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07 Jul 06:29


06 Jul 13:00

We can end poverty, but at what cost?

by Chris Blattman

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 11.44.48 AM

The past year has produced evidence on some of the most successful anti-poverty programs in history. “Cash, livestock, and training” seems to be a simple and scalable way to help thousands and maybe millions out of poverty. This is great news. But while we should celebrate, we should pause before pouring millions into these programs. Paternalism and high price tags could mean that the charities are helping only one person when they could be helping two, three or four.

About two weeks ago, I opened the New York Times to see a full-page ad from a private charity called FXB (at left, click to expand).

“We know how to end global poverty” read the ad:

There’s now a proven approach. The journal Science just published a study proving what works to raise people permanently out of extreme poverty. It worked. And was cost-effective, paying for itself many times over.

The ad was talking about a program that gave extremely poor people livestock, training, a cash stipend for a few months, plus some supervision and advising. Nine scholars tested the program in six different countries, with thousands of people and several charities. (The charity with the Times ad was conspicuously not among them.)

The program did work. After two years, the households who received it were consuming an extra $120 per year — consumption being the most reliable measure of poor people’s income. Three years later, these same households were consuming an extra $80 per year. Since a dollar goes farther in poor countries, this is like getting $250 more purchasing power a year. When each person in your home is earning just a dollar a day, these gains are a big deal.

Given how many aid projects don’t pass a simple cost-benefit test, this “livestock-plus” approach is clearly a huge success. As a result, it’s getting scaled up in countries around the world. Bravo to the charities that did a rigorous evaluation, especially for opening their accounting books to inspection.

Cash-plus programs are showing promise, too. I studied one, in post-war northern Uganda, that gave some of the poorest women in the world $150 cash grants plus some business training and regular supervision and advice. It too paid for itself many times over. After two years, households who got the program were consuming an extra $202 per year (about $500 in local purchasing power).

As big a victory this might be (and it is), we shouldn’t pat ourselves on our backs just yet. The benefits are largely projections, while the large costs are not. Before we scale these programs to millions, we have more work to do.

First, consider the price tag. The cheapest livestock-plus program, in India, cost $413 per household. But the most expensive, in Peru, cost more than $3,000. The average cost of the six was $1,700. The cash-plus program in Uganda I studied was cheaper, but not by much. It cost $843. (Note: all the figures I use are adjusted to the same unit, 2014 U.S. dollars).

These are big sums. Fortunately, the estimated benefits to these programs are also big: about $2,000 for the average livestock-plus program, and more than $4,000 for the Uganda cash-plus one.

But these benefits are mainly based on estimates about what will happen in the future. None of the evaluations had more than three years of data. My cash-plus study had the shortest horizon — we measured impacts just 18 months after the grants.

To believe that the benefits of the cash-plus program exceed costs, you would need to believe that the increases in consumption will go on for at least two years past the final surveys. The same goes for the livestock-plus program in India.

Personally I think it’s likely that benefits go on at least a couple of years. But the other livestock-plus programs were much more expensive, and so the break-even point far further in the future. More than 85 percent of the benefits estimated by these papers (including mine) are in the future.

Indeed, on average, the livestock-plus programs take 18 years or more to break even. If the benefits of getting a goat and training tend to disappear after a decade, then the program doesn’t pass a simple cost-benefit test.

So while it’s reasonable to say these programs pay back more than they cost (indeed, this is some of the best quality evidence on poverty in the world) we shouldn’t forget this success is an extrapolation. In terms of cost-effectiveness, these cash and livestock programs are promising but not proven.

Fortunately, I think there’s a way for these programs to break even faster. The biggest expense across all the programs was staff time. Especially for supervision. Delivering training and cows takes skilled labor, and it’s hard to cut this back. But supervision? Charities feel a lot better when they can personally help their clients along. It’s not just paternalism, but also compassion. The staff care about these men and women and do not want them to fail. So they devote almost unlimited time to helping them. At, unfortunately, great cost.

Undoubtedly that investment of time helps the client. But should it cost 50 or 60 percent of the program? Is it more valuable than the cow or the grant itself? It’s hard to believe.

We tried to test this with cash-plus program in Uganda. Supervising the women cost about $377, about half the cost of the program and 2.5 times as much as the grant itself. After the 18-month impact evaluation, the charity brought the control group into the program. This time, however, the charity randomized the supervision: Some women got the training and grants with full supervision, some with only one or two visits, and some with none at all.

We surveyed the women a month and then a year later, and found that the supervision helped the women maintain the new businesses they started, but there was virtually no effect on consumption. We have no idea whether the supervision helps another year down the road. Maybe, eventually, it pays for itself. But the simple fact is this: taking away the most expensive part of the program had little effect on benefits after a whole year.

Indeed, if we cut staff time, and just gave training and cash to the very poorest, the Uganda cash-plus program could cost $300 a person or less. The low cost livestock-plus program in India is proof it can be done. Even if the benefits dropped by half, this program would still pay for itself in one or two years. It would get far more cost-effective.

Most important, three people could be helped instead of one.

That is the message I want you to walk away with: So long as aid is scarce, compassion and paternalism could mean helping only a million people out of poverty instead of three million. As the givers of all that aid money, I think we have a responsibility to do better.

Last week, the head of one of the world’s largest refugee and crisis response organizations, the International Rescue Committee, called on humanitarian organizations to make their crisis response twice as effective by cutting costs. Every charitable leader ought to publicly echo this call, yet almost none do.

To anti-poverty organizations around the world: Take the risk of putting your entire philosophy to the test. Put supervision and staff time under the microscope. Explore whether you should be in a different business: the business of handing out cash and low-cost services to millions of poor people instead of staff-intensive services to a few cherished thousands. The answer is not clear. But the lives of millions depend on it.

06 Jul 11:30

This map shows how red states increase inequality, and blue states cut it

by Dylan Matthews

State and local taxes don't get covered as much as federal ones, but they're still very, very important. Indeed, a new study finds that they can have significant effects on income inequality. Fed researchers Daniel Cooper, Byron Lutz, and Michael Palumbo estimate how major state taxes — sales taxes, income taxes, and motor fuel taxes — have affected inequality from 1984 to 2011. The differences are striking: while in some states, like Oregon, state taxes cut inequality significantly, in many southern states like Tennessee, they actually exacerbated it.

Cooper, Lutz, and Palumbo

Vox / Christophe Haubursin

The states in dark red did the most to increase inequality through their tax systems, and the ones in dark green did the most to decrease it. Overall, though, state tax systems increased inequality in the US over the period in question. Unsurprisingly, the authors found that states doing the most to fight inequality tended to have progressive income taxes, whereas states without income taxes tended to make inequality worse. Motor fuel taxes made inequality moderately worse, they find, while exempting food and/or clothing from sales taxation, and providing a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit, can cut inequality significantly.

03 Jul 06:08

Mailbox Guidelines


You must click through and look at the tabs to the left. "Mail for the deceased"?

Installing a New Mailbox

Look for Postmaster General's Seal

Every new mailbox design should be reviewed and receive the Postmaster General’s (PMG) seal of approval before it goes to market. If you opt to construct your own mailbox, it must meet the same standards as manufactured boxes, so show the plans to your local postmaster for approval.

Placing the Mailbox

Here are some helpful guidelines to follow when installing your mailbox:

  • Position your mailbox 41" to 45" above ground level.
  • Place your mailbox 6" to 8" back from the curb. If you do not have a raised curb, contact your local postmaster for guidance.
  • Put your house or apartment number on the mailbox.
  • If your mailbox is on a different street from your house or apartment, put your full street address on the box.
  • If you are attaching the box to your house, make sure the postal carrier can reach it easily from your sidewalk, steps, or porch.

Installing the Post

The best mailbox supports are stable but bend or fall away if a car hits them. The Federal Highway Administration recommends:

  • A 4" x 4" wooden support or a 2"-diameter standard steel or aluminum pipe.
  • Avoid unyielding and potentially dangerous supports, like heavy metal pipes, concrete posts, and farm equipment (e.g., milk cans filled with concrete).
  • Bury your post no more than 24" deep.

Door Slots

Approved Door Slots

Some homes and apartments have a slot in the door for receiving mail rather than a mailbox. The standards for an approved door slot are:

  • The opening must be at least 1 1/2" x 7".
  • The bottom of the slot must be at least 30" above floor.
  • Horizontal slots must have a flap hinged at the top.
  • Vertical slots must be hinged on the opposite side from the door’s hinges.

Inside Door Slot Hoods

The standards for approved inside door slot hoods are:

  • The hood should not project more than 2 1/16" beyond the inside of the door.
  • On a horizontal slot, the hood should not extend below the bottom of the outside plate.
  • On a vertical slot, the hood should not extend beyond the side of the outside plate on same side as the door’s hinges.


Mailboxes take a beating from the weather, so we recommend an annual mailbox checkup to avoid damage to your mail or difficulty identifying your address.

  • Tighten loose hinges on the door
  • Take care of rusty or loose parts
  • Replace missing or faded house numbers
  • Keep the path to your mailbox clear
01 Jul 22:03

Dukes of Hazzard reruns dropped amid Confederate flag controversy

by Erin Marquis

I'm going to say this is going too far.

Filed under: Celebrities, TV/Movies, Weird Car News, Dodge

Those Duke boys are in a mess of trouble again, and TV Land announced Wednesday that it is dropping the classic 1980s action-comedy from its roster.

Continue reading Dukes of Hazzard reruns dropped amid Confederate flag controversy

Dukes of Hazzard reruns dropped amid Confederate flag controversy originally appeared on Autoblog on Wed, 01 Jul 2015 18:00:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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02 Jul 01:04

Episcopal Church OKs Gay Marriage

by Joe Jervis

woo hoo! My people. My father was an Episcopal priest and would have been proud to have lived see this.

The anti-gay Institute On Religion & Democracy has rushed out a sadz-laden press release:
Bishops and Deputies at the Episcopal Church's 78th General Convention have authorized a gender-neutral marriage rite that officially brings same-sex marriage to the 1.8 million-member denomination. In 2012, Episcopalians authorized a "provisional rite" for the blessing of same-sex unions. That rite included an option for bishops in states where same-sex marriage was permitted to exercise "generous pastoral response" and allow use of the rite for same-sex marriage.

Bishops making these changes have chosen to align themselves with culture rather than the Bible, which puts forth a model of marriage and family life upholding marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. The vast majority of global Christians affirm traditional marriage. Unsurprisingly, there are no bishops in an official capacity from the Church of England here at General Convention, let alone from Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches. In enacting this marriage rite, Episcopalians are unilaterally redefining marriage and further distancing themselves from Christendom.
30 Jun 12:30

Mike Huckabee’s attack on the Supreme Court could work. Here’s how.

by Paul A. Djupe and Andrew R. Lewis
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 24: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee talks about his new book, "A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion that We Don't!)," at the National Press Club February 24, 2011 in Washington, DC. The winner of the Iowa GOP caucus in 2008, Huckabee is said to be considering another run for the U.S. presidency in 2012. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee talks about his new book, “A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need from Washington (and a Trillion that We Don’t!),” at the National Press Club on Feb. 24, 2011, in Washington. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

For many, the national debate over same-sex marriage culminated on Friday with the United States Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in favor. However, some conservatives, such as Mike Huckabee, haven’t admitted defeat. Instead, they have attacked the Supreme Court itself, encouraging people and future presidents to rebuff the Court’s decision. Could his argument work?  New data suggests that it could.

At root in this debate is the question of judicial supremacy, or whether the Supreme Court has the final say on what is constitutional or not. Huckabee has been the most vocal opponent of judicial supremacy. In May, Huckabee declared,“Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law as well as enforce it.” On Friday right after the decision, Huckabee returned to the claim in a USA Today op-ed, “As president, I will never bow down to the false gods of judicial supremacy.”

Huckabee’s statements led to a debate among conservative elites. George Will criticized Huckabee’s interpretation of the Constitution. Others countered that Will should learn a lesson about judicial supremacy from Abraham Lincoln — who, in his First Inaugural address, declared that if citizens and the president accept the Supreme Court’s wrong decisions they will have “practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.”

Huckabee has been undeterred. The day the Court announced its decision, Rick Santorum followed suit, saying, “The stakes are too high and the issue too important to simply cede the will of the people to five unaccountable justices.”

But will the public be swayed by arguments of judicial supremacy to oppose the Supreme Court? The week before the Supreme Court’s ruling, we tested Huckabee’s argument frame among a sample of 1200 Evangelical Protestants, who are arguably most likely to be swayed by the arguments from Huckabee and Santorum. Evangelical respondents were recruited online via Survey Sampling International.

As part of an eight-minute survey about faith and politics, we embedded an experiment. A third of the respondents was shown the following statement:

In a recent speech, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s impending decision that is likely to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. Huckabee said, “Many of our politicians have surrendered to the false god of judicial supremacy, which would allow black-robed and unelected judges the power to make law as well as enforce it.”

Another third was given the same quote (“Many of our politicians…”) without attribution to Huckabee. The final third was not given any statement.

Each of the respondents was then asked whether “Presidents should ignore Supreme Court decisions they disagree with” and whether “The Power of the Supreme Court to overturn the will of the people should be eliminated.”

Evangelical respondents who were given no statement were ambivalent about the Court’s performance and neither agreed nor disagreed that the Court’s power of judicial review should be removed. They tended to disagree that presidents should ignore Court decisions.

Reading the version of the statement that didn’t refer to Huckabee did change people’s views.  In particular, it made evangelicals who supported same-sex marriage (26 percent of this sample) more likely to favor eliminating the Court’s ability to overturn the will of the people. In this sense, Huckabee’s argument made evangelical supporters of same-sex marriage more like other evangelicals, who already favored weakening the Court in this way.

The statement had a stronger effect on whether respondents believed that the president should ignore the Court. Everyone, including both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, became more likely to endorse this view.  Overall, support for the president’s prerogative to ignore the Court increased by 25 percent.

But there is one important caveat, and it concerns Huckabee in particular.  We found that the statement about the “false god of judicial supremacy” only had these effects if it was not attributed to Mike Huckabee. Although one might expect that Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, would have credibility with evangelicals, this was not the case. The substance of Huckabee’s argument, not Huckabee himself, appears more persuasive.

Since the Obergefell decision, there have been consistent soundings from some on the right, who have promised to continue the fight. Although it is far too early to make predictions, our results suggest that their campaign could find adherents among American evangelicals.

Paul A. Djupe and Andrew R. Lewis are political scientists at Denison University and the University of Cincinnati, respectively. For more on this topic, see:

“Will marriage turn gay people into Republicans? Not anytime soon”

“The freedom of religion argument could actually make gay marriage opponents more tolerant.”

29 Jun 12:23

Seen At New York City Pride

by Joe Jervis
(Via JMG reader Michael)
27 Jun 13:30

Science is broken. These academics think they have the answer.

by Julia Belluz

Splashy science frauds usually spark conversations about the fact that science sometimes fails. But what often gets missed are the decidedly less sexy structural flaws within science — from publication bias (the fact that the studies that end up published tend to have positive results) to the lack of replication (or the attempt to validate previous findings by reproducing experiments) and transparency.

There's an interesting new series out in Science this week that suggests a few solutions to these and other problems. Written by a group of researchers, journal editors, funders, and other stakeholders, the pieces all have the underlying theme that science needs more avenues and incentives to improve reproducibility and transparency.

This first piece suggests that scientists use new tools, such as open source software that tracks every version of a data set, so that they can share their data more easily and transparency is built into their workflow.

This second piece suggests a rethinking of the incentive structures in science. "Researchers are encouraged to publish novel, positive results and to warehouse any negative findings," the authors write:

We believe that incentives should be changed so that scholars are rewarded for publishing well rather than often. In tenure cases at universities, as in grant submissions, the candidate should be evaluated on the importance of a select set of work, instead of using the number of publications or impact rating of a journal as a surrogate for quality.

The authors also suggest rebranding terms like "conflict of interest" and "retraction" to promote openness, among other things:

Universities should insist that their faculties and students are schooled in the ethics of research, their publications feature neither honorific nor ghost authors, their public information offices avoid hype in publicizing findings, and suspect research is promptly and thoroughly investigated.

These ideas are made actionable in a final set of guidelines for publishing scientific studies. The Center for Open Science's Transparency and Openness Promotion Committee, the group behind the guidelines, came up with eight standards that scientists, research institutes, and journals should adopt.

You can see the guidelines below (or a larger version here):

New standards for better science. (Science)

The eight standards — each with four varying levels of intensity — are meant to be modular and flexible and therefore easily adaptable to different research settings, according to lead author Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia psychologist and executive director of the Center for Open Science, and Chris Chambers, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Cardiff University. They wrote in the Guardian:

Most of all we hope that, in combination with related initiatives, the [Transparency and Openness Promotion] guidelines will cause future generations to look on the term "open science" as a tautology — a throwback from an era before science woke up. "Open science" will simply become known as science, and the closed, secretive practices that define our current culture will seem as primitive to them as alchemy is to us.

While this surely won't be the final word in how to fix the structural flaws in science, it's a very thoughtful one worth paying attention to.

You can read the whole package over at Science.

Further reading:

27 Jun 02:05

Landmarks Love Equality

by Joe Jervis
24 Jun 15:23

Todd Starnes: Confederate Flag Opponents Are Exactly Like Lenin, Stalin, And ISIS

by Joe Jervis
"It's only a matter of time before the cultural revolutionaries destroy films like Gone with the Wind and Forrest Gump and burn copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Stalin and Lenin would be bursting with pride. You know who else has been doing some cultural cleansing? The Islamic State -- bulldozing their way through history -- turning Iraq's heritage into rubble. And mark my words - the left's cultural crusade will not stop with the Confederate Flag. They will use the perception of racism and hatred to whitewash history and silence dissent. And one day - very soon - I predict they will come after another flag -- the one with broad stripes and bright stars. So don't be terribly surprised when even Republicans stand idly by as they burn the Star-Spangled Banner. Run Forrest, Run." - Todd Starnes, writing for Fox News.
25 Jun 18:49

BREAKING: SPLC Wins Fraud Suit Against New Jersey "Ex-Gay" Torture Group

by Joe Jervis reports:
A New Jersey jury on Thursday found a non-profit group that provides gay-to-straight conversion therapy guilty of consumer fraud for promising clients they could overcome their sexual urges by undressing in front of other men, pummeling an effigy of their mothers, and re–enacting traumatic childhood experiences.

In the first case in the nation to put the controversial practice on trial, the jury concluded that Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk, the founders of Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing in Jersey City and life coach Alan Downing to whom JONAH referred patients, "engaged in unconscionable commercial practices" and misrepresented their services.

The verdict requires JONAH and Downing to refund thousands of dollars paid by former clients Michael Ferguson, Benjamin Unger, Sheldon Bruck, Chaim Levin, and parents Jo Bruck and Bella Levin for the individual and group counseling sessions and the "journey into manhood" weekends in the woods. Downing charged $60 to $100 for group and individual sessions but shared 20 percent with JONAH to help defray its administrative costs.
The SPLC says they will now seek an injunction to force JONAH from operating. They'll also seek legal fees. What a terrible, terrible month for Maggie Gallagher!
24 Jun 07:01

End of the World

by Doug

End of the World

I’m on an apocalypse kick.

24 Jun 18:37

U.S. Slips In World Well-Being Rankings; Panama Is No. 1

by Bill Chappell

and Puerto Rico is #13 on the obesity rates for US states/territories. Self reported scores are challenging.

Panama was found to have the most people with high well-being, and Afghanistan the least, in a new Gallup world index.

Panama was found to have the most people with high well-being, and Afghanistan the least, in a new Gallup world index.

Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index, 2014

As a region, the Americas fare quite well in Gallup's new global index of personal well-being, but the U.S. fell from No. 12 to No. 23 worldwide. The top 10 includes Costa Rica, Belize, and Mexico.

Panama took the top spot for the second straight year in the Gallup-Healthways Country Well-Being report, with Costa Rica second. Switzerland was the top European country, in fourth. At No. 23, the U.S. is one spot behind Israel and one ahead of Canada.

If you're looking to boost your own well-being, you might want to boost your leisure activities — maybe even take a vacation. As NPR reported in 2009, the benefits can include "lower blood pressure, lower stress hormones and smaller waists."

To create its global index, Gallup looked at how people in 145 countries and areas respond to questions about five areas related to their well-being: purpose; social; financial; community; and physical (see the questions at bottom of this post).

World's top 10 — percent thriving

1. Panama — 53
2. Costa Rica — 47.6
3. Puerto Rico — 45.8
4. Switzerland — 39.4
5. Belize — 38.9
6. Chile — 38.7
7. Denmark — 37
8. Guatemala — 36.3
9. (tie) Austria — 35.6
9. (tie) Mexico — 35.6

Worldwide, only about one in six adults are considered to be thriving or to have strong or consistent results in at least three of those five areas, Gallup says.

"Latin Americans in particular have higher levels of well-being than any other regional group," the polling firm says. "Residents of many Latin American countries are among the most likely in the world to report daily positive experiences such as smiling and laughing, feeling enjoyment, and feeling treated with respect each day."

Among regions, sub-Saharan Africa was found to be the least thriving over all. But the worst circumstances were found in Afghanistan, which finished last in several categories.

Gallup notes:

"Subjective well-being does not necessarily correlate with GDP, the presence of conflict or other absolute indicators. War-torn populations such as those in Afghanistan may have extremely low well-being, but Gallup and Healthways also found low levels of well-being in countries that are relatively stable, such as Croatia, South Korea and Singapore."

Noting that many countries struggle to have a population that thrives in at least three areas, Peter Choueiri, president of Healthways International, says that there's "a huge opportunity" for improvement, by political, community and business leaders.

"There are proven interventions that these leaders can and should leverage to improve the health and well-being of their population and, at the same time, create measurable economic value," Choueiri said.

In compiling the index, Gallup says it collected data through 146,000 interviews.

To get a sense of how people are doing, Gallup asked people to say how they felt about two aspects of each of its five elements:

The 10 highest-ranked countries in the five areas of personal well-being surveyed in a new Gallup global index. The elements include purpose, social, financial, community and physical.

The 10 highest-ranked countries in the five areas of personal well-being surveyed in a new Gallup global index. The elements include purpose, social, financial, community and physical.



You like what you do every day.
You learn or do something interesting every day.


Someone in your life always encourages you to be healthy.
Your friends and family give you positive energy every day.


You have enough money to do everything you want to do.
In the last seven days, you have worried about money.


The city or area where you live is a perfect place for you.
In the last 12 months, you have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where you live.


In the last seven days, you have felt active and productive every day.
Your physical health is near-perfect.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit
24 Jun 12:00

Coke vs. Pepsi: The E. coli Test

by Miss Cellania

Things don't go better with Coke?

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research.

(Image credit: Flickr user Jeff M for Short)

by Ella Rotman
Department of Microbiology
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Here I demonstrate that bacteria can be used as low-cost, “guinea pig” substitutes for human beings for testing new (or old) food products. I tested the ability of an Escherichia coli bacteria strain to grow in a Coca Cola medium. I then determined whether the bacteria preferred Coke or Pepsi.

Getting E. coli to grow on Coke
E. coli are finicky eaters. To grow them under laboratory conditions sometimes involves following elaborate recipes. To test E. coli‘s preference for one versus another cola product, I first had to create a suitable growth medium.  I adapted a well-established formula, similar to that for Gatorade. It provides sugar for energy and various salts and metabolites required for growth. I added a solidifying agent, so the bacteria could be purified to single colonies in a Petri dish. Because the two main ingredients of Coca Cola are water and high-fructose corn syrup, I simply replaced the formula’s prescribed water and sugar components with an equivalent volume of soda.

My “soda medium” had an additional benefit: E. coli cannot grow in pure Coke because of the acidity (pH of ~2-3). In my medium, the salts buffered the solution to the nearly neutral pH of approximately 6.5-7.

Figure 1. Training E. coli to like Coke. PLATE A: E. coli struggling on a caffeine-free Coca Cola plate. PLATE B: E. coli adapted to Coca Cola (streaked on the lower half of the plate).

I still had to coax the E. coli to grow, though. At first the cells grew quite poorly, and I thought it might have been due to caffeine toxicity. However, when I streaked the cells on a similar medium, but prepared with caffeine-free Coke rather than regular Coke, I got the same results (see Figure 1A). Since I was unable to remove any of the other potentially growth-inhibitory ingredients (e.g. caramel color or the mysterious “natural flavors,” which the Coca-Cola Company declines to identify), I hoped the cells could be trained to eat, and perhaps even enjoy, Coke. Happily, when I used cells that had been previously grown on the Coca Cola medium, I was able to obtain discrete colonies (see Figure 1B). This suggests that Coca Cola is an acquired taste.

The Pepsi Challenge
Once I had the bacteria cells growing on soda, I tested to see whether they preferred Coke or Pepsi. I inoculated the E. coli into liquid media made from each beverage, and then tracked their growth over the course of the day. I used a spectrophotometer to measure the density of cells in the tubes over time.

The results of the experiment are shown in Figure 2. Clearly, the bacteria grow faster on Pepsi than on Coke. On solid plates, the E. coli also formed larger colonies on the Pepsi medium than on the Coke medium (data not shown).

Figure 2. Growth of E. coli (strain MG1655) in caffeine-free Coca Cola medium vs. caffeine-free Pepsi Cola medium. The results are an average of three independent trials with error bars representing the standard error of the mean.

I have shown that, when given a choice between Coke and Pepsi, E. coli prefer Pepsi. It is also interesting to note that, although the bacteria were initially trained to like Coke, they still preferred the competition.

I thank the Kuzminov Lab for use of their reagents and equipment, as well as Brian Budke for helping to measure the growing cultures. I also thank Caryn Wadler for her assistance in making the stuffed bug.


The article above is from the January-February 2007 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

24 Jun 07:01

Vertical Street View of the world’s most iconic rock wall: Yosemite’s El Capitan

by Google Blogs

I wish I could climb like a girl...

Today we’re launching our first-ever vertical Street View collection, giving you the opportunity to climb 3,000 feet up the world’s most famous rock wall: Yosemite’s El Capitan. To bring you this new imagery, we partnered with legendary climbers Lynn Hill, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell. Read more about the project from Tommy Caldwell, who completed the world’s hardest climb in Yosemite in January of 2015. -Ed.

“That is awesome. I definitely have to be a part of that.”

Maybe it was the sheer exhaustion from being in the middle of a 19-day climb of the Dawn Wall, but when the guys at Google Maps and Yosemite National Park asked if I wanted to help them with their first-ever vertical Street View collection of El Capitan in Yosemite, I didn’t hesitate. Yosemite has been such an important part of my life that telling the story of El Capitan through Street View was right up my alley—especially when it meant working with the Google engineers to figure out some absurd challenges.

Climbing is all about flirting with the impossible and pushing the boundaries of what you think you can be done. Capturing Street View imagery 3,000 feet up El Capitan proved to be an extension of that, especially when you take a camera meant for the inside of a restaurant and mount it thousands of feet up the world’s most iconic rock wall.
Brett Lowell and Corey Rich capturing Street View of Alex Honnold on the King Swing

Doing anything thousands of feet high on a sheer granite face is complicated, but everyone up there had spent years of their lives on a rope and knew exactly what they were doing. After some testing, we used our tried-and-true climbing gear like cams and ropes to make sure the camera wouldn’t fall to the ground in the middle of our Street View collection.

Once we figured out how to keep the camera on El Cap, we created two sets of vertical Street View. First, we collected Street View of legendary Yosemite climbers—and my good friends—Lynn Hill and Alex Honnold in iconic spots up the sheer vertical face.

Lynn Hill’s ascent of El Capitan changed the paradigm of climbing, and she had an extraordinary effect on my climbing career. I’ll never forget when she became the first person, man or woman, to free-climb (using only her hands and feet) “The Nose” back in 1993. Now, you can see her navigate these epic moves— like climbing sideways on tiny holds of the Jardine Traverse, inventing a “Houdini” maneuver on the Changing Corners and traversing under the Great Roof.

Any story of El Capitan had to include my good friend Alex Honnold. He holds the speed record for climbing the Nose at 2 hours and 23 minutes - most people take 3-5 days. His unwavering confidence in himself is contagious; when I’m with him, I feel like the mountain has shrunk to half its size. As you make your way around Yosemite in Street View, you’ll see Alex doing what he does best: chimneying up the “Texas Flake,” racing up the bolt ladder, or getting dinner ready in the solar-powered van he calls home.

You’ll also see a glimpse of yours truly on the Dawn Wall. I spent some of my rest days during my January climb of the Dawn Wall testing out the Street View technology the Google team had sent me that month. El Cap is an intimidating environment for experimentation, but years of setting ropes proved pretty helpful in figuring out how to get the equipment rigged and ready to collect Street View.

Then, we really put Alex to work to collect the second set of Street View: the entire vertical route of “The Nose” on El Capitan. One of the few people that could do this efficiently and quickly, Alex took the camera and pretty much ran 3,000 feet up with photographer partner Brett Lowell. Now, anyone can get the beta (climbing speak for insider advice) before they climb the entire route.

Lynn, Alex and I also helped create a new Yosemite Treks page, where you can take a tour up El Cap and learn more about climbing, from what a “hand jam” is to why we wear such tiny shoes. And as a father, I’m excited kids will learn more about Yosemite when Google brings students to the park through NatureBridge later this year as a part of this project. Plus, its pretty awesome that students who can’t make it to Yosemite yet will be able to go on a virtual reality field trip to the Park with Google Expeditions.

Yosemite’s driven so much of my life that I’m excited to be able to share it with the world through my eyes. These 360-degree panoramic images are the closest thing I’ve ever witnessed to actually being thousands of feet up a vertical rock face—better than any video or photo. But my hope is that this new imagery will inspire you to get out there and see Yosemite for yourself… whether you travel up a rock wall or just down the trail.

Posted by Tommy Caldwell
23 Jun 20:00

A big new study looks at federal energy-efficiency efforts — and the results are grim

by Brad Plumer

In climate-policy circles, energy efficiency has long been considered the ultimate free lunch. There are, in theory, lots of opportunities to upgrade our insulation, our furnaces, our appliances so that we're squandering less energy. Not only would boosting efficiency cut down on pollution, but we'd actually save money over time. Everyone wins.

Except ... what if energy-efficiency policies aren't always as cost-effective as everyone assumes?

That's a question raised in a new working paper by Meredith Fowlie, Michael Greenstone, and Catherine Wolfram. The economists conducted a large randomized controlled trial of 30,000 homes in Michigan involving the federal Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps low-income families replace their furnaces, upgrade insulation, and seal up leaks along doors and windows. This experimental set-up allowed for a more rigorous evaluation of weatherization efforts.

The researchers found that the upfront cost of efficiency upgrades in the Michigan program came to about $5,000 per house, on average. But their central estimate of the benefits only amounted to about $2,400 per household, on average, over the lifetime of the upgrades.**

The program did help households save energy: after the upgrades, homes used 10 to 20 percent less energy for electricity and heating. But, notably, that was less than half of the savings that had been predicted beforehand.

One possibility is that households compensated for their reduced utility bills by increasing their energy consumption after the upgrades. But the economists didn't find evidence of a "rebound effect" here — they went knocking door to door and found little sign that people were, say, cranking up their thermostats in the winter.

"We were very surprised by the result," says Greenstone, an economist and director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. He notes that it's still not entirely clear why Michigan's weatherization program didn't save nearly as much energy as had been predicted — a fact he calls "unsettling."

Now, to be clear, this study only examined federal weatherization efforts in a single state, and these results don't necessarily apply to all types of residential efficiency efforts. For one, federal weatherization programs can vary from state to state. What happens in Michigan may not apply to New Jersey.

What's more, experts note that low-income weatherization programs aren't always designed to be as cost-effective as possible — in part because they have social goals like clearing out mold or helping poor people survive through the winter (this Michigan study didn't assess those benefits). Indeed, past research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that low-income weatherization policies were twice as costly, per unit of electricity saved, as the average utility efficiency program. That suggests the much larger array of utility-run initiatives throughout the country are more likely to be cost-effective.

Still, the results do suggest the need for closer study and field-testing of policies to promote energy efficiency.

Saving energy is great, but how much is really possible?

(John B. Carnett/Popular Science/Getty Images)

Many estimates of the value of energy efficiency come from engineering studies that look at what's possible under ideal conditions. These studies typically suggest that we're wasting a lot of energy in our homes, office buildings, and cars — waste that could be eliminated with existing technology at negative cost. See this big McKinsey report for a great example.

But, Greenstone says, these engineering studies might not always capture the messiness of the real world. It's easy to find ways to cut down on waste in laboratory conditions. But outside the lab, homes might be irregularly shaped, insulation might not always be installed by highly skilled workers, and there are all sorts of human behaviors that might reduce the effectiveness of efficiency investments.

That's why field tests are a valuable check — and randomized controlled trials are considered the gold standard here. This particular RCT, the first of its kind, found that the federal Weatherization Assistance Program only seemed to be saving about 39 percent as much energy in Michigan homes as engineering tests had predicted:


Greenstone cautioned that this study hardly undermines the rationale for every single efficiency policy out there. After all, this study only looked at weatherization efforts in one state. It's entirely possible there are genuine untapped opportunities to reduce energy use and save money elsewhere — in industrial sectors, in transportation, even in other residential programs. But, he says, "this needs to be verified in the field."

It's an important question for climate policy more generally. Energy efficiency is often considered the great low-hanging fruit — the cheapest and easiest policy to reduce CO2 emissions. Peek under the hood of any grand plan for addressing climate change, and you'll usually find that energy efficiency is playing a central role.

And yet, in this particular study, the economists found that the federal home weatherization program was not a particularly cheap way to reduce CO2 emissions. Although energy use (and hence carbon pollution) from the homes studied did go down, it came at a cost of about $329 per ton of carbon. That's much higher than the $38-per-ton value of the social cost of carbon that the US federal government uses to evaluate the costs and benefits of climate policies.

"This underscores the value of field-testing," says Greenstone. "Particularly in a world where economy-wide carbon pricing does not look feasible, we should be redoubling our efforts to find those CO2 reduction measures that have the biggest bang for the buck."


** Note: For those interested, the central estimate of the lifetime benefits for the weatherization program in Michigan was $2,400, assuming a 6 percent discount rate over 16 years. The paper adds: "estimates of the present value of the savings range from approximately $1,450 [10% discount rate over 10 years] to about $3,500 [3% discount rate over 20 years]. These estimates are just 32% to 77% of the upfront cost of the energy efficiency measures."

Further reading:

-- You can read EPIC's summary of the new paper here. And here's a full copy of the paper itself (pdf).

-- On Twitter, energy analyst Chris Nelder takes issue with the study's assumptions about future electricity and natural gas prices in America (see his critique herehereherehereherehere). If you believe those prices are going to rise significantly in the future, then efficiency starts to look like a better bet.

-- Back in 2013, I took a look at the launch of E2e, a joint project between economists at MIT and the University of California Berkeley that aimed to take a more rigorous scientific approach to the concept of energy efficiency. This latest study comes out of that project.

23 Jun 20:04

Jury Awards $2.2 Million to Employees Over DNA Tests in “Devious Defecator” Case

by Mark Joseph Stern

Lawyers are idiots

Atlas Logistics Group Retail Services, a grocery distributor, was concerned when it discovered piles of feces in the aisles of its warehouses—and in its canned goods. So Atlas pressured warehouse workers to submit to a cheek swab, then extracted their DNA and compared it with the DNA found in the excretion. Jack Lowe and Dennis Reynolds, two Atlas workers, hesitantly gave over their DNA to Atlas and were cleared of the crime. They then sued their employer for violating federal law.

On Monday a jury in an Atlanta-based federal district court awarded Lowe and Reynolds a stunning $2.2 million: $475,000 in compensatory damages for mental pain, and $1.75 million in punitive damages as a deterrence to any company thinking about requesting its employers’ genetic material. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg had already ruled that Atlas violated the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, or GINA, when it asked for Lowe and Reynold’s DNA. The astonishing jury award is expected to be lowered on appeal, but Lowe and Reynolds will probably walk away with a healthy sum.

The case—which Totenberg called “the mystery of the devious defecator”—is a helpful lesson in two respects. First, it teaches Atlas that the company must fire its attorneys immediately, because no marginally informed lawyer could possibly sign off on a scheme to collect employees’ DNA. Second, it reminds employers across the country that, yes, asking employers to turn over genetic material is totally illegal. Under GINA, no employer may “request, require, or purchase genetic information with respect to an employee.” That broad wording ensures that even when a poop bandit is on the loose in a food warehouse, management is absolutely barred from whipping out the DNA swabs.

Silly as this “devious defecator” case may seem, GINA is actually an incredibly important nondiscrimination law. Without GINA, employees might be terrified to take doctor-mandated genetic tests, for fear that an employer would request the results—and fire them if they were likely to fall seriously ill. Atlas may have only used Lowe and Reynolds’ DNA to absolve them of the poop crime. But once it had their genetic information, the company could map out their likely biological destinies. GINA is really a civil rights law for the 21st century. And as Monday’s verdict proves, the law is doing its job commendably. 

23 Jun 19:20

Huckabee Gets Trolled On Facebook

by Joe Jervis
Talking Points Memo reports that things went "hilariously off the rails" after Mike Huckabee offered to answer Facebook users' questions about his presidential campaign. See the thread.
23 Jun 12:15

Pre-Flight Checklist: Remove Cat

by Joe Jervis
Via the Guardian:
A cat has escaped with at least one of its nine lives after stowing away on an ultra-light aircraft flight. A video has been posted on YouTube of the cat digging its claws into the aircraft’s wing as its pilot and passenger fly hundreds of feet above the ground at first apparently unaware of its presence. Romain Jantot, understood to be the pilot in the clip, cites a flying club in Kourou, French Guiana, in the film’s description. “A standard flight until … I still don’t know if it got in after the pre-flight check or if I missed it,” he says. “The cat is doing well, she is still our mascot.” All appears well and cat-free as the aircraft accelerates on the runway and begins its takeoff. But about 38 seconds into the clip, the cat slowly creeps into view under the plane’s left wing, making its way towards the pilot and passenger with a sinister slow crawl. Just after a minute has passed, the pilot’s shock is clear as he notices the windswept stowaway. Never before has a man’s face said “there’s a cat on the wing of my plane” with such unequivocal clarity.
Over 7M views already. The pilot's double-take is great.
22 Jun 17:10

The Charleston newspaper put the 9 victims — not the alleged killer — on the front page

by Libby Nelson

Newspapers around the world gave front-page space on Sunday to the racist manifesto believed to be from Dylann Roof, who police say killed nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

But not the front page of the Post and Courier, Charleston's newspaper, which made a powerful statement by focusing on the nine victims who lost their lives:

(Post and Courier)

It's a stark and lovely memorial to nine people whose deaths have often been overshadowed by the focus on the man accused of their murder.

(h/t Front Page of the Day)

WATCH: Seven mass shootings, seven distraught Obama speeches
17 Jun 15:34

Boy Who Lost Stuffed Tiger At Airport Finds Tiger Stayed Very Busy

by Bill Chappell
Hobbes the tiger surveys the scene at Tampa International Airport, where he was briefly stranded.

Hobbes the tiger surveys the scene at Tampa International Airport, where he was briefly stranded.

Tampa International Airport

If a boy named Owen suspects his stuffed tiger named Hobbes has a secret life, the staff of Tampa International Airport won't disagree. Owen recently lost Hobbes at the airport — and when he reclaimed the tiger, he also received photos of Hobbes touring the facility.

Owen, 6, had flown from Florida to Texas. His mother, Amanda Lake, says that for much of the trip, Owen was preoccupied with whether his tiger was OK.

"Hobbes is one of a kind. He was made by hand by his aunt who lives in Houston," Lake tells the Tampa Bay Times.

Not only was Hobbes OK, but after he was found by the airport's janitorial crew, the operations staff decided to take the tiger for some gelato and on behind-the-scenes tours of the airport. Hobbes also stopped by a hotel and played Jenga.

Hobbes poses for a photo with a member of the airport's tarmac emergency crew. The tiger was safely reunited with his young owner — along with a photo album of his exploits.

Hobbes poses for a photo with a member of the airport's tarmac emergency crew. The tiger was safely reunited with his young owner — along with a photo album of his exploits.

Tampa International Airport

When Owen returned from Texas, he was reunited with Hobbes and given a bound book of photographs that showed what his tiger had been up to.

It was all the brainchild of Airport Operations Center Manager Tony D'Aiuto, who says he used a coupon to make the photo book at a drugstore. The story is drawing wide attention — after all, it's rather rare to see a heartwarming story emerge from an airport, particularly at the start of the summer travel season.

"It was very, very sweet," Lake said in a news release from the airport. "We already told him over and over that Hobbes was on an adventure so it was nice to get back and show him that Hobbes really had been on an adventure.

"Thank you to everyone at Tampa International Airport who took such great care of Hobbes. It was such a nice surprise."

On the airport's Facebook post about the story, the top-rated comment is from a woman who wrote, "What a great story. What a great airport" — to which the airport replied, "Thanks mom!"

Owen, 6, is reunited with his tiger, Hobbes. He had left the stuffed animal at the airport.

Owen, 6, is reunited with his tiger, Hobbes. He had left the stuffed animal at the airport.

Tampa International Airport
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit
19 Jun 16:10

Lifting a 2-ton taxi in Manhattan is easy, if you know how

by Margarita Noriega

The Super Strong Meter Maid — a.k.a. actress Jenni Ruiza — is strong enough to lift a two-plus-ton taxi, so long as a few parts are removed:


The video racked up more than 750,000 views in four days on YouTube. Ruiza's uplifting feat is as enjoyable to watch as the hilarious shocked reactions from Manhattan pedestrians. My personal favorite moment is the man explaining it to a person on the phone — he can hardly get the words out without screaming in joyous laughter.

Ruiza's extensive experience creating parodies and pranks for the Internet is worth review, so I asked Jenni how she worked with Thinkmodo's Michael Krivicka and Did That Just Happen to pull off the Meter Maid prank, which is so mad-science-meets-Manhattan:

Margarita Noriega:How did you prepare for the role?

Jenni Ruiza:This is going to sound crazy, but I go to the gym pretty regularly, and once it started getting closer to the shoot date I just stopped working out, knowing I'd be getting a crazy workout on my arms!

Margarita Noriega: It was a fake car, right? I mean, how heavy was it?

Jenni Ruiza:Well, yes and no. It was a shell of a car where the motor was removed. It was designed specifically for the shoot. There were, I think, 5 tons of weight added to the back of the taxi that made lifting it feel like picking up my 30-pound dog.

Margarita Noriega: What were the responses like?

Jenni Ruiza:People were really amazed that I picked the car up, so I got a lot of high-fives, some fun choice words and expletives (which I welcomed).

20 Jun 00:58

Cat Wins 'Hero Dog' Award

by Barbara Campbell
Tara is top dog, so to speak, after winning a hero award for rescuing her young owner from a canine attack last year.

Tara is top dog, so to speak, after winning a hero award for rescuing her young owner from a canine attack last year.

Richard Vogel/AP

Tara, a tabby from Bakersfield, Calif., has won an honor that so routinely goes to that other kind of pet, it's known as the Hero Dog award. This time, the Society for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles had to scratch out "dog," and etch "cat" on the trophy instead.

Who can forget Tara swinging into action in a viral video from home security cameras last year?

Tara, a 7-year-old cat, is still keeping a watchful eye over Jeremy Triantafilo.

Tara, a 7-year-old cat, is still keeping a watchful eye over Jeremy Triantafilo.

Richard Vogel/AP

The dog from next door had crept up on Tara's owner 4-year-old Jeremy Triantafilo as he played on his bike in the driveway. The intruder clamped his teeth into Jeremy's leg and began to drag him. Tara dashed to the rescue, body-slammed the dog, and chased him off the scene.

Jeremy needed eight stitches in his leg, and says of Tara, "She is my hero."

AP reports:

"You will usually find Tara close to Jeremy, his father said.

" 'The neighbor kids come over and play with her. Dogs walk by all the time. She gets along fine with our dog, Maya. But if Jeremy falls off his bike, she comes running. If he starts crying, she comes running,' Triantafilo said. He believes Tara would help Jeremy's twin brothers, Carson and Conner, if they needed it. She's grown up with all of them. But there is no question she is partial to Jeremy, he said. Jeremy and Tara spend a lot of time walking around and talking with one another."

In addition to the award, Tara wins a year's supply of cat food and probably many more Internet views.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit
18 Jun 04:16

dunplease: you are missing out on great tweets if you don’t...


you are missing out on great tweets if you don’t follow cher

16 Jun 15:00

Must… Return…

by BD


16 Jun 17:47

Wisdom from The Donald

HARD as it may be to believe, Donald Trump’s announcement on June 16th that he is running for president as a Republican is the first time that the property tycoon and media bon vivant has launched an official campaign. Mr Trump has flirted with making a bid for the White House on several occasions in the past, notably in the 2012 election. At the time he strongly aligned himself with the “Birther” wing of the party, causing a stir by continually pushing the issue when even the most ardent doubters had accepted that, yes, Barack Obama was born in America. He decided not to join the race officially in May 2011, but said he still had a “strong conviction” that he could win the nomination. A poll in April 2011 showed him leading the Republican field. So what might we expect from a President Trump? We think the quotes speak for themselves.

15 Jun 14:20

Elizabeth Smart: Cultural Obsession With Purity Makes Rape Victims Feel “Worthless”

Kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart’s remarks about her religious upbringing have been widely reported to be a criticism of abstinence-only sex ed, but a full review of the speech she delivered last week, now online on a local news station’s website, reveals that Smart blamed the conservative cultural emphasis on sexual purity as a reason why many sexually abused captives feel too traumatized to escape their kidnappers.

Smart spoke candidly Wednesday about how the lessons of her conservative Mormon upbringing left her feeling “dirty and filthy” and of no value to society after she was raped at the hands of her captors as a 14-year-old.

“I’ll never forget how I felt lying there on the ground,” Smart said at a human trafficking and sexual violence conference at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore last week. “I felt like my soul had been crushed. I felt like I wasn’t even human anymore. How could anybody love me, or want me or care about me? I felt like life had no more meaning to it, and that was only the beginning of my nine months of captivity.”

Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home in June 2002 by a drifter named Brian David Mitchell, who held the teenage girl hostage for nine months with the help of his wife, Wanda Barzee. Mitchell claimed that Smart was his “second wife” and raped her repeatedly until she was found by police in March 2003.

Citing her own experience, Smart, now an advocate for missing and exploited children, described why so many kidnappees, especially those who have been sexually abused, don’t attempt to escape their captors:

“I think it goes even beyond fear, for so many children, especially in sex trafficking. It’s feelings of self-worth. It’s feeling like, ‘Who would ever want me now? I’m worthless.’

That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. I was raised in a very religious household, one that taught that sex was something special that only happened between a husband and a wife who loved each other. And that’s how I’d been raised, that’s what I’d always been determined to follow: that when I got married, then and only then would I engage in sex.

After that first rape, I felt crushed. Who could want me now? I felt so dirty and so filthy. I understand so easily all too well why someone wouldn’t run because of that alone.”

Smart said she was raised to believe that her virginity was “the most special thing” and described how her childhood self viewed her rape as something that “devalued” her. “Can you imagine turning around and going back into a society where you’re no longer of value?” she asked the audience. “Where you’re no longer as good as everybody else?”

Years of abstinence-only sex education fueled her sense of unworthiness after she was raped, Smart said as she recalled a teacher who compared sex to chewing gum. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum, you throw it away.’ And that’s how easily it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” she said. “Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

“That’s terrible,” Smart said as she remembered her teacher’s words. “Nobody should ever say that.”

The best thing we can do to prevent children from becoming a victim to sexual abuse, trafficking or kidnapping, Smart explained, is to teach them from an early age that they are worthy of love regardless of what happens to them. “You have value,” she said. “You will always have value and nothing can change that.”

15 Jun 12:40

What US states look like based on their economic size, mapped

by Margarita Noriega

Thematic maps.

What if we measured state boundaries based on economic and population growth, and not borders? Fixr's map of state GDP per capita lets us visually compare the concentration of economic activities in relation to population. For example, you can see that Northeastern states are far ahead of the rest of the country in terms of GDP per capita: from U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis/ Department of Commerce

US GDP for states.

Setting aside population, which may or may not be the best method to review economic growth, let's look at state-specific GDP growth between 2013 and 2014. This tells us how states are faring over the most recently available year's data. California, West Virginia, Wyoming, Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Oregon, and Washington all showed strong gross state product (GSP) growth in the past year:

U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

Annual percentage of change in real GDP by state, 2013-2014.

Alaska and Mississippi, on the other hand, saw their state GSPs shrink.

15 Jun 13:20

The secret to great Renaissance art: tracing

by Phil Edwards

We take for granted that Renaissance artists drew their masterpieces freehand in a few strokes of genius. But the truth is they had tricks — including tracing.

Called "cartoons" by art historians (from the Italian word for a large sheet of paper) these sketches allowed them to create test versions that they could later imprint directly onto an artwork. We still have some Renaissance masters' first drafts today.

For example, take Raphael's classic fresco "The School of Athens." Use the slider below to alternate between the cartoon and the final iconic painting:

It's easy to assume these drawings were just studies for the final painting, but a new video by the Getty Museum makes the process clear enough for the layperson to understand. Artists actually used sketches to trace a drawing onto the painting itself. As the video describes, we know that this happened because infrared imagery has revealed them underneath works of art, along with old examples that have survived to the present. The process works similar to the carbon copies we use today.

An artist began with a drawing on paper. They then placed a sheet of paper covered with black chalk between it and the canvas and used a stylus to trace the drawing. The pressure transferred the black chalk onto the canvas.

The transfer process.

Getty Museum

The transfer process.

Cartoons weren't just common — they were even reused in different paintings. The same way Disney animators reused cel animation, Renaissance painters reused their cartoons. As the Getty Museum points out in the video, it's possible to spot the same drapery outline in several different paintings here:

A cartoon used three different times.

Getty Museum

A cartoon used three different times.

These sketches allowed for a basic structure that an artist or assistant could use — either as a straight copy or for an improvisation based on the original drawing.

Tracing was just one of the tools great artists used to create some of the world's classic paintings. They almost certainly used special reflective devices and curved mirrors to make more accurate drawings, as well.

To see more detail about the tracing process, check out the Getty Museum's full video: