17 Depressing AF Science And Health Stories From 2017


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1. Local weather change skeptics had extra affect than ever on the US federal authorities.

Pool / Getty Photographs

President Trump indicators an Vitality Independence Government Order with: Mike Pence, Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, and Rick Perry.

Donald Trump made his opinion of worldwide warming clear in 2012, when he tweeted that it “was created by and for the Chinese language with the intention to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

As president, Trump has packed his administration with leaders who’ve expressed doubts concerning the existence or depth of synthetic local weather change, together with: Vice President Mike Pence, Legal professional Normal Jeff Periods, DOE chief Rick Perry, and EPA head Scott Pruitt.

In the meantime, the Heartland Institute — a controversial free-market assume tank that argues world warming has been “exaggerated” and that carbon emissions do not should be curbed — has been strategizing additional affect the administration, notably eliminating the “endangerment discovering” that enables the EPA to deal with carbon as an air pollutant.

2. Bogus local weather tales shortly went viral, however their debunks did not.

In February, Britain’s Mail on Sunday triggered a blitz in conservative media retailers by publishing a narrative claiming that US authorities scientists had used flawed world warming information. Seven months later, the newspaper admitted that it had the story flawed. However the debunk didn’t make the identical splash as the unique report — not even shut. A BuzzFeed Information evaluation confirmed that the debunking articles had been solely shared about one-quarter as a lot because the bogus story was.

three. The Trump administration gutted a bunch of insurance policies meant to struggle in opposition to local weather change.

George Frey / Getty Photographs

It has been fairly a 12 months for US local weather change insurance policies, with the Trump administration rolling again a bunch of environmental laws within the identify of serving to the economic system. Goodbye to the Paris Settlement, the Local weather Motion Plan, the Clear Energy Plan, local weather advisory teams, and even the phrases “local weather change” on some federal web sites.

four. 5 harmful accidents occurred at BP’s oil and gasoline operations in Alaska this 12 months.

BuzzFeed Information / Getty Photographs

The oil big BP has seen a collection of headline-making accidents within the final couple of a long time. In 2005, 15 folks died from explosions at a Texas refinery. The subsequent 12 months, a spill in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, led to thousands and thousands of in charges. And in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform off the coast of Louisiana noticed the most important oil spill in US historical past, killing 11 employees.

Between the excessive fines and PR issues, BP would have a tricky time surviving one other accident on that scale. And but, BP Alaska noticed at the least 27 accidents in 2017, together with 5 that risked employees’ lives. Inner emails, recordings, interviews, and different documentation obtained by BuzzFeed Information present how its executives are struggling to fend off a disaster. “We should change now; we should have a reset,” one electronic mail stated.

From January by means of November 2017, temperatures within the contiguous U.S. had been the third warmest on document (simply behind 2015 and 2016), based on NOAA.

Temperatures within the Arctic had been the second-highest ever recorded, and Arctic sea ice ranges reached a brand new low within the winter of 2017, falling some 1.2 million sq. miles in need of previous winters. Sea ice in Antarctica, too, reached historic lows, though it is much less clear how this could be associated to local weather change.

A warming Arctic threatens the way forward for the polar bears, which stand on sea ice whereas looking. (Earlier this month, a video of a ravenous bear went viral — however some scientists identified that the bear may have simply been sick or injured.)

Scientists additionally found this 12 months that the rise of carbon dioxide within the environment could make wheat, rice, and different crops much less nutritious.

6. Hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires wreaked havoc on the US and Caribbean.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Photographs

A wildfire consumes a barn on October 9, 2017 in Glen Ellen, California.

Local weather change can also be making excessive floods, wildfires, and hurricanes extra seemingly. Though it is tough to say whether or not world warming drove any of the actual disasters of 2017, there have been actually loads of them. Hurricane Harvey drowned Houston, killing dozens, damaging 13 poisonous waste websites, floating hearth ant colonies, and releasing greater than 5 million kilos of pollution. Irma tore by means of the Caribbean and Florida, killing dozens and leaving thousands and thousands with out energy. And Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, inflicting many extra deaths than the official depend and the most important blackout in US historical past.

Intense wildfires blazed by means of the Western US, destroying hundreds of houses and companies in California and leaving many struggling to breathe. And within the span of simply two weeks, Mexico was shook by two huge earthquakes, crumbling buildings and killing lots of.

(There’s one constructive approach to take a look at the 12 months in pure disasters: Though the US, Mexico, and Caribbean had been hit notably laborious this 12 months, should you have a look at the worldwide numbers, 2017’s disasters really induced fewer deaths than in most different years in current historical past.)

7. This 12 months noticed a resurgence of the antivax motion.

Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Photographs

Andrew Wakefield and his spouse, Carmel

Trump seems to be the primary US president skeptical of vaccines, or at the least sympathetic to those that imagine that the signature public well being achievement of the 20th century may very well be harmful.

“If I had been President I’d push for correct vaccinations however wouldn’t permit one time huge photographs small baby can’t take – AUTISM,” he tweeted in 2014.

Wholesome younger baby goes to physician, will get pumped with huge shot of many vaccines, would not really feel good and adjustments – AUTISM. Many such instances!

In January of this 12 months, earlier than Trump was even sworn in, a number one vaccine critic, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., claimed that the president-elect had chosen him to steer a committee on vaccine security. A month later, Kennedy and actor Robert De Niro introduced a problem — with a $100,000 prize — to show the security of vaccines. (A slew of research have already debunked the hyperlink between autism and vaccines.)

Though that vaccine fee has but to materialize (and Kennedy advised STAT in August that he hadn’t spoken to Trump about it since February), the antivax motion is not going anyplace. This fall, the world’s most well-known antivaxxer, disgraced physician Andrew Wakefield, starred in a brand new documentary. The Pathological Optimist is a provocative have a look at how Wakefield turned a martyr — and the way he nonetheless manages to herald donations, even after his work has been discredited.

Eight. In the meantime, a measles outbreak hit Minnesota.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Photographs

The CDC recorded 120 measles instances this 12 months in 15 states (as of December 2), nearly all of which had been unvaccinated. The biggest outbreak occurred in Minnesota, pushed by vaccination fears amongst Somali immigrants. A scientific report in October discovered that, of the 1,789 US measles instances reported to the CDC between 2001 and 2015, nearly 70% had been unvaccinated folks.

(Measles information seems higher globally: the variety of deaths from measles dropped to an all-time low in 2016, to about 90,000.)

9. Scientific misconduct tainted Brian Wansink’s headline-grabbing analysis on the psychology of consuming.

Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Photographs

It has not been a great 12 months for Cornell meals psychology researcher Brian Wansink. Impartial researchers started digging into — and running a blog about — inconsistencies in at the least 50 of his papers, spurring journalists to do the identical. Wansink has had 4 full retractions this 12 months and at the least eight corrections, and Cornell has launched an investigation into his work.

BuzzFeed Information reported that Wansink’s Smarter Lunchrooms Motion — a $22 million federally funded program that used his analysis as the premise of well being consuming methods in 30,000 faculties — drew upon flawed research. A type of papers, about whether or not an Elmo sticker may make a child select an apple over a cookie, ended up being retracted as soon as for statistical errors, and a second time as a result of it was really accomplished on toddlers, not Eight-11 12 months olds. In but different work, Wansink bizarrely acquired the identical variety of responses to what gave the impression to be very completely different surveys.

The general public reckoning of Wansink’s work, different researchers say, is emblematic of psychological analysis as a complete. As Stephanie Lee wrote in one of many Wansink tales:

To outdoors scientists, it reeked of statistical manipulation — that the info had been sliced and diced a lot that the outcomes had been simply false positives. It’s an issue that has cropped up repeatedly in social science analysis, and rising variety of scientists are attempting to deal with by replicating research and calling out errors on social media.

10. Alex Jones and Gwyneth Paltrow offered the identical unproven dietary dietary supplements.

Brooks Kraft / Getty Photographs and Michael Buckner / Getty Photographs

Alex Jones and Gwyneth Paltrow

Quartz revealed probably the most miserable (and, let’s admit, most enjoyable) tales of the 12 months by evaluating the merchandise offered on the “wellness” empires of the left — Moon Juice and Goop — and the conspiracy-laced Infowars. As they described the mission:

We at Quartz have created a compendium, from Ashwagandha to zizyphus, of the magical therapeutic components either side of the political spectrum are shopping for, and the way they’re introduced to every. We seemed on the components utilized in merchandise offered on the Infowars store, and compared them to products on the wellness shops Moon Juice and Goop. All make similar claims about the health benefits of these ingredients, but what gets called “Super Male Vitality” by Infowars is branded as “Sex Dust” by Moon Juice.

11. An alarming number of women — especially black women — died during pregnancy and childbirth.

In a shocking series, ProPublica and NPR showed that the US maternal mortality rate is the highest among developed countries, and that black mothers are hit especially hard, dying about three to four times the rate of white mothers. What’s more, pregnant women — white or black — who deliver at “black-serving” hospitals have a higher rate of complications than those who deliver elsewhere.

Black babies, too, are dying at an appalling rate, about twice that of white babies, as reported by The Nation.

12. Superbugs were still super scary.

Antibiotics are becoming less effective as bacteria develop resistance against them, leading to a resurgence of dangerous infections. Gonorrhea, for example, is becoming harder to kill, with three countries (France, Spain, and Japan) reporting strains of the virus that are “untreatable.” Syphilis, a deadly STI that was close to cured 15 years ago, is also making a comeback. As the New York Times reported in August, the opioid epidemic has fueled people to trade sex for drugs, spurring a syphilis outbreak in Oklahoma.

The search for effective ways to kill superbugs has gotten so desperate that the US Navy is building a library of 300 sewer viruses that could be deployed in a century-old approach known as phage therapy.

Another year, another round of stories of controversial medical treatments that could bring harm to patients.

At one Florida clinic, doctors took fat cells from patients’ bellies and injected them into their eyeballs, an experimental therapy for macular degeneration. Three of these women went blind. At another clinic, also in Florida, a rogue doctor teaches parents how to give poop transplants to their children with autism.

And in 36 states, dentists and orthodontists lodged complaints against SmileDirectClub, an online upstart that offers DIY braces at a fraction of the cost of a typical orthodontist, claiming that this service risks patients’ oral health. In response, the company threatened legal action against the dentists who criticized it.

14. US airspace was (still) buzzing with surveillance aircraft operated for law enforcement and the military.

Following 2016’s explosive story about aerial surveillance by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, this year BuzzFeed News revealed other eyebrow-raising examples of government and military spy planes hiding from public scrutiny. A US Marshals plane, for example, circled above Eldorado, Mexico, while Mexican authorities captured the bodyguard of a key figure in the drug trade. Another plane, operated by an obscure company in Oklahoma, ran military exercises over Phoenix and analyzed traffic patterns in Wilmington, North Carolina.

BuzzFeed News science reporter Peter Aldhous found all of these hidden planes by developing a machine-learning algorithm. Read more about how he did it here.

15. The opioid epidemic got even worse, spurring a debate about chronic pain.

Eric Ogden for BuzzFeed News

As the US opioid epidemic gets worse, a nasty, high-stakes debate has erupted about how doctors should treat people with chronic pain. Reacting to new guidelines from the CDC, some doctors have swiftly taken these patients off of opioid medications, throwing them into horrible withdrawal symptoms and leading some to consider suicide.

“Underneath the animus, almost everyone agrees, is not so much a clash between the doctors and patients,” writes BuzzFeed News science reporter Dan Vergano. “It’s a medical system, built on 15-minute doctor visits that end with a prescription, that doesn’t effectively treat pain.”

16. Because of opioid overdoses, US lifespan dropped for the second year in a row.


Rates of deadly drug overdoses, by state

In 2016, US lifespan dropped for the second year in a row, to 78.6 years, down from 78.7 in 2015 and 78.9 in 2014. The drop is striking because elderly people in the US are actually living longer than they used to. But young people are dying of drug overdoses in staggering numbers.

“Basically, good things are happening to old people, while bad things are happening to young ones,” one expert told BuzzFeed News.

17. Mass shootings got worse.

In October, a shooter killed dozens of people in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. As the chart above shows, deaths from mass shootings (defined as single attacks in a public place in which four or more people were shot and killed) are on the rise. But because these events are still relatively rare, there hasn’t been much research on how to prevent them.

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