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Where Is the Plastic in the Ocean Coming From? Try Asia.

It turns out most of the ocean's plastic is coming from a single corner of the world.


The Ocean Conservancy estimates that are roughly 150 million metric tons of discarded plastic floating around the world's oceans, with an additional 8 million metric tons being added every year. PRI calls this climate change's "apocalyptic twin."

That's like dumping one New York City garbage truck full of plastic into the ocean every minute of every day for an entire year! - Ocean Conservancy

60% of all seabirds and 100% of sea turtles who've been examined contain plastic. They eat it, thinking it's food. Obviously, they derive no nutrition from the plastic, and it can be damaging to their health, or fatal.

There are five massive “gyres," or vortices, of mostly plastic garbage in the oceans, the most famous being the Great Pacific Garbage patch. (#1 in the illustration below.)

The five trash gyres in the world's oceans (DMTHOTH/THE OCEAN CLEANUP)

Capt. Charles Moore told National Geographic what it looked like in 2003:

“Yet as I gazed from the deck at the surface of what ought to have been a pristine ocean, I was confronted, as far as the eye could see, with the sight of plastic. It seemed unbelievable, but I never found a clear spot. In the week it took to cross the subtropical high, no matter what time of day I looked, plastic debris was floating everywhere: bottles, bottle caps, wrappers, fragments."

And things have gotten much worse since then. Various technologies have been proposed for cleaning up the mess, and people have even made artwork from the flotsam found on beaches, as a means of raising awareness of the problem in a way that's less terrifying than it certainly could be.

(WASHEDASHORE.ORG)

Some of the ocean trash is cargo that's fallen off off boats, but most of it is just stray plastic trash. So where is all this stuff coming from?

A study by Dutch firm The Ocean Cleanup and published in Nature on June 7, 2017, found that a full 86% of all the plastics in the ocean come from the rivers of a single, albeit large, continent: Asia.

Three of the four top sources of plastic are Asian countries: China, Indonesia, and Myanmar. (Nigeria's #4.)

Of the world's top 20 plastic-carrying rivers, seven are in China, sending about two thirds of all the river plastic into the sea, according to Quartz. The worst river is the Yangtze, which goes through Shanghai — it contributes some 22,046 metric tons of plastic to the ocean every year. It's nasty stuff, too: Two ships unloaded 110 metric tons of waste including needles and plastic tubes into the Yangtze just last December. India's Ganges is Number 2, followed by China's Xi River.

Per person, Asians generate much less waste than we Western consumers do. The main issue is manufacturing, and China, in particular is a powerhouse in that regard. Quartz cites a report by Plastics Europe which asserts that in 2015, China manufactured 74.7 metric tons of plastics.

Still, before casting a stink-eye at China too quickly, it's worth recognizing just who it is that finances their plastic production. Who buys all the plastic products the country manufactures?That would be us.

And part of the problem is economic, since residents of wealthier nations have their trash picked up and removed to landfills that at least keep the trash out of the ocean. In poorer communities, such as those along the long Asian coastline, there is no such option. Trash ends up on the ground or in the sea.

Aena, 12, in her village (Muara Angke) by Jakarta. Shoreline is smothered by plastic filth. This is what your backyard can look like if you're one of the 3.5 billion humans who don't receive trash pick-up services. #Indonesia

A post shared by @bkkapologist on Oct 3, 2016 at 12:33am PDT

Ocean Conservancy estimates it would take about $4.5 billion yearly to overhaul the insufficient disposal infrastructure of China alone. There's no clear source of the kind of money, and that's just China in any event.

The only real solution — and you can judge for yourself how really real it is —says oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer, “If you produce plastic, it's assured that it will eventually end up in the sea. So we have to stop producing plastic."

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
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Why it’s hard to tell when high-class people are incompetent

A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
  • Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
  • However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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Mother bonobos, too, pressure their sons to have grandchildren

If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
  • The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
  • Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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