Teens and Drugs; US in 2050; Dirtiest Beaches; and More

Teens and Drugs: Rite of Passage or Recipe for Addiction?

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Teen drug use shouldn’t be looked at as a rite of passage but as a public health problem, say experts, and one that has reached “epidemic” levels.

In a new report on drug, alcohol and tobacco use among teens in the U.S., the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University finds that 75% of all high school students have used alcohol, tobacco or either legal or illicit drugs and that 20% of these adolescents are addicted.

The data also support previous studies that link early substance use to addiction later in life: 90% of Americans who are currently addicted started smoking, drinking or using drugs before age 18. A quarter of those who begin using addictive substances at these early ages become addicted as adults, while only one in 25 who start using these substances after age 21 does.

“What this data show is that any adolescent is at risk of using substances, and that it’s preventable,” says Dr. Leslie Walker, president of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine chief of adolescent medicine at the University of Washington.

Susan Foster, director of policy research at CASA, says the data highlight the fact that it’s not just substance abuse that is potentially harmful to developing teens, but any substance use at all. “Science tells us that the earlier we start to use, the greater the risk of becoming addicted. Adolescence is the critical period for starting to use drugs and acquiring addictions, [because] the part of the brain that is responsible for judgment, decision-making and impulse control isn’t completely developed. And because the teen brain isn’t completely developed, it’s more sensitive to the impact and damaging consequences of drugs. The drugs increase the chance that kids will take risks and have impaired judgment, and that in turn impairs development and increases the risk of addiction.”

While that’s true, it’s worth noting that some kids are more likely to use drugs than others, namely those who have addicted or abusive parents, are vulnerable to mental health problems, or have experienced some kind of trauma. Early drug use can itself increase risk of addiction later on, but the major increases in risk are due to abuse, trauma and predisposition to mental illness — all factors that may contribute to the risk of early drug use.

While alcohol use among teens has started to drop slightly between 2009 and 2010, misuse of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin and medications for attention deficit disorder continues to climb.

Adolescent health experts say that part of the reason for the upward trends has to do with the mixed messages that both parents and society send to adolescents about drug use. “One of the things you hear is that every teen is going to [try some addictive substance],” says Walker. “So what’s the big deal, this is normative, and it’s fine. But the data shows that no, we should not accept this as normative for adolescents to use and there’s a reason they shouldn’t be using, and there are things we can do about it.”

For one, she says, parents can educate themselves about the harm that using substances such as tobacco, alcohol and marijuana can have on their child’s cognitive development, affecting their ability to form proper judgments and mature emotionally. If parents excuse use of these substances because they’re preferable to “harder” drugs such as cocaine, then teens won’t learn the important lesson that any exposure to these substances can be harmful to them.

And the costs aren’t just limited to possible deficits in development. Drug use carries a high price tag for society as well, with underage drinking costing an estimated $68 billion yearly in property as well as criminal justice system costs, and substance abuse tallying about $14 billion in juvenile justice fees. “Overall we haven’t made a huge impact on the number of kids who try something during their teens,” says Walker. And that’s why the report focused on collecting data on all aspects of substance abuse to provide doctors and parents with a more complete picture of the problem. “We need to address substance abuse more globally. For parents, start talking to your kids when they ask questions in elementary school. Talk to them about your beliefs and feelings about drugs — and teach them that they can hurt them and hurt their development,” she says. “And most important, continue that conversation throughout their teens. Establish clear guidelines and set clear consequences for infractions of family rules.”

Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2011/06/29/teens-and-drugs-rite-of-passage-or-recipe-for-addiction/#ixzz1QmkHWJiT

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Slimy Summer: The 10 Dirtiest Beaches in America

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently released a contamination report of America’s beaches, and while some stretches of coast fare well, for others, the results aren’t a pretty shade of blue.

And what happens if you decide to dip your toe into a pool of filth? Well, it turns out beach water pollution can cause vomiting, diarrhea, eye infections and a myriad of other problems. Now that sounds like a grand ol’ time to spend your vacation.

It turns out some of the most putrid beaches are those found on the Great Lakes: about 15% of the samples were found to pose a safety hazard. The list below also includes ten beaches with consistently poor water quality since 2006.

  1. California: Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County
  2. California: Cabrillo Beach Station in Los Angeles County
  3. California: Doheny State Beach in Orange County
  4. Florida: Keaton Beach in Taylor County
  5. Illinois: North Point Marina North Beach in Lake County
  6. New Jersey: Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County
  7. Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
  8. Texas: Ropes Park in Nueces County
  9. Wisconsin: Eichelman beach in Kenosha County
  10. Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee

Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/06/30/slimy-summer-the-10-dirtiest-beaches-in-america/#ixzz1QmkiT32T

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Should Tenure Be Abolished?

These days tenure for teachers is such a brawl in America’s elementary and secondary schools that it’s easy to forget that it’s more a cornerstone of higher education.  When Austan Goolsbee, Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, announced earlier this month that he was leaving the White House to return to the University of Chicago it was a reminder just how strong the ties — and inducements — of university tenure can be, and why it has recently come under fire.

At colleges and universities, tenure basically bestows a job for life unless an institution runs out of money. Originally intended to shield professors from meddling by college administrators, donors or politicians, tenure has evolved into one of the most coveted perks in higher education. It signals excellence and it confers employment stability.(See “Fixing Teacher Tenure Without a Pass-Fail Grade.”)

Critics of tenure contend it has outlived its usefulness and is a poor fit for the modern university. Supporters counter that the intellectual independence it confers is essential to a culture of inquiry. Let’s start with the main complaints:

Tenure creates bad incentives and is a drag on productivity. Critics argue that tenure does nothing to encourage academics to remain productive after they are tenured. And it’s true that for many scholars, their most productive years are early in their careers.  Tenure also creates perverse incentives for administrators because they see little point in engaging people who are essentially immovable objects.  As a result, schools have been relying more on cheaper adjunct professors on contracts rather than full-time scholars.

It’s too easy to earn in many places and teaching doesn’t matter in most places. What it takes to get tenure varies by school. At some universities, the bar is high, for instance multiple articles in refereed journals and academic books. At others it’s a much lower bar, an article or two.  And almost nowhere does quality of teaching matter — publications, not teaching awards are the coin of the academic realm.(See the trouble with value-added data.)

It can be abused. Tenure — and by extension the academic freedom it confers — at times becomes all-purpose non-conformist insurance.  In 1999, six professors from various Virginia colleges and universities sued the state alleging that a ban on accessing pornography from state computers infringed on their academic freedom. Ridiculous, sure. But illustrative. Academic freedom is supposed to be about serious inquiry within a discipline, critics argue, not a blanket ability to do what one pleases in the name of scholarship.

Yet while jettisoning tenure has intuitive appeal, the proponents have some points, too: subtle or overt retaliation for academic or political views out of the mainstream does happen. Besides, good administrators can navigate around tenure to build effective academic departments. Good administration can also ensure that tenure is a meaningful bar — especially in a labor market where the supply of academics often far outstrips demand at universities.

As public universities face increasing budget pressure, tenured faculty help ensure quality in academic departments, and tenure makes these jobs more attractive to ambitious academics in the first pace. They say that getting a PhD means forgoing current income in order to be able to forgo future income. Tenure is one way to make university jobs attractive in an environment of scarce resources.(See why college is worth it.)

Where people come down on these questions is mostly a matter of values — for instance, efficiency versus unconstrained inquiry. And in general where people stand depends on where they sit. A noteworthy exception? College presidents. A survey released last month found that most of them preferred long-term or short term contracts to tenure. Private college presidents were even more skeptical of tenure than their public counterparts.

Compromise proposals to modify tenure without ending it have been floated. Ideas include making it renewable or using fixed term contracts instead of a lifetime term.  But where states including Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona have tried to modify tenure, the opposition has been vehement and reforms have amounted to little.

Higher education economics, meanwhile, are increasingly making tenure obsolete in favor of adjuncts and contract teaching anyway. Forget professors for a moment, that trend is not necessarily good for students, universities, or states either. As a once and future adjunct myself, the adjunct system is terrific for people like me who only want to teach part time, but it’s terrible for people seeking to be professional academics and it’s at odds with part of the scholarly mission of universities.

So perhaps it is time for a tenure brawl in higher education, and time to take the ideas to mend — rather than end — tenure more seriously. Otherwise, before too long the point may become academic.

Andrew J. Rotherham, who writes the blog Eduwonk, is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, a nonprofit working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. School of Thought, his education column for TIME.com, appears every Thursday.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2080601,00.html#ixzz1QmktttWA

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Census Update: What the World Will Look like in 2050

Here is the world in 2050, as imagined by the U.S. Census Bureau: India will be the most populous nation, surpassing China sometime around 2025. The U.S. will remain exactly where it is now: in third place, with a population of 423 million (up from 308 million in 2010). And declining birth rates in two of the world’s most economically and politically influential countries, Japan and Russia, will cause them to fall from their current positions as the 9th and 10th most populous nations, respectively, to 16th and 17th.

The findings are the result of population estimates and projections of 228 countries compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Data Base (IDB). They offer a revealing look into the future. “One of the biggest changes we’ve seen has been the decline in fertility in some developed countries such as China,” says Loraine West , an IDB project manager, “while others are experiencing a slight increase.” In other words, China’s population boom is finally slowing down while Western Europe’s long-declining birth rate is — in some places, at least — rising again. Spain and Italy are “on an uptick,” says West, “but how high will [the birth rate] rise? Or will it simply fluctuate up and down on some long term level? We’ll have to see.” According to Italy’s National Institute of Statistics, the country’s recent population increase can be largely attributed to its own immigrant population.

The two countries on track to make the biggest population gains are Nigeria and Ethiopia. Nigeria currently boasts 166 million people, but by 2050 its population is expected jump to 402 million. Ethiopia’s population will likely triple from 91 million to 278 million, bringing the east African nation into the one of the top 10 most populous countries in the world for the first time. In fact, according to the United Nations Population Division, although only 18% of the world’s population lives in so-called “high-fertility” countries (places where women have more than 1.5 daughters on average), most of those countries are in Africa; the continent is expected to experience significant population growth in the coming decades, which could compound the already-dire food supply issues in some African nations.

While the U.S. appears relatively stable — it’s the only country in the top 10 whose ranking is not expected to change in the next 40 years — previous census reports have highlighted dramatic demographic shifts within the country’s borders. Last week, the Census Bureau announced that more than half of children under two in the U.S. are ethnic minorities. Add to that the non-Hispanic white population’s increasing age (in California, for example, the median age for non-Hispanic whites is almost 10 years older than that of the state as a whole) and America in 2050 will look a lot different than the America we know today.

Perhaps the most unfortunate change is the one currently experienced by Russia. The cold, vast country has been undergoing steady depopulation since 1992 and the U.S. Census Bureau expects it to decline further, from 139 million people to 109 million by 2050. That’s a 21% drop, even more than country suffered during World War II. Like many countries, Russia is experiencing declining birth rates, but it’s also suffering from a relatively low life expectancy. According to the World Health Organization, Russian men have a life expectancy of just 62 years, a fact that is often attributed to the country’s high rate of alcoholism and poor diet. (For comparison, Japan is also struggling with depopulation, but the World Health Organization puts its life expectancy at 80 for men and 86 for women).

So what does this mean? The U.S. is not yet experiencing the kind of population decline that Europe experienced in the 1990s and 2000s, although immigration and differing birth rates among races means that the country’s ethnic composition is changing. Something similar will be going on in the rest of the world, as well: Africa and India’s boom, Russia’s decline and China’s expected plateau (holding steady around 1.3 billion people between now and 2050) will change the makeup of the estimated 9.4 billion people who will call Earth home in 2050. The future, it seems, is not as distant as we think.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2080404,00.html#ixzz1Qml8pU3X

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from Montclair SocioBlog

The Fashion Report – Names Edition

by Jay Livingston

In Sunday’s Times, David Leonhardt, who usually patrols the economics beat, looks at fashions in baby names (here). His primary focus is the rapid decline in old-fashioned names for girls. The “nostalgia wave” of Emma, Grace, Ella, and other late-nineteenth-century names, he argues, is over.

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Well, yes and no. Sarah and Emma may be in decline, but the big gainer among girls’ names is Sophia, an equally nostalgic name that was last popular at the turn of the twentieth century. Isabella, too, (third largest gain) follows the same trend line. Besides, the nostalgia for old names was selective. Emma and Grace may have come back, but many other old-fashioned names never became trendy. One hundred years ago and continuing through the 1920s, one of the most popular girls’ names in the US was Mildred. (You can trace the popularity baby names at the Census website.)

“The lack of recent Jane Austen movies has probably played a role,” says Leonhardt, though he’s probably joking. Not only is Emma still in the top five, but I suspect that films of that persuasion appealed more to the prejudices and sensibilities of post-childbearing women. But the media do have an impact. In Freakonomics, Levitt and Dubner showed how fashions in names often trickle down. The Sophias and Isabellas become stylish first among the upscale and educated; it may be several years, even decades, before they became more widely popular. But the media/celebrity channel can bypass that slow trickle. As Leonhardt says, how else to explain the boom in Khloe?

(Click on the image for a larger view.)

Similarly, Addison, the second biggest gainer, may have gotten a boost from the fictional doctor who rose from “Gray’s Anatomy” to her own “Private Practice.” In the first year of “Gray’s Anatomy, the name Addison zoomed from 106th place to 28th. The name is also just different enough from Madison, which had been in the top ten for nearly a decade. Its stylishness was fading fast among the fashion-conscious.

Madison herself owed her popularity to the media. She created a big “Splash” soon after the film came out. As Tom Hanks says in the scene below, “Madison’s not a name.” [The clip will start at the beginning of relevant part of the scene. For purposes of this post, it should stop at 3:23, after the punch line (“Good thing we weren’t at 149th street.”). But I couldn’t figure out the code to make it stop.]*

At the time, the Hanks character was correct. Before “Splash” (1984) Madison was never in the top 1000. The next year, she was at 600. Now she has been in the top ten for nearly fifteen years, and at number two or three for half those years. (There have not yet been any Madisons in my classes. I suspect that will change soon.)

Boys’ names seem governed by somewhat different rules, with less overall variation, though recent trends are towards names with a final “n” (four out of the five big gainers in the chart above) and Biblical names.

These recent changes in girls’ names aren’t about nostalgia. Name trends are like fashion trends, they come and go. And, like fashion, name trends can be media driven, especially now that media can short-circuit the slower class diffusion process.

* Transcript of the relevant segment of the Splash clip:

Hanks: I’m going to have to call you something in English, because I can’t pronounce -
Hannah: What – what are English names ?
Hanks: There’s millions of them, I guess. Jennifer, Joanne, Hillary. . . .: Names, names. Linda, Kim .Where are we? [Cut to close up of Madison Ave. street sign] Madison.
Elizabeth, Samantha –
Hannah: I like Madison.
Hanks: Madison’s not a name. [ a beat] Well, all right. Madison it is. Good thing we weren’t at 149th street.

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