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ParksAndTrails/
Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescentshttp://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/guidelines.htm

  • Includes a Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit available for downloading

Tread Lightly

Tread Lightly on Land and Water – http://www.treadlightly.org/ – is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible outdoor recreation through ethics education and stewardship.  Learn simple ways to minimize your impact on the environment when engaging in outdoor activities.

Tread Lightly’s Tips for Responsible Recreationhttp://www.treadlightly.org/page.php/education-recreationtips/Recreation-Tips.html

Children and Nature Networkhttp://www.childrenandnature.org/

Described in an article in the Kiwi magazine blog, The Whole Child: Prescription for Playhttp://kiwimagonline.com/kiwilog/the-whole-child/the-whole-child-prescription-for-play
C&NN Bloghttp://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/
Nature Clubs for Families Toolkithttp://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/NCFF_toolkit.pdf

HEALTH BENEFITS TO CHILDREN FROM CONTACT WITH THE OUTDOORS & NATURE

http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/C&NNHealthBenefits.pdf
Includes literature reviews  and overview documents as well as summaries of articles describing benefits of children’s contact with the outdoors on children’s mental and physical health.

This document notes:

There is a strong body of evidence attributing improved health with physical activity. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that nature specifically can improve attention and other psychological aspects of health. Playing in nature can positively impact children’s health and well-being.

National Wildlife Federation’s “Green Hour” Campaign

http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/What-is-a-Green-Hour.aspx

NWF NatureFindhttp://www.nwf.org/naturefind/ – Lets you search for activities from a wide variety of sites.  Most are outdoor, but they also include events at sites like museums, botanical gardens, and nature centers.

August 9, 2010

Caught in the Web

A recent story in USA Today (Always-on technology: Are we adapting, or losing focus? (USA Today, Aug. 4, 2010) by Marco R. della Cava) contrasted two positions regarding the impact of the Web on kids’ ability to think and focus.  The first, advanced by Nicholas Carr (see below), argues that the Web is having a negative impact.  Others argue that it doesn’t.

I discussed some of this in a couple of posts months ago (“Impact of technology on kids’ thinking abilities” and “The Virtual Frontier”).  But being more conscious of the effects of the Web (and not just the Web, but TV as well), viewing my experience with kids in the time since then, along with some other reading, has led me to believe that Carr is right.

I recently finished reading Rafe Esquith’s Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-Up, Muddled-Up, Shook-Up World.  Esquith, who teaches in a public elementary school in Los Angeles, describes the differences between kids who watch a lot of TV and those who don’t.  Anecdotal?  Yes, but highly persuasive.  And I think a lot of studies bear out his observations.

I believe it’s in the article above that someone says that the Web is really no different than TV — and TV hasn’t messed us up.   I would argue that the latter is disputable.  There’s a lot of garbage on TV.

And TV, by including the visual element, naturally draws our attention even more than radio.  And to a kid it can be hypnotic.  The Web requires even more attention.  That makes it even more addictive in a way, but that’s also an improvement of sorts over TV.  TV was a passive medium.  The Web requires you to at least get involved.  But kids’ brains are still developing.  Do most kids have the self-discipline to know when to stop?  Even if they do, can they?  Some studies show that Web use triggers the release of dopamine.

We need to teach kids how to make good decisions

Does this mean we should shut down the Web?  Or prohibit kids from using it?  The answer is obviously no.  The Web is a great tool.  But it can also be a great time-waster.  And too much exposure is not good for kids.  And another reason to be cautious is that marketing has become the predominant driver of the Web.  (See the Wall Street Journal series about Internet privacy for more info on how much information about you companies are tracking so they can target purchasing choices for you.)  Our economy thrives on people who don’t want to delay gratification.  And I think short attention spans make it more difficult to resist buying.  (This would be more coherent, but I’ve spent too much time on the Web.)

I also have to say that I do disagree with some of the comments in the articles about the distraction of hypertext links.  When I was a kid I would often thumb back and forth between pages in encyclopedias and other books, hopping from one reference to another (or even pulling different books off the shelf).  Hyperlinks make it so much easier to check references.  Well, that’s a good example of how people differ.  I find that incredibly useful and I can ignore ones that I’m not interested in.  (Though I have on occasion been known to wander far afield from where I started.)

I’ve also started reading Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World by H. Stephen Glenn and Jane Nelsen.  That was written twenty years earlier than Esquith’s book, but also discusses the problems caused by too much exposure to TV, the inability to delay gratification, etc.  It also discusses how the breakdown of family structures after the Second World War and increasing urbanization also have contributed to problems for kids in many ways.  (I’m behind on summarizing books, so I won’t get into the details.)  I do want to say that the book is focused on building up kids and not tearing them down.  It’s based on what the authors call “perceptual psychology.”

‘The Shallows’ by Nicholas Carr: The Internet warps you

Book review by Steve Weinberg, USA Today

“What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work?” [Carr] asks. His answer, iterated throughout this often repetitive but otherwise excellent book: “The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just like it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.”

Carr cites numerous studies to delineate not only the impact on the brain, but also the alterations in brain biology that lead to the impact. It turns out the human brain is a shape shifter, the technical term being “neuroplasticity.” The phenomenon is not easy to explain, but Carr is adept at explaining with as little jargon as possible. “As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”

A second USA Today story, this one about college students and information technology, contains mention of a study that I thought worth pointing out.

Back to school: Do kids learn as well on iPads, e-books? … (USA Today, Aug. 10, 2010) by Mary Beth Marklein

Some of the newer devices try to mimic traditional study behavior with features such as the ability to highlight text and take notes in the margins. Still, the gee-whiz technology doesn’t necessarily help students study better, suggests a study published this month in Journal of Educational Psychology. Students often highlight too much material, so building a highlighting function into the technology may simply enable students to continue an ineffective habit, the study found. “Worse, they may not even process or understand what they select,” says study author Ken Kiewra, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

‘Dumbest Generation’? Professor blames technology by Erin Thompson, USA Today, June 3, 2009

Reviews Mark Bauerlein’s The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30), recently released in paperback (Tarcher/Penguin, 236 pp.).

« Previous PageNext Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.