The Daily Dose: Children’s health and climate change; Science explains the Star of Bethlehem.

Climate change is real and it is having tangible effects on children around the world. This reality hasn’t been lost on pediatricians whose job it is to ensure their health. They aren’t taking the threat lightly. Per STAT, “Now a new network of pediatricians nationwide is working on a grassroots effort to raise awareness of the effects of climate change on children’s health. Pediatricians participating in the all-volunteer initiative, known as American Academy of Pediatrics’ Chapter Climate Advocates Program, told STAT that the impact is clear, and will become more serious.” This will be helpful from a public health and research perspective.

Keeping on the subject of climate change. One of the issues countries with advanced economies constantly cite is that they will be surrendering more than smaller ones. A study in Nature takes a look at the argument and offers a compromise that may placate stakeholders. “Writing in Nature, Bauer et al. report an analysis of the trade-off between cost and sovereignty for various international climate policies. They conclude that sovereignty concerns can be allayed substantially with only slightly higher global costs by using a strategy in which the carbon price — the charge per tonne of carbon dioxide emissions — is varied modestly to account for each country’s ability to pay.” The proposed plan provides much-needed flexibility for countries to make their own nationally determined contributions. Previous attempts, such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, were too rigid in its demands on sovereign countries.

It’s depressing to still need to disprove COVID-19 misinformation, especially the idea that it is not any more deadly than the flu or the common cold. Yet another study adds to the already significant literature that proves that it is much more deadly. Per DW, “The death rate among hospitalized coronavirus patients is almost three times higher than those with the flu, new research has found. Researchers compared French national data for 89,530 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in March and April this year with 45,819 patients hospitalized with seasonal influenza between December 2018 and the end of February 2019. Some 16.9% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients died during the period of study. This compares to a death rate of 5.8% among those with cases of influenza severe enough to require care in a hospital. Researchers found that more patients with COVID-19 needed intensive care — 16.3% compared with 10.8% for influenza— while the average stay in intensive care was nearly twice as long at 15 days compared to eight days.” How much evidence will it take for COVID-19 deniers to take the disease seriously?

By all counts, free will is one of the defining features of human beings. Religion, philosophy, and science tend to align on this one. Neuroscientists have tried to see what the process of making choices looks like in the brain. A study in PLOS Biology reports that “using rare intracerebral electroencephalography (EEG) recordings in surgical epilepsy patients performing a delayed oculomotor decision task. We find that the temporal dynamics of high-gamma (HG, 60–140 Hz) neural activity in distinct frontal and parietal brain areas robustly discriminate free choice from instructed saccade planning at the level of single trials…. Taken together, these findings provide the first direct electrophysiological evidence in humans for the role of sustained high-frequency neural activation in frontoparietal cortex in mediating the intrinsically driven process of freely choosing among competing behavioral alternatives.”

With Christmas a week away, the story of Jesus’ birth is creeping towards its climax. One important part of the story is the “miraculous” appearance of a bright celestial body in the sky. There may be a scientific explanation for the fabled event. Per the BBC, “Jupiter and Saturn are set to cross paths in the night sky, appearing to the naked eye as a ‘double planet’. The timing of this conjunction, as the celestial event is known, has caused some to suggest it may have been the source of a bright light in the sky 2,000 years ago. That became known as the Star of Bethlehem. The planets are moving closer together each night and will reach their closest point on 21 December.” The question that needs addressing isn’t a scientific one. The question is whether December 25 (give or take a few days) is a valid approximation of the historical Jesus’ birth. It’s commonly suggested that December 25 was actually a compromise by early church leaders so that Christmas coincided with the long-standing festival of Saturnalia.

Thanks for reading. Have a great weekend. Let’s be careful out there.

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