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© 2014 Peter Free

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Matrix model says that demographic momentum will keep the world on course to a worse resource-stretching situation in 2100 — even if we miraculously implement a 1 child policy — and/or kill off 2 billion people

© 2014 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Corey J. A. Bradshaw and Barry W. Brook, Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1410465111 (online before print, 27 October 2014)

Citation — to press release

Robyn Mills, Reducing population is no environmental ‘quick fix’, University of Adelaide (28 October 2014)

The momentum of reproducing numbers

From the abstract:

The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system. There are consequently more frequent calls to address environmental problems by advocating further reductions in human fertility.

To examine how quickly this could lead to a smaller human population, we used scenario-based matrix modeling to project the global population to the year 2100.

Assuming a continuation of current trends in mortality reduction, even a rapid transition to a worldwide one-child policy leads to a population similar to today’s by 2100.

Even a catastrophic mass mortality event of 2 billion deaths over a hypothetical 5-y window in the mid-21st century would still yield around 8.5 billion people by 2100.

Humanity’s large demographic momentum means that there are no easy policy levers to change the size of the human population substantially over coming decades, short of extreme and rapid reductions in female fertility; it will take centuries, and the long-term target remains unclear.

[S]ome reduction could be achieved by midcentury and lead to hundreds of millions fewer people to feed.

More immediate results for sustainability would emerge from policies and technologies that reverse rising consumption of natural resources.

© 2014 Corey J. A. Bradshaw and Barry W. Brook, Human population reduction is not a quick fix for environmental problems, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1410465111 (online before print, 27 October 2014) (at Abstract) (paragraph split)

The slightly more emphatically stated conclusion

From the press release:

“The corollary of these findings is that society’s efforts towards sustainability would be directed more productively towards reducing our impact as much as possible through technological and social innovation,” says Professor Bradshaw.

© 2014 Robyn Mills, Reducing population is no environmental ‘quick fix’, University of Adelaide (28 October 2014)

Caveat

Obviously, the accuracy of the findings depends on the ability of the mathematical model to reasonably mimic future reality.

Intuitively though, one can see that the demographic mass of the planet’s present 7.3 billion people is too large to noticeably divert into a reduced numbers, resource-sparing direction by the end of this century.

The moral? — A grim prognostication

I think it unlikely that technological and social innovation over the next 85 years is going to be substantial enough to ameliorate the resource problems that pound much of humanity.

Computer epidemiology model suggests that ebola epidemic is about to become arguably uncontrollable in Liberia — Meanwhile, the international “community” continues to lollygag

© 2014 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Joseph A Lewnard, Martial L Ndeffo Mbah, Jorge A Alfaro-Murillo, Frederick L Altice, Luke Bawo, Tolbert G Nyenswah, and Alison P Galvani, Dynamics and control of Ebola virus transmission in Montserrado, Liberia: a mathematical modelling analysis, Lancet Infectious Diseases, DOI:10.1016/S1473-3099(14)70995-8 (early online publication, 24 October 2014)

Citation — to press release

Michael Greenwood and Karen Pearl, Without swift influx of substantial aid, Ebola epidemic in Africa poised to explode, Yale University (23 October 2014)

Sadly, not a surprise

From the press release:

A team of seven scientists from Yale’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia developed a mathematical transmission model of the viral disease and applied it to Liberia’s most populous county, Montserrado, an area already hard hit.

“Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months,” said Alison Galvani, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and the paper’s senior author.

“[T]he possibility of averting calamitous repercussions from an initially delayed and insufficient response is quickly eroding.”

[S]ome 97,940 cases of the disease — could be averted if the international community steps up control measures immediately, starting Oct. 31, the model predicts.

This would require additional Ebola treatment center beds, a fivefold increase in the speed with which cases are detected, and allocation of protective kits to households of patients awaiting treatment center admission.

The study predicts that, at best, just over half as many cases (53,957) can be averted if the interventions are delayed to Nov. 15.

Had all of these measures been in place by Oct. 15, the model calculates that 137,432 cases in Montserrado could have been avoided.

© 2014 Michael Greenwood and Karen Pearl, Without swift influx of substantial aid, Ebola epidemic in Africa poised to explode, Yale University (23 October 2014) (paragraphs split, underline added)

From my perspective, it is probablistically near certain that no one is going to be successful in achieving “a fivefold increase in the speed with which cases are detected.”

The research team concluded this way

From their abstract:

Our findings highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of EVD cases and deaths.

© 2014 Joseph A Lewnard, Martial L Ndeffo Mbah, Jorge A Alfaro-Murillo, Frederick L Altice, Luke Bawo, Tolbert G Nyenswah, and Alison P Galvani, Dynamics and control of Ebola virus transmission in Montserrado, Liberia: a mathematical modelling analysis, Lancet Infectious Diseases, DOI:10.1016/S1473-3099(14)70995-8 (early online publication, 24 October 2014) (at Abstract)

And the “guys” on the ground?

Médecins Sans Frontières said dryly last week:

[D]eployment of international aid is slowly taking place in the three main countries affected. However, there is little indication that current efforts to increase capacity to isolate and take care of suspected and confirmed Ebola cases will address needs sufficiently.

© 2014 Médecins Sans Frontières, Ebola crisis update – 23rd October 2014,  MSF.org (23 October 2014)

The moral? — Assuming that the team’s computer model is even mildly accurate, a public health disaster is becoming a calamity

Arguably courtesy of the complacence that characterizes much of the allegedly “civilized” world.

The other guy is always a rat — a study of the apparently innate “attribution” bias that underlies intractable social and political conflict

© 2014 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Adam Waytz, Liane L. Young, and Jeremy Ginges, Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives intractable conflict, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1414146111 (online before print, 20 October 2014)

If we are self-aware, we have to admit that we are psychologically inclined to exhibit this trait

The research team looked at the results of five studies distributed among a sample of “661 American Democrats and Republicans, 995 Israelis, and 1,266 Palestinians.”

It concluded that:

These studies show that in political and ethnoreligious intergroup conflict, adversaries tend to attribute their own group’s aggression to ingroup love more than outgroup hate and to attribute their outgroup’s aggression to outgroup hate more than ingroup love.

© 2014 Adam Waytz, Liane L. Young, and Jeremy Ginges, Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives intractable conflict, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1414146111 (online before print, 20 October 2014)

The other guys are always rats. We’re angels.

Five studies

Study 1 concentrated on the American political parties. Studies 2 and 3 examined which party everyone thought was to blame for the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Study 4 tended to illustrate that Israelis’ attribution of hatred to the Palestinians made the conflict between the groups more intractable.

The fifth provided a back-handed form of hope:

Finally, study 5 demonstrates, in the context of American political conflict, that offering Democrats and Republicans financial incentives for accuracy in evaluating the opposing party can mitigate this bias and its consequences.

© 2014 Adam Waytz, Liane L. Young, and Jeremy Ginges, Motive attribution asymmetry for love vs. hate drives intractable conflict, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [PNAS], DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1414146111 (online before print, 20 October 2014)

That’s it! We can pay each other not to act like genocidally-inclined apes.

The moral? — One more drop in the overflowing bucket that proves the vicious entrenchment of human irrationality

There is not enough money in the world to pay everyone to overcome innate psychological bias.

Who would distribute the bribes?

And to whom?

I can imagine the quarrels that would arise:

I should get paid more (than you) for overcoming my immense load of bias.

He was mean to me, so I should get paid for the proportion of meanness that he did not overcome.

Like spoiled children in a chaotic schoolyard.

Study claims that trivial and poorly supported graphs and formulas — when added to a supposedly scientific report — enhance the public’s belief that a medication works — But the study itself is so ineptly communicated that one wonders why anyone would pay attention to it

© 2014 Peter Free

Citation — to study

Aner Tal and Brian Wansink, Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy, Public Understanding of Science, DOI: 10.1177/0963662514549688 (online before print, 15 October 2014)

Citation — to press release

Cornell University, Blinded by non-science: Trivial scientific information increases trust in products, ScienceDaily (17 October 2014)

This would be a laughable juxtaposition of claim and inferred lack of proof — if the juxtaposition had not been so inadvertently presented

Here is the entirety of the abstract — notice its absence of any methodological data:

The appearance of being scientific can increase persuasiveness. Even trivial cues can create such an appearance of a scientific basis.

In our studies, including simple elements, such as graphs (Studies 1–2) or a chemical formula (Study 3), increased belief in a medication’s efficacy.

This appears to be due to the association of such elements with science, rather than increased comprehensibility, use of visuals, or recall.

Belief in science moderates the persuasive effect of graphs, such that people who have a greater belief in science are more affected by the presence of graphs (Study 2).

Overall, the studies contribute to past research by demonstrating that even trivial elements can increase public persuasion despite their not truly indicating scientific expertise or objective support.

© 2014 Aner Tal and Brian Wansink, Blinded with science: Trivial graphs and formulas increase ad persuasiveness and belief in product efficacy, Public Understanding of Science, DOI: 10.1177/0963662514549688 (online before print, 15 October 2014) (paragraph split)

Here is the entirety of Cornell University’s equally uninformative press release:

Published this week in Public Understanding of Science, the Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found trivial graphs or formulas accompanying medical information can lead consumers to believe products are more effective.

“Your faith in science may actually make you more likely to trust information that appears scientific but really doesn’t tell you much,” said lead author Aner Tal, post-doctoral researcher at the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “Anything that looks scientific can make information you read a lot more convincing.”

The study showed that when a graph – with no new information – was added to the description of a medication, 96.6 percent of people believed that the medicines were effective in reducing illness verses 67.7 percent of people who were shown the product information without the graph.

“Even those with professed faith in science were more likely to be swayed by trivial scientific looking product information,” said Tal.

“In fact, the more people believed in science, the more they were convinced by the graphs.

“What this means is that when you read claims about new products, whether it’s a medication or a new technology, you should ask yourself,

‘where does this information come from?’,

‘what’s the basis for the claims being made?’

“Don’t let things that look scientific but don’t really tell you much fool you. Sometimes a graph is just a graph!”

Cornell University, Blinded by non-science: Trivial scientific information increases trust in products, ScienceDaily (17 October 2014) (reformatted for clarity)

Thus, the abstract and press release make a claim — in the absence of summarized data to support it

One would think that the authors would have taken advantage of their own discovered phenomenon.

A bit of quantitative and methodological data added to the abstract might have avoided the dismissive conclusion that I came away with.

How many subjects?

Tested how?

Why was the experimentally attached data in the study legitimately considered trivial?

And so forth.

Even an abbreviated answer to one of these questions might have cloaked the study summary with a hint of (legitimately acquired) credibility.

The moral? — The authors really should have summarized the answers to their own questions, before signing off on the abstract

Part of the scientific process is communicating at least the appearance of knowing what Science’s rules are.

In a world of busy people and short attention spans, this has to be done in the abstract:

“Where does this information come from?”

“What’s the [statistical and methodological] basis for the claims being made?”

Well said, indeed, Dr. Tal. No disrespect intended. Sometimes, we trip over our own feet in missing the need to communicate what we know, which our readers do not.

Presumably, the answers to Dr. Tal’s own questions are included in the body of his study’s report.

But, being behind the journal’s paywall, we cannot get to it. Which defeats much of the purpose of having an abstract.