Monday, October 30, 2006

Striking a blow for food security

This is just wonderful: hunting down wild boars and selling them to Europe. Get rid of a great source of swine viruses (these guys are responsible for PRRS outbreaks, among other things) and make a profit while controlling an invasive species. And they do it for fun!

I don't know why this wasn't posted before, but here it is.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It's the economics, stupid!

Why are stores, restaurants, and farms stressing humane animal conditions? Because doing so will get them more business and a little bit more per unit product. In an industry with miniscule profit margins, customer loyalty and quality bonuses make the difference between making it and making good. In a hard year, they might mean the difference between bankruptcy and paying your creditors.

Yes, I'm sure some of these producers (especially) and executives are doing it to feel good about themselves and their product (I mean animals, whoops!). Good feelings don't pay the mortgage and warm hearts don't heat the offices. Call me a cynic, but they're in it for the money.

Not that that's a bad thing. It allows consumers the choice to be warm and fuzzy about their animal products. I like that. If the results are good, who are we to complain about the motive? (Until, that is, it stops being profitable to be humane . . . good thing the effects of cortisol force a baseline.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

At long last

I meant to write this about 2 weeks ago, when the linked NYT article was fresh and free. Oops.

Fascinating thought: is math gender neutral? According to many men, apparently, it isn't. They seem to think that men are naturally better with numbers than women (in general; of course there are exceptions).

This is important to me because a good deal of epidemiology is numbers and number-crunching. While the pure mathematicians may compare our work to actuarial science, it has its own beauty of formulas, proofs, etc. The beautiful, however, is rarely as useful as the ugly day-to-day applied work; hence, the insulting reference to cubicle mice and their charts. Yes, we do a lot of statistics. We also model.

Digression aside, is mathematics inherently male? I can't really agree with that assessment, but I have no proof. Neither do they, though, and it hasn't stopped them from acting on their belief. Women in the hard sciences do have a harder time than men, and I don't think its just ability. There is bias against the feminine viewpoint, most likely historical in origin. Modern science grew from a source that was even more predominantly male, so it took on male characteristics: single-mindedness, straightforwardness, a boys-club camraderie in conferences and collaborations. Does that mean that science itself, or the math behind it, must be male? Regardless of the answer to the previous question, does that give adequate support for a field producing male PhDs and female lab techs?

Women are discouraged from entering hard science (medicine doesn't count; maternal instincts are in our favor there now). Women are certainly rare in high-level science and mathematics, in comparison to men. Even in my generation, graduate groups are overwhelmingly male on the scientific side. This goes back quite a while; I recently learned (and not from the wiki, don't worry) that Florence Nightingale was rebuffed in an attempt to fund a chair in applied statistics at Oxford, despite being a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. She was a pioneer of epidemiology whose mother didn't want her to study math. Are we producing even more short-sighted mothers and fathers these days, or have we changed the persona of math and science? I'm not optimistic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Buy shares in Radsafe, now!

This article posted today makes a good case for a number of things I believe in: eating local, food safety being to some extent the job of the eater, the undue burden scale-neutral government regulations put on small processors. Not perfect (irradiation is not currently a large-scale option because of unneccesary public fears), but good. Read it.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The beauty of oddity

Writing a paper while at my favorite cafe, I just saw a businessman walk by with a butterfly happily sitting on his lapel, flapping its wings slowly. He watched it bemusedly. His companion, another suit, talked blithely on his cell phone.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm worried about that avian bird flu, myself

NPR is actually worried about the lack of vets in the US. At least, they made a report about it; they even mentioned that the biggest worry is the lack of large animal and public health/government vets. They explained that private practice is more lucrative than the latter.

And they spent as much time talking about a newly dead racehorse.

Interesting stats, like the fact that, for the same number of people, Canada has 4 (soon to be 5) vet schools to California's 2. Mostly, though, a fluff piece of interviewing an overworked small town vet.

Yes, this is a problem. I'm glad they did a piece on it. I wish we could get someone to seriously discuss our options and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! Open some new schools. Expand existing ones. Recruit farm kids and public health-minded students. Change the bias in our profession.

Yes, there is a bias. In the last issue of JAVMA, there was a good article about addressing that bias and getting (and keeping) more food animal-oriented students. It was followed by an article about disaster recovery and the importance of the human-animal bond for Katrina evacuees. 1 sentence about 'oh yes, some large animals were affected too'. The irony was a bit much for me. We're not going to fix this gap without fixing that attitude.

One more attitude adjustment that seems to be required: we need funding for more vet schools (or more capacity at existing ones). There are more applicants who would qualify, I'm sure, than we are admitting. Let's find a place for them. Let's recruit the ones with skills we need (math, agriculture, economics). Let's plug the hole.