Curious Bends is a weekly newsletter curated by science journalists Akshat Rathi and Vasudevan Mukunth. Subscribe here.
“Over the past few years, the Indian government has been stepping up efforts to reduce tobacco consumption by hiking taxes on cigarettes. In February, finance minister Arun Jaitley proposed raising the duties even further by at least 15%. Despite this, the WHO report shows that the level of tax as a percentage of the price of India’s most popular cigarette brand remains below the recommended 70% mark. Moreover, India’s tobacco taxation system remains convoluted. Cigarettes are taxed based on their length, with longer ones being taxed more. But this has given rise to some innovative attempts by tobacco firms to preserve their profits.” (3 min read, qz.com)
“Reprocessing is hugely expensive; constructing and operating this highly complex facility filled with radiological and chemical hazards costs billions of dollars. The alternative way of dealing with the spent fuel is significantly cheaper. In 2007, economist JY Suchitra and I published a paper in International Journal of Global Energy Issues that used the actual expenditures on the Kalpakkam Reprocessing Plant near Chennai to demonstrate that reprocessing of spent fuel in India costs about 25 times what it would cost to directly dispose it. In a subsequent 2011 paper in the same journal, we showed that the use of plutonium to fuel reactors was also not economical.” (5 min read, economictimes.com)
“Although 97 percent of the 100 studies originally reported statistically significant results, just 36 percent of the replications did. Does this mean that only a third of psychology results are “true”? Not quite. A result is typically said to be statistically significant if its p-value is less than 0.05—briefly, this means that if you did the study again, your odds of fluking your way to the same results (or better) would be less than 1 in 20. This creates a sharp cut-off at an arbitrary (some would say meaningless) threshold, in which an experiment that skirts over the 0.05 benchmark is somehow magically more “successful” than one that just fails to meet it. So Nosek’s team looked beyond statistical significance. They also considered the effect sizes of the studies.” (10 min read, theatlantic.com)
“In reaching Tomioka—badly hit by the tsunami—we found a nearly destroyed town invoking an image of the Apocalypse. All we saw were homes, businesses, and shops as they stood or fell after the tsunami hit and then the radiation struck. There was no sign of life other than decontamination workers going about their grim task. Continuing our journey toward Namie—one of the worst-hit towns, whose boundaries lie about six miles northeast of Fukushima Daiichi at the closest point—we passed through the small villages of Okuma and then Futaba. We continued onward, and edged as close as 1.5 miles from the plant at one spot, but no closer. All roads to the plant from here on were barricaded. Ironically, one banner welcoming visitors to the town read: “Nuclear Power is Our Future.”” (21 min read,thebulletin.org)
“The story of how the bladder bubble inflated and then burst is a classic tale of globalization—of the intersection between monetary policy, financial markets, luxury goods, international regulation, and transnational crime. It’s also an all-too-familiar and depressing environmental tale, because while the bladder trade has endangered the totoaba, it’s driven the vaquita—a tiny porpoise that’s prone to getting tangled up in totoaba nets—almost to extinction. Fortunately for both animals, after years of lax enforcement, the Mexican government is finally cracking down on illegal totoaba fishing in waters the vaquita inhabits.” (11 min read,qz.com)
Chart of the week
“World poverty is on the decline, with less global hunger and more access to education and healthcare, the United Nations trumpeted in a new report on its Millennium Development Goals. But progress on the targets established in 2000 is very slow for women, and especially those in developing regions. “I am keenly aware that inequalities persist and that progress has been uneven,” UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon writes in the introduction to the report. “Progress tends to bypass women and those who are lowest on the economic ladder or are disadvantaged because of their age, disability or ethnicity.”” (qz.com)