Parents who believe that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism do not change their minds even after receiving information from public health researchers refuting the link, according to a new study. For parents with the least favorable attitudes toward vaccines, receiving pro-vaccine information caused a further decrease in intention to vaccinate their children.
The peer-reviewed study, “Effective Messages in Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial,” published in the journal Pediatrics, surveyed 1,759 parents age 18 years and older who have children in their household age 17 years or younger. Parents were randomly assigned to receive one of four interventions: (1) information explaining the lack of evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; (2) Vaccine Information Statements from the CDC that explain both the benefits and risks of a vaccine to vaccine recipients; (3) images of children who have diseases prevented by the MMR vaccine; and (4) a dramatic narrative about an infant who almost died of measles from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fact sheet.
None of the interventions increased parental intent to vaccinate their children. Parents with the least favorable attitudes towards MMR vaccines showed decreased intent to vaccinate their children after receiving information refuting a causal link to autism. Additionally, parents shown images of sick children increased their belief that vaccines cause autism. The dramatic narrative about an infant in danger increased belief in serious vaccine side effects.
According to a meta-study published in the latest issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) of 21 reduces alcohol-related traffic crashes, alcohol consumption by youth, and long-term negative consequences in adulthood such as drug dependence, suicide, and homicide.
The study, “Case Closed: Research Evidence on the Positive Public Health Impact of the Age 21 Minimum Legal Drinking Age in the United States,” analyzed dozens of peer-reviewed journal articles that evaluated MLDA 21 in the United States or that investigated the potential effects of raising or lowering the MLDA.
The investigation came as a response to advocacy organization Choose Responsibility’s call in 2006 to repeal the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which led all 50 states to establish MLDA 21 or risk losing millions of dollars in federal transportation funds. In 2008, the organization created the Amethyst Initiative, a group of college and university presidents advocating for a lower drinking age of 18. Public health and traffic safety experts responded with dozens of new research papers on MLDA’s effectiveness.
According to study authors William DeJong and Jason Blanchette, researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health and School of Medicine, MLDA 21 has “served the nation well by reducing alcohol-related traffic crashes and alcohol consumption among youths while also protecting drinkers from long-term negative outcomes they might experience in adulthood, including alcohol and other drug dependence, adverse birth outcomes, and suicide and homicide. The evidence is clear that, absent other policy changes and improved enforcement of the nation’s alcohol laws, lowering the legal drinking age would lead to a substantial increase in injuries, deaths, and other negative health-related consequences.”
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) lost 49.7% of its deportation cases in the first four months of the 2014 fiscal year against immigrants in the country illegally, the highest percentage of failed deportation cases since tracking began 20 years ago. The success rates had remained somewhat stable between 1999 (69.9%) and 2011 (70.2%), but in 2012 success rates started to lower.
According to Transaction Records Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, 22,869 people received deportation orders from the United States in the first four months of the 2014 fiscal year for immigration violations. 6,122 people received deportation orders for criminal, national security, or terror charges.
While some people contend that too few immigrants are being deported, others argue that the Obama administration deports too many immigrants, especially for non-criminal offenses. According to the Economist, nine times as many people were deported in 2013 (369,000) than were deported 20 years ago, adding up to almost 2 million people deported during Obama’s presidency.
On Feb. 11, 2014, Attorney General Eric Holder called for an end to felon disenfranchisement in the United States. His speech on criminal justice reform at the Georgetown University Law Center appealed to states that still have some form of permanent disenfranchisement to automatically restore the ability to vote to all people convicted of a felony once they complete their term of incarceration, serve all parole and probation, and pay all fines.
Attorney General Holder stated that “Across this country today, an estimated 5.8 million Americans – 5.8 million of our fellow citizens – are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions. That’s more than the individual populations of 31 U.S. states. And although well over a century has passed since post-Reconstruction states used these measures to strip African Americans of their most fundamental rights, the impact of felony disenfranchisement on modern communities of color remains both disproportionate and unacceptable… It is unwise, it is unjust, and it is not in keeping with our democratic values. These laws deserve to be not only reconsidered, but repealed.”
The Attorney General went on to say that throughout the United States, “2.2 million black citizens – or nearly one in 13 African-American adults – are banned from voting because of these laws. In three states – Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – that ratio climbs to one in five.”
On Feb. 4, 2014 the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report entitled “The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2014 to 2024.” The purpose of the report, according to the CBO, was to provide “baseline projections of what federal spending, revenues, and deficits would look like over the next 10 years if current laws governing federal taxes and spending generally remained unchanged.” Included within the report (p.130-133) was a section on how the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), also known as Obamacare, is projected to affect employment.
Shortly after release of the CBO report, US House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) stated that, “The CBO’s latest report confirms what Republicans have been saying for years now. Under Obamacare, millions of hardworking Americans will lose their jobs and those who keep them will see their hours and wages reduced.”
A Feb. 4, 2014 article published in Forbes stated that the “CBO very clearly states that Obamacare… will reduce employment by as much as 2.5 million jobs over the next ten years.” However, in the Los Angeles Times coverage of the report, they state that “the CBO projects that the act will reduce the supply of labor, not the availability of jobs.”
According to the text of the CBO report itself, Obamacare will cause “a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024… The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in businesses’ demand for labor.”
Opening arguments began on Jan. 27, 2014 in Vergara v. California, a case brought by advocacy organization Students Matter and nine public school students alleging that teacher tenure violates the constitutional rights of students.
Students Matter, an advocacy organization founded by telecommunications entrepreneur David Welch in Nov. 2010 with the goal of “creating positive structural change in the California K-12 public education system,” helped nine students file the case against the state on May 14, 2012. The two largest teachers unions in California, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, chose to join the case as defendants on May 2, 2013.
The case challenges three aspects of California’s Education Code: 1) Laws that effectively guarantee all teachers tenure after an introductory period; 2) Laws that make it difficult to fire ineffective teachers; and 3) Laws that require school districts to make decisions about district-wide layoffs and subsequent reassignments based on teacher seniority instead of classroom performance.
High frequency cell phone use among college students is associated with higher anxiety, lower GPA, and lower overall “satisfaction with life,” according to a Feb. 2014 study in Computers in Human Behavior. On average, students reported spending 278.67 minutes per day using their cell phones and sending 76.68 text messages per day.
The study surveyed 536 undergraduate students at an unidentified public university in the midwestern United States. “Low” cell phone users (under 150 minutes and 30 texts a day) had an average GPA of 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, while “high” cell phone users (over 300 minutes and 80 texts a day) had an average GPA of 2.8, according to Jacob Barkley, Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Kent State University and co-author of the study. High frequency cell phone users also showed higher average anxiety on the Beck Anxiety Inventory, a common multiple-choice test used to evaluate prolonged anxiety. Both GPA and anxiety are significant contributors to overall life satisfaction, according to the study.
"There is growing evidence that college students’ cell phone use is negatively associated with academic performance as well as mental and physical health," according to the study. "Thus, the development and testing of interventions designed to reduce college students’ cell phone use is warranted… [S]tudents should be encouraged to monitor their cell phone use and reflect upon it critically so that it is not detrimental to their academic performance, mental health, and subjective well-being or happiness."
Harry Reid, the US Senate Majority Leader, now favors medical marijuana, according to an interview with the Las Vegas Sun. Reid’s statement came as a response to several Nevada municipalities issuing moratoriums on medical marijuana dispensaries.
When asked about his opinion on whether medical marijuana should be legal Reid said, “if you’d asked me this question a dozen years ago, it would have been easy to answer. I would have said no, because (marijuana) leads to other stuff. But I can’t say that anymore. I think we need to take a real close look at this. I think that there’s some medical reasons for marijuana.”
Reid attributed his changing stance to reading news stories about individuals using marijuana and speaking to people he has known personally who have used marijuana to relieve symptoms associated with seizures, kidney failure, and other “conditions with no other treatment or cure.”
US Drones Killed No More than 4 Civilians in Pakistan in 2013, Lowest Annual Number Ever: UK Group Reports
US drone strikes killed between zero and four civilians in Pakistan during all of 2013, the fewest civilian casualties since the strikes began in 2004 according to the UK’s Bureau of Investigative Journalism. A total of 112-193 militants in Pakistan were allegedly killed by US drone strikes in 2013.
Drones reportedly struck the country 27 times, the lowest number of strikes since 2007 and down from a peak of 128 strikes in 2010. In addition to record-low civilian deaths, the casualty rate – the number of people killed in each strike on average – fell to 4.2, the lowest on record.
Since 2004, Pakistan has been hit by 381 drone strikes in total, the Bureau says, and between 416-951 civilians have been killed compared to a total of 2,121-2,695 militants. President Obama has launched 330 strikes in Pakistan during his presidency (according to the Bureau’s count), while President George W. Bush launched 51 drone strikes.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, several possible factors could be behind the declines, including “improvements in technology since the early years of Bush’s covert drone strikes, rising tensions between Pakistan and the US over the drone campaign, and increasing scrutiny of the covert drone campaign by the international community as well as Washington and Islamabad.”
A Jan. 13, 2014 ruling by Second Judicial Judge Nan G. Nash may make New Mexico the fifth US state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The decision prohibits the prosecution of physicians who help competent terminally ill patients end their lives.
The ruling issued from the Bernalillo County Courthouse stated, “This court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying.” The decision further stated “NMSA 1978 § 30-2-4 [“Assisted Suicide Statute”] therefore violates our State constitution when applied to aid in dying.”
The ACLU and Compassion and Choices filed the lawsuit against New Mexico in Mar. 2012 on behalf of Sante Fe oncologists Katherine Morris, MD, and Aroop Mangalik, MD, and Aja Riggs, a Santa Fe resident in remission from advanced uterine cancer.
"We must learn to welcome rather than fear the voices of dissent. We must dare to think about ‘unthinkable things,’ because when things become ‘unthinkable,’ thinking stops and actions become mindless."
- J. William Fulbright, US Senator (D-AR)
(via Critical Thinking Quote)
In 2013, a year that marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide, 22 states restricted access to abortionaccording to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit reproductive rights think tank.
70 state-level abortion restrictions were enacted in 2013, the second highest number ever enacted in a single year. 2011 holds the record, when 92 laws were enacted in 24 states. There were 205 abortion restrictions enacted during the past three years (2011-2013), surpassing the 189 laws enacted over the entire preceding decade (2001-2010).
The majority of the laws (56%) fell into four categories: bans on abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, laws imposing tougher restrictions on clinics and physicians, limitations on abortion coverage in private insurance plans, and restrictions on the availability of abortion procedures using medication rather than surgery. Other laws included requiring parental involvement in minors’ abortions, limiting public funding of abortion procedures, extending waiting periods, and requiring women to undergo an ultrasound prior to having an abortion, with the option of listening to the fetus’ heartbeat.
The Guttmacher report also noted an increase in states it terms “hostile to abortion rights,” defined as having “at least four types of major abortion restrictions.” 27 states were included in the “hostile” category in 2013, up from 13 in 2000. The proportion of women living in “hostile” states rose from 31% to 51% in the same period.
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