Rather than present two long articles this month we have a wide gamut of topics that we will briefly touch upon. Enjoy!
A recent study entitled "Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities Across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States" highlighted the wide disparity in life expectancy in America. The study found that Asian Americans had the longest life expectancy among the different groups that were analyzed.
This detailed scientific study is published at the Public Library of Science website. To listen to a summary of the study, go to the NPR Science Friday website.
Like many scientific studies that you may hear briefly summarized on the evening news, this study merely tries to correlated and report the differences without answering all the issues of causation. A person listening to just the summary may get the wrong picture of what this study really shows. Anyone that actually has a chance to read the details of the study will be left with many more questions than answers. For example, why is the life expectancy of Asian women living in Bergen County, New Jersey, 91 years when Native American males living in some counties in South Dakota only 58 year? If you are an Asian women thinking about moving to New Jersey, as a result of hearing about this study, you may not truly live to 91 because of the move.
Even the authors' methods of how and why they divided the United States into the eight groupings that they came up with, leaves you with many questions. For example, why did they essentially group Asian Americans across the continental United States in one group while splitting white and black Americans into multiple groups based on geography? The formula that the authors employed to determine the grouping is even more complex than what I just described. To say that Asian Americans have the longest life expectancy is a bit incorrect because some Asian Americans are actually counted in the other groupings. As a result this study seems to be making a comparison of apples and oranges.
The one thing that you can take away from this study is that America is not a monolithic country. It is comprised of a wide range of people that have a very large range of differences between their life expectancy. So the next time you hear that life expectancy is such and such in the United States, keep in mind that this is just an average across the wide variety of different socioeconomic and geographic groupings that make up America.
Hepatitis B and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans
Asian Pacific Americans, especially immigrants, have a higher rate of Hepatitis B infection than the rate among all Americans.
Here are some notes to understanding this article and the articles that we link to.
Some of the statistics found at various websites are in disagreement, but the following are the points of agreement.
- Chronic hepatitis B viral (HBV) infection is defined as someone that continues to be infected for more than six months.
- A large percentage of people that get infected as adults do not become chronic cases. People that get infected, but do not become chronic cases, have immunity to further infection. These people are described as having cleared HBV.
- Carriers are people that can pass on the disease. That includes all infected people that have not yet cleared the disease.
- A large percentage (somewhere around 75 to 80%) of people with liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC) also have chronic hepatitis B infections. The links between the two diseases is not completely understood, but anyone having chronic HBV is advised to get routine checks for liver cancer.
- The spread of HBV from mother to baby usually happens at the time of birth.
- The spread of HBV from mother to baby accounts for most HBV infections in Asian Pacific Islander (API) Americans.
- The younger you are at the time of infection, the higher the chance of becoming chronically infected. As high as 90% of infants that become infected go on to be chronic cases.
- More than 2/3 of HBV cases have no symptoms or might be mistaken for other diseases like the flu. Therefore many people chronically infected with HBV may not know it.
- Anywhere from 100,000 to 130,000 Americans become HBV infected each year.
- Approximately .3% of all Americans have chronic HBV infections.
- 4-10% of API Americans may have chronic HBV infections.
- Approximately 5000 Americans die from HBV associated diseases (liver cancer and cirrhosis) each year.
- HBV is much more infectious than AIDS
- There are HBV screening tests and APIs in particular are advised to take them.
- If you do not have an HBV infection and do not have the HBV antibodies, you are advised to get the HBV vaccine shots.
The Coming Crisis in Citizenship
A Report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute National Civics Literacy Board
The finding of this report looks really bad for college students. If you didn't hear about this report in the news the other day, a group called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) release a report summarizing the results of random tests they conducted with college students across the country.
The ISI conducted tests with college freshman and then with seniors to gauge the amount of history and civics knowledge being learned. The four areas covered by the test were American history; government; America and the world; and the market economy.
The opening paragraph of the report state,
"Today's college students, our nation's future leaders, must understand their nation's history and founding principles if they are to be informed and engaged citizens. They need to understand not only the fundamental institutions and ideals that defined the American founding, but also the more than two centuries of debate and struggle through which Americans have worked out their unique identity as a people. In addition, in this post-9/11 era, it is increasingly necessary that students understand America's relationship to the rest of the world."
I couldn't agree more. However, the underlining point missed by most news media outlets was that all entering freshmen as a whole were deemed by the ISI to have failed the test. Which means that non-college bound citizens were most likely of equal or lesser levels of ignorance. Ideally, shouldn't all citizens "understand their nation's history and founding principles?"
What the study concludes is that college students are not learning any additional history and civics, and in many cases forgetting what they had learned prior to entering. This does not bode well for the general public - are we many times worse since leaving high school?
What is also overemphasized in such a study is the laundry list approach to education. Sure it would be great for all Americans to know a wealth of trivia. But real knowledge is more than just knowing a collection of facts. Perfect spelling for example is not as important as knowing how to use the words properly. All you need is a good dictionary. Likewise knowing all the words to the Declaration of Independence is not as important as knowing the reasons for the creation of the document and its world changing impact.
A life long willingness and skills to learn, along with the resources to help you are just as important. Having gone through a college science program, I can kind of understand how some students may have regressed in fields other than their majors. Since leaving college, I think I've learned and relearned a lot of history and civics knowledge. I realize this may not be the case for the majority of American citizens, but in order to prevent these regressions from happening we need to imbue students with a life long love of learning and the ability to think logically. Uninvolved citizens are more likely apathetic because they don't believe their involvement will make a difference, or are basically too lazy or too busy to learn the issues. For those that do get involved, but choose to remain closed minded or ignorant, having passed a history and civic exam long ago would not significantly make them better citizens.
Be Not Afraid
Upon the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it may be a good time to remind ourselves that the real threats to our lives comes not from terrorist, but from every day activities.
In doing research for this article, I found two well-written pieces. One article by Michael Rothschild (http://www.anxietyandstress.com/sys-tmpl/terrorismandyouwhataretheodds/ second article on this page) for the Washington Post was published back on November 25, 2001 shortly after 9/11. The other article was written more recently by Ronald Bailey (http://www.reason.com/rb/rb081106.shtml) on August 11, 2006 after the capture of some alleged terrorist in England that were accused of plotting to blow up ten commercial airliners.
Rothschild came up with some extreme scenarios of terrorist attacks and calculated the odds of getting killed by one of these acts. The first case is of a person that shops at one mall per week for two hours. With more than 40,000 malls that are open for about 75 hours per week, the odds of dying from a once a week terrorist mall bombing that destroys the entire mall is approximately 1.5 million to 1. Whereas your odds of dying in a car accident on your way to the mall is about 6500 to 1.
Bailey calculates that if terrorist were to carry off one 9/11 type attack per year your odds of dying in such an attack in one year would be about 100,000 to 1.
Your odds of dying from heart disease in 2003 were approximately (290,850,005 / 685,089) 425 to 1. For APIs in 2003 (12,007,985 / 10,163) the odds were 1182 to 1. The odds are probably much worse if you smoke and don't exercise.
As Rothschild states, "People tend to underestimate the probability of a common event's occurring but overestimate the probability of a rare event. These findings may be due in part to the frequency with which we are exposed to news stories about the remote versus the common event."
So Ronald Bailey concludes, "We ultimately vanquish terrorism when we refuse to be terrorized." So be not afraid, but please do get some exercise and quit smoking :).