It has to do with resting metabolism, which determines how many calories a person burns when at rest. When the show began, the contestants, though hugely overweight, had normal metabolisms for their size, meaning they were burning a normal number of calories for people of their weight. When it ended, their metabolisms had slowed radically and their bodies were not burning enough calories to maintain their thinner sizes.

Source: NY Times. The body has an amazing mechanism to adapt to…keep things as they were?

What ‘I Fucking Love Science’ actually means is ‘I Fucking Love Existing Conditions.’ But because the word ‘science’ still pings about between the limits of a discourse that depends on the exclusion of alternate modes of knowledge, the natural world of I Fucking Love Science is presented as being essentially a series of factual statements.

Plus a takedown of everyone’s favorite scientist, Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

I was just Public Policy graduate student there (so probably we were the black holes) but I’m proud of my alma mater’s role in making one of the most significant discoveries in the world of physics. I still have to read the content of this article half a dozen times before I begin to understand it.

Welcome to the age of the Plant Butchers?—?an intrepid group of inspired, creative, and uber-passionate individuals whose desire to make meat into a more sustainable and healthy food has led them to explore the oft-overlooked world of plant proteins.

Interesting turn of events. I wouldn’t mind a plant-based meat as long as it tastes the same. I feel very conflicted eating meat but I love it too much to give it up so this may be a great middle ground.

NASA Celebrates Mars Rover Landing

Source: YouTube.

This has to be one of the coolest geeky moment of our times. It was heartening to see so many people tune in to watch it live on the Internet.

State of STEM majors among Americans

The bulk of attrition comes in engineering and among pre-med majors, who typically leave STEM fields if their hopes for medical school fade. There is no doubt that the main majors are difficult and growing more complex. Some students still lack math preparation or aren’t willing to work hard enough.

An insightful look into the state of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education among American students that doesn't bode well for the country (either “it’s too hard” or “the teachers aren’t good enough”). As things stand now, it seems likely the the high skill jobs that these majors lead to will be performed by immigrants from countries where these fields are heavily emphasized. Further, the low skill jobs are also increasingly performed also by immigrants, mostly from Latin American countries. The 'real' Americans are caught in the middle, untrained in the new economy and unable to adapt. But will they learn quick and adapt soon?

PS. India does graduate a lot of engineers and doctors but research has shown that a majority are not up to the standard that employers want so we too some catching up to do.

[Link to State of STEM majors among Americans]

Apollo 11 Launch in Slow Motion

[via Kottke] “This clip is raw from Camera E-8 on the launch umbilical tower/mobile launch program of Apollo 11, July 16, 1969.” Excellent narration that highlights the importance of checklists.

Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm

“Bonk” author Mary Roach delves into obscure scientific research, some of it centuries old, to make 10 surprising claims about sexual climax, ranging from the bizarre to the hilarious.

Immensely information and entertaining. Mary Roach doesn’t use as many puns as she could have and the twinkle in her eye says that she definitely would have if she weren’t on stage at TED. Her talk reveals hajjar bizarre facts and if you thought your job sucked, the pig farmer in the video has one up on you. And better still, if you think your research work in the lab is boring. Masters and Johnson or Kinsey will agree. And apparently, there is a woman who can orgasm at will so when asked, if she does it all the time she replied, not really because when I get home, I’m tired. So women use that excuse even on themselves :)

Afraid of Vaccines?

Vaccines are become the new ‘abortion’ for the science-illiterate masses; complete with a scientist to hate and death threats.

Change in Academic Status

If you have noticed, this blog has been largely silent over the past few months. The reason was not just more frequent Twittering but in fact, real-world events like finishing up my doctoral dissertation. Those who know me well are aware that this has been a long time coming. The process of researching, writing, and defending a dissertation in any field is an intensely time-consuming and arduous task. It takes up you every waking moment whether you are working on it or not. Regardless of how much you enjoy what you are doing, focusing on a single task for couple of years fine-tuning to satisfy rigorous academic standards and personal wishes of your committee members who want you to give your best can be draining. Personally, I think a Ph.D. is more about testing your patience and endurance more than your intelligence. Below, I hope to share the research objectives and findings of my dissertation hopefully devoid of any jargon.

With undergraduate and graduate degrees in Architecture and Public Policy respectively, I chose to pursue my doctoral education in Urban and Regional Science which amalgamates urban planning principles with social science & economics theory. My dissertation focused on examining the housing price impacts on single-family residential properties before and after proximate Superfund remediation along with contemporaneous sociodemographic change. Superfunds are highly toxic and contaminated sites from erstwhile commercial and industrial use and are often abandoned due to health and liability concerns. These sites more often than not have a detrimental effect on the surrounding neighborhood and it is pertinent from the perspective of urban planning to understand the extent of impact of such properties. However in the literature, little evidence has been presented to evaluate the impact of remediation of such contaminated properties; partly since remediation is a recent phenomenon and economic and social changes post-remediation has longer lag time. Further, contemporaneous sociodemographic change has been rarely explored while examining economic impacts of contamination leaving a significant gap in the literature pertaining to neighborhood change following change in contamination status. The sociodemographic change can also be examined from the perspective of environmental and social justice to analyze if minorities and low-income people are disproportionately exposed to contamination and if they reap the benefits of subsequent remediation.

Hedonic models are used to isolate the effect of proximate environmental amenities or disamenties on housing price while controlling for associated structural and neighborhood factors that typical explain housing value. The environmental disamenities is measured by the distance to the nearest Superfund site and controlled by number of other Superfund sites in close proximity, type of contamination, size of contamination and even proportion of industrial and commercial properties to account for minor contamination. The dataset I used consisted of nearly 270,000 single-family residential properties complete with associated structural details like number of bedrooms, bathrooms, lot size, living area, and even length of resident tenure and tax rates. This dataset was complemented by information from USEPA and state environmental agencies on Superfund sites and other contamination and Census data like proportion of minorities, housing condition, unemployment and poverty rates, etc. for neighborhood factors. This allowed me to isolate the effect of the proximity of the Superfund site and compare the before and after remediation effects.

If that wasn’t enough, I incorporated the effect of spatial dependence in my analysis. Although, spatial dependence in housing markets (observations located closer influence each other more than observations located further away) is obvious, it has been rarely used in hedonic analysis; partly due to computational limitations. Recent advances in spatial statistics and development of GIS tools via softwares like ArcGIS, GeoDA, and extensions within Matlab make it easier to incorporate correction for spatial dependence. This helps in correcting for biased and inefficient estimators and even corrects for omitted variable bias which often plagues housing valuation. Dividing the region into housing submarkets using school quality also further refined the findings.

After running hazaar OLS and spatial models, the findings revealed a 2.2 percent increase in sales prices with every additional mile away from the contaminated Superfund and this effect diminished significantly after remediation indicating that although contamination has a negative effect, the subsequent cleanup had a net positive effect. Additionally, properties around unremedied Superfund sites sold for nearly 10.1 percent less than properties around remedied Superfund sites. The sociodemographic change analysis expectedly revealed that Superfund sites were disproportionately located in low-income minority neighborhoods causing an unfair burden. However, remediation did not lead to gentrification i.e. displacement of low-income population by upwardly mobile population with college-level education, as expected. It was also observed that Superfund sites in primarily premier housing submarkets were more likely to be remedied than those located in low-income submarkets again alluding to an environmental justice concern. This was disturbing since it was also found that remediation of Superfund sites located in low-income minority neighborhoods had a greater positive price effect than those located in premier submarkets; possibly because other amenities in premier submarkets such as better schools, coastline proximity, lower crime, etc. compensated for the presence of Superfund sites.

I was extremely pleased with my efforts and the results it produced and thankfully so was my committee since they did consider this as a significant contribution to the literature. Of course, it has to be developed further and refined for journal publication. Of course, I’ve not included all theoretical constructs, literature review, and model specification criteria that went into the analysis. For that, you’ve to read my 280-page ‘magnus opus’ which even my advisor couldn’t bear to look at again after her approval.

I successfully defended this dissertation last month and as of last week, the manuscript has been approved by the Thesis Office and Office of Graduate Studies at Texas A&M University. I’m set to graduate in August with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Urban and Regional Sciences. And all I can say is, whew!

Why Health Advice on ‘Oprah’ Could Make You Sick

You may worship Oprah and consider her the Second Coming but this takedown in Newsweek on her proclivity to promote false science is compelling. No one should be above doubt and just because Oprah says so, it always ain’t so.

The Case for Cougars

From PLoS Medicine: Older fathers have dumber kids. The more geriatric the dad, the dimmer the progeny, on measures including “thinking and reasoning, concentration, memory, understanding, speaking, and reading”…the secondary finding, which was that older mothers were associated with smarter children. Uh-oh! Considering we have the exact opposite situation, this doesn’t bode well for our future progeny. Well, at least now we have an excuse.

Do only Atheists believe in Evolution?

Evolution and Religion

The world celebrated Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday this past Thursday. Darwin, as many know, is known for his revolutionary theory of evolution. Evolution has been unanimously acknowledged by the scientific community and served as the basis of biology. But compared to other scientific theories (yup! gravity is a theory too), evolution gets the step-brotherly treatment from the general population driven primarily from religious dogma.

Surprisingly, according to this chart by Pew Research, a higher percentage of Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews abelieve in evolution than atheists (unaffiliated)[via]. Go figure! Does this imply that religiosity does not affect belief in evolution? Probably but it helps to remind oneself that Buddhists, Hindus, and Jews make up for less than one percent individually of the total population and they are more likely to be college-educated and high-income. The religious zealots of these religions are less likely to be in the United States although religious tenets of Buddhism and Hinduism isn’t in conflict with evolution compared to Christianity. High levels of education and income probably explain the Jewish angle. It is still a significant level above the general United States population of which only 48% believe in evolution. The role of religion in social and cultural life in the United States has permeated to the educational system leading to skewed beliefs and results in United States lagging behind in belief for evolution compared to its peers of developed nations.

Sakshi had raised the issue (on Twitter) on whether people really understand how evolution works as opposed to belief. I admit that the Maharashtra school board hardly touched on the topic let alone explain it. If it was taught after 10th standard, I had already opted for a Biology-exempt curriculum of PCM (Physics-Chemistry-Maths) for my 12th boards. Yup, I blame the educational system for not including teaching of evolution earlier but that’s a rant for another day. I would attribute belief in evolution or for that matter, any scientific fact as deferring to the experts whom we implicitly trust. There is much in our technologically advanced society that we do not understand but believe in. Of course, one should make utmost efforts to understand evolution but to merely dismiss it without actually studying it because of its apparent contradiction with your religious beliefs is detrimental to your intellect. On a related note, read Olivia Judson’s Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation delightful, fun, and of course, informative book on mechanisms of evolution.

On the Indian front, if a higher percentage of Indians ‘believe’ in evolution then it is probably due to the fact that there is no competing argument present in the Indian society as intelligent design is in the United States. The level of religiosity in India is similar to that of the U.S. but compared to Christianity, Hinduism perhaps does not impose strict beliefs that believers need to adhere to be considered as Hindus. Science and religion have largely co-existed peacefully in India and although there have been occasional skirmishes, science and education has been left alone. Not surprisingly, belief in evolution in rigid Islamic societies is pretty low too and I’m not sure the United States wants to be in that company.

Oral Sex and HIV

“Swedish researchers have shown that lots of oral sex with an HIV-infected partner may actually be protective against the virus”; according to a study published in the AIDS journal. What now? Don’t rush into it before you check the p-value; no pun intended.

Potted Plant Blogging

If you were thinking of blogging full-time be mindful that you might have competition from a potted plant.

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