By JOHN TIERNEY, The New York Times, January 26, 2010
I find myself in the unfamiliar position of defending Al Gore and his fellow Nobel laureate, Rajendra K. Pachauri.
When they won the prize in 2007, they were hailed for their selfless efforts to protect the planet from the ravages of greedy fossil fuel industries. Since then, though, their selflessness has been questioned. Journalists started by looking at the money going to companies and nonprofit groups associated with Mr. Gore, and now they have turned their attention to Dr. Pauchauri, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The I.P.C.C., which is supposed to be the gold standard of peer-reviewed climate science, in 2007 warned of a “very high” likelihood that global warming would cause the Himalayan glaciers to disappear by 2035. When the Indian government subsequently published a paper concluding there was no solid evidence of Himalayan glaciers shrinking because of global warming, Dr. Pachauri initially dismissed it as “voodoo science” beneath the I.P.C.C.’s standards.
But then it came out that the I.P.C.C.’s projection was based not on the latest peer-reviewed evidence, but on speculative comments made a decade ago in a magazine interview by Syed Hasnain, a glaciologist who now works in an Indian research group led by Dr. Pachauri.
Last week, the I.P.C.C apologized for the mistake, which was embarrassing enough for Dr. Pachauri. But he also had to contend with accusations of conflict of interest. The Telegraph of London reported that he had a “worldwide portfolio of business interests,” which included relationships with carbon-trading companies and his research group, the Energy and Resources Institute.
Dr. Pachauri responded with a defense of his ethics, saying that he had not profited personally and that he had directed all revenues to his nonprofit institute. He denounced his critics’ tactics: “You can’t attack the science, so attack the chair of the I.P.C.C.”
I can’t defend that entire sentiment, because you obviously can attack some of the science in the I.P.C.C. report, not to mention other dire warnings in Dr. Pachauri’s speeches.
But I do agree with his basic insight: Conflict-of-interest accusations have become the simplest strategy for avoiding a substantive debate. The growing obsession with following the money too often leads to nothing but cheap ad hominem attacks.
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A New Way to Look for Diseases’ Genetic Roots
By NICHOLAS WADE, January 26, 2010
The hunt for the genetic roots of common diseases has hit a blank wall.
The genetic variants found so far account in most cases for a small fraction of the genetic risk of the major killers. So where is the missing heritability and why has it not showed up?
A Duke geneticist now suggests that the standard method of gene hunting had a theoretical flaw and should proceed on a different basis. The purpose of the $3 billion project to decode the human genome, completed in 2003, was to discover the genetic roots of common diseases like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s. The diseases are called complex, meaning that several mutated genes are probably implicated in each.
A principal theory has long been that these variant genes have become common in the population because the diseases strike late in life, after a person has had children. Bad genes would not be eliminated by natural selection at that age, as they would if the diseases struck before the child-bearing years.
So to find disease genes, the thinking went, do not decode the entire genome of every patient — just look at the few sites where genetic variations are common, defined as being present in at least 1 percent of the population.
These sites of common variation are called SNPs (pronounced “snips”), and biotech companies have developed ingenious devices to recognize up to 500,000 SNPs at a time. The SNP chips made possible genomewide association studies in which the genomes of many patients are compared with those of healthy people to see which SNPs are correlated with the disease.
The SNP chips worked well, the studies were well designed, though enormously expensive, and some 2,000 disease-associated SNPs have been identified by university consortiums in the United States and Europe.
But this mountainous labor produced something of a mouse.
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The Ozone Hole Is Mending. Now for the ‘But.’
By SINDYA N. BHANOO, The New York Times, January 26, 2010
That the hole in Earth’s ozone layer is slowly mending is considered a big victory for environmental policy makers. But in a new report, scientists say there is a downside: its repair may contribute to global warming.
It turns out that the hole led to the formation of moist, brighter-than-usual clouds that shielded the Antarctic region from the warming induced by greenhouse gas emissions over the last two decades, scientists write in Wednesday’s issue of Geophysical Research Letters.
“The recovery of the hole will reverse that,” said Ken Carslaw, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Leeds and a co-author of the paper. “Essentially, it will accelerate warming in certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere.”
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GLOBAL UPDATE: Parasites: ‘Tropical’ Diseases Are Common in Arctic Dwellers, a Survey Finds
By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., The New York Times, January 26, 2010
The kind of worm and protozoan infections that are often called neglected “tropical” diseases are also common among aboriginal peoples living in the Arctic, according to a recent survey.
Outbreaks of trichinosis, a larval-worm disease commonly associated with eating undercooked pork and carnivorous wild game, also occur among people who eat infected polar bear and walrus meat, and the Arctic harbors a unique species of the worm that can survive subzero temperatures. Mild infestations cause nausea and stomach pain; severe ones can kill.
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