07 September 2013

Quick Hits

It's been a while since I've posted, mostly since I'm very busy with work at the moment due to a variety of litigation and non-litigation deadlines.  Here are some pin board class hits of interesting nits and bits I've seen lately:

* A rice grain sized organ in your throat called the carotid body that serves as a blood pressure and oxygen and carbon dioxide regulating sensor in the body that most people didn't know existed can be removed as an effective surgical treatment for high blood pressure.

Underlying reference: Fiona D. McBryde, Ana P. Abdala, Emma B. Hendy, Wioletta Pijacka, Paul Marvar, Davi J. A. Moraes, Paul A. Sobotka, Julian F. R. Paton. The carotid body as a putative therapeutic target for the treatment of neurogenic hypertension. Nature Communications, 2013; 4 DOI:10.1038/ncomms3395

This is a big deal since high blood pressure even when treated with drugs is a huge factor in cardiovascular disease deaths like heart attacks that are one of the top couple of causes of death in the developed world.

* Monarchy works because clear lines of succession reduce the likelihood of economically costly civil wars.  Democratic elections can do the same thing by other means while improving quality relative to monarchy produced leaders.  But:
The larger governance lesson is that the quality of a leader is not the only thing that matters to the growth of capital. In certain hyper-competitive environments, it may not even be the most important thing. Some organizations are so close to the edge that they cannot afford the waste of political infighting, and can actually be taken under by a botched succession, where a clear leader fails to quickly emerge.
* Xenophobic or racist fears of people of other cultures are predominantly confined to foreign men.  People don't have sustained fears for foreign women.  The only factor that significantly predicts reduced racism and xenophobia is a person's history of relationships with members of the out group as friends, colleagues or romantic partners.  The power of the "present company excluded" etiquette norm is powerful.

Underlying reference: Navarrete et al. Fear Extinction to an Out-Group Face: The Role of Target Gender. Psychological Science, 2009; 20 (2): 155 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02273.x

* Certain kinds of alcohol abuse and bulimic eat disorder behavior appear to have a common hereditary source.
Studying data gathered from nearly 6,000 adult twins in Australia, Munn-Chernoff and her colleagues found that common genetic factors underlie alcoholism and certain eating-disorder symptoms, such as binge eating and purging habits that include self-induced vomiting and the abuse of laxatives. . . . Munn-Chernoff [said]  "several past studies have suggested that the particular behavior of binge eating, as well as purging and other practices that we call compensatory behaviors, may be closely associated with alcohol dependence, which is why we focused on those symptoms." . . . In all, nearly 25 percent of the men and 6 percent of women had been alcohol dependent at some point. Almost 11 percent of these same men and 13 percent of the women had experienced problems with binge eating. In addition, about 14 percent of the women had engaged in purging or abuse of laxatives or diuretics.
On a statistical scale that runs from zero (no shared genes) to 1 (all genes shared), the researchers found that the genetic correlation between binge eating and alcohol dependence was statistically significant at .26.  Among women in the study, the genetic correlation between compensatory behaviors and alcohol dependence was significant at .32. . . ."It appears that some genes that influence alcohol dependence also influence binge eating in men and women, and compensatory behaviors in women." 
Underlying reference: Munn-Chernoff MA, Duncan AE, Grant JD, Wade TD, Agrawal A, Bucholz KK, Madden PAF, Martin NG, Heath AC. A twin study of alcohol dependence, binge eating and compensatory behaviorsJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2013

* Education in the less developed world sucks.  While many developing countries get increasingly large quantities of education, this isn't producing the result seen from comparable numbers of years of schooling in the developed world.
Public education expenditure  accounts for 5.4 percent of gross domestic product in Brazil and the United Kingdom, and 5.5 percent in Ghana and the United States. In Kenya and Uganda, education accounts for around 15 percent of government expenditure. Even some of the poorest people worldwide spend a considerable proportion of their  private income on education. The poorest urban households in Pakistan, which on  average spend less than $1 per person per day in total, spend more than 6 percent of that on education. In Indonesia, the proportion reaches nearly 9 percent.  
Parents and governments expect a return on this investment. Parents send their children to school in expectation of improved employment opportunities, income, status, and quality of life. Ministers and parliaments hope that expanded education  will lead to economic growth, improved health outcomes, and nation building. In some ways, schooling appears to meet these expectations. Micro studies often  report high returns to years of schooling in developing countries—7 percent in  Ghana, for example. Children with mothers who went to school are more likely  both to survive childhood and to attend school themselves.   
But at the same time, evidence suggests that expanded educational opportunities  do not translate into improved economic performance. At the country level, the average Kenyan over the age of 15 in 2010 had more years of schooling than the average French person in 1985. Sadly, Kenya’s 2010 GDP per capita was only 7 percent of France’s GDP per capita in 1985. Kenya represents a trend: massively  increased enrollments even where incomes have stagnated in recent decades. More broadly, the link between schooling and economic growth in cross-country analysis is fragile at best. . . .
In several developing countries, many of the students who were enrolled in six full years of primary education were unable to answer questions about a simple paragraph or solve simple math problems. This suggests a dismal rate of return on years of school enrollment. 
In India, national survey evidence reveals that only about one-third of children in grade 5 can perform long division, and one-third cannot perform two-digit subtraction. Nearly one-half of grade 5 students cannot read a grade 2 text and one in five cannot follow a grade 1 text. Sixty percent of Indian children enrolled in grade 8 cannot use a ruler to measure a pencil. Only 27 percent of Indian children who complete primary school can read a simple passage, perform division, tell time, and handle money, although students should master each of these skills by the end of the second year of school. These statistics compare starkly with the  official 81 percent youth literacy rate reported by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Similar findings have emerged elsewhere. Data from both Early Grade Reading Assessments and the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality point to serious quality gaps across the region. Uwezo surveys show that in Tanzania and Uganda, less than half of all 10- to 16-year-olds possess even basic literacy or numeracy skills.  A flat learning trajectory through successive school grades is reflected in low test scores among older students. 
Using several sources of recent data from India, the Center for Global Development’s Lant Pritchett examined the number of repeat questions that fourth, sixth, and eighth graders answered correctly. For language,  the percentage climbs from 51 to 57 percent between fourth and eighth grades. For math, it climbs from 36 to 53 percent. This suggests that it would take 32 years of schooling for 90 percent of all students to correctly answer a language question  that more than half of all fourth graders already correctly answered. India is hardly unique in its flat learning trajectories. Studies of the impact of education on learning in Bangladesh in the 1990s found that three additional years of schooling had no appreciable impact on learning achievement. 
Internationally comparable mathematics tests under the Trends in International Mathematics and Science  Study (TIMSS) suggest that the average eighth grader in Ghana has a test score that would place her in the bottom 0.2 percent of US students. Even in considerably richer developing countries, the learning gap is large: the average Chilean student would be in the bottom 6.4 percent of US students, based on TIMSS scores.

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