After the floods come the mosquitoes – but the disease risk is more difficult to predict


Cameron Webb, University of Sydney

We’re often warned to avoid mosquito bites after major flooding events. With more water around, there are likely to be more mosquitoes.

As flood waters recede around Townsville and clean-up efforts continue, the local population will be faced with this prospect over the coming weeks.

But whether a greater number of mosquitoes is likely to lead to an outbreak of mosquito-borne disease is tricky to predict. It depends on a number of factors, including the fate of other wildlife following a disaster of this kind.

Mozzies need water

Mosquitoes lay their eggs in and around water bodies. In the initial stages, baby mosquitoes (or “wrigglers”) need the water to complete their development. During the warmer months, it doesn’t take much longer than a week before they are grown and fly off looking for blood.

So the more water, the more mosquito eggs are laid, and the more mosquitoes end up buzzing about.

But outbreaks of disease carried by mosquitoes are dependent on more than just their presence. Mosquitoes rarely emerge from wetlands infected with pathogens. They typically need to pick them up from biting local wildlife, such as birds or mammals, before they can spread disease to people.




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Mosquitoes and extreme weather events

Historically, major inland flooding events have triggered significant outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease in Australia. These outbreaks have included epidemics of the potentially fatal Murray Valley encephalitis virus. In recent decades, Ross River virus has more commonly been the culprit.

A focal point of the current floods is the Ross River, which runs through Townsville. The Ross River virus was first identified from mosquitoes collected along this waterway. The disease it causes, known as Ross River fever, is diagnosed in around 5,000 Australians every year. The disease isn’t fatal but it can be seriously debilitating.

Following substantial rainfall, mosquito populations can dramatically increase. Carbon dioxide baited light traps are used by local authorities to monitor changes in mosquito populations.
Cameron Webb (NSW Health Pathology)

In recent years, major outbreaks of Ross River virus have occurred throughout the country. Above average rainfall is likely a driving factor as it boosts both the abundance and diversity of local mosquitoes.

Flooding across Victoria over the 2016-2017 summer produced exceptional increases in mosquitoes and resulted in the state’s largest outbreak of Ross River virus. There were almost 1,700 cases of Ross River virus disease reported there in 2017 compared to an average of around 300 cases annually over the previous 20 years.




Read more:
Explainer: what is Ross River virus?


Despite plagues of mosquitoes taking advantage of flood waters, outbreaks of disease don’t always follow.

Flooding resulting from hurricanes in North America has been associated with increased mosquito populations. After Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005, there was no evidence of increased mosquito-borne disease. The impact of wind and rain is likely to have adversely impacted local mosquitoes and wildlife, subsequently reducing disease outbreak risk.

Applying insect repellent is worthwhile even if the risk of mosquito-borne disease isn’t known.
From shutterstock.com

Australian studies suggest there’s not always an association between flooding and Ross River virus outbreaks. Outbreaks can be triggered by flooding, but this is not always the case. Where and when the flooding occurs probably plays a major role in determining the likelihood of an outbreak.

The difficulty in predicting outbreaks of Ross River virus disease is that there can be complex biological, environmental and climatic drivers at work. Conditions may be conducive for large mosquito populations, but if the extreme weather events have displaced (or decimated) local wildlife populations, there may be a decreased chance of outbreak.

This may be why historically significant outbreaks of mosquito-borne disease have occurred in inland regions. Water can persist in these regions for longer than coastal areas. This provides opportunities not only for multiple mosquito generations, but also for increasing populations of water birds. These birds can be important carriers of pathogens such as the Murray Valley encephalitis virus.




Read more:
Giant mosquitoes flourish in floodwaters that hurricanes leave behind


In coastal regions like Townsville, where the main concern would be Ross River virus, flood waters may displace the wildlife that carry the virus, such as kangaroos and wallabies. For that reason, the flood waters may actually reduce the initial risk of outbreak.

Protect yourself

There is still much to learn about the ecology of wildlife and their role in driving outbreaks of disease. And with a fear of more frequent and severe extreme weather events in the future, it’s an important area of research.

Although it remains difficult to predict the likelihood of a disease outbreak, there are steps that can be taken to avoid mosquito bites. This will be useful even if just to reduce the nuisance of sustaining bites.

Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long pants for a physical barrier against mosquito bites and use topical insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Be sure to apply an even coat on all exposed areas of skin for the longest lasting protection.The Conversation

Cameron Webb, Clinical Lecturer and Principal Hospital Scientist, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Why people born between 1966 and 1994 are at greater risk of measles – and what to do about it



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People may unknowingly bring measles back from other countries, including Europe.
Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

Kristine Macartney, University of Sydney and Lucy Deng, University of Sydney

Australia was declared free of measles in 2014. Yet this summer we’ve seen nine cases of measles in New South Wales, and others in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

High vaccination rates in Australia means the measles virus doesn’t continuously spread, but we still have “wildfire” outbreaks when travellers bring measles into the country, often unknowingly.

If you haven’t received two doses of measles vaccine, you are at risk of contracting measles.




Read more:
What’s behind the sudden rise in measles deaths in Europe?


How can you catch it?

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads by touching or breathing in the same air as an infected person. The virus stays alive in the air or on infected surfaces for up to two hours.

An infected person is contagious from the first day of symptoms (fever, cough and runny nose). These general symptoms start about four days before the rash develops, meaning contagious people can spread the virus even before they realise they have measles.

If you’re not immune to the virus, through vaccination or past infection, the chance of becoming ill after being near someone with measles is 90%. Being in the same café, waiting in line at the checkout or flying on the same aeroplane as an infected person could be enough to pick up the disease.

Why is it so dangerous?

Measles causes a fever, cough, and a rash that starts around the hairline and then spreads to the whole body.

The red rash starts around the hairline, then spreads.
Phichet Chaiyabin/Shutterstock

It can also cause middle ear infections (otitis media), chest infections (pneumonia), and diarrhoea.

Swelling and inflammation to the brain (encephalitis) occurs in 1 in every 1,000 cases and can lead to permanent brain damage or death. In 2017, 110,000 people died from measles worldwide.

Even after surviving the initial illness, measles can cause a devastating and fatal complication known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (inflammation of the brain) many years later.

Why are people in their 20s to 50s more at risk?

To protect yourself against measles, you need two doses of measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine.

Children in Australia routinely get this vaccine at 12 and 18 months of age. The second dose is given in combination with the chickenpox vaccine.




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It’s important to have two doses of MMR vaccine, especially if you haven’t reached your mid-50s. Most people older than this would have been infected with measles before vaccination was routine.

People aged in their 20s to early 50s (those born from 1966 and 1994) are most likely to have only had one dose of MMR vaccine.

While we’ve had the measles vaccine in Australia since 1968, a two-dose program was only introduced in 1992. A brief school-based catch-up program from 1993 to 1994 offered school children a second dose. Another school-based program provided children with catch-up vaccinations in 1998*.

For those who missed out on the school program, catch-up vaccinations were given on an ad-hoc basis via GP clinics.

So not everyone in this age group would have received two doses of the measles vaccine.

If you are this age, you may not be not fully protected against measles. Checking with a GP or immunisation nurse is the best way to be sure. They will check your records, and may do a blood test if you have no proof of immunisation.

Even if you can’t be sure of past vaccinations, it’s still safe to have an extra vaccine. And it’s free for those who need a catch-up dose.

It’s not harmful to have an additional dose of the MMR vaccine.
Shutterstock

If you have a child under 12 months of age and you’re heading to a country with measles, an early additional vaccine dose can be given to protect your baby from measles. This ideally should be done at least a month before you travel, to ensure an immune response has time to develop. The routine scheduled doses at 12 months and 18 months will still need to be given later.




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What if you’re not protected?

Unfortunately, there is no treatment for measles. Getting adequately vaccinated is the best form of defence against this serious disease.

If you think you’ve been exposed or may be ill from measles, see your GP or call Health Direct or your public health department as soon as possible.

If exposed, but not yet ill, it may not be too late to get a protective vaccine and ensure you don’t spread the disease to others.

If you are unwell, and suspect measles, call ahead to let the clinic know so they can make provisions to keep you away from other patients in the waiting room.

Other, more common, diseases can look like measles, so an urgent specific test (throat swab) must be done to confirm the infection. If measles is proven, public health workers will trace your contacts and your treating doctor will monitor you for complications.

Are we at risk of measles returning in Australia?

Australia currently has all-time high vaccine coverage, with 94.5% of five-year-old children fully immunised at the end of 2017.

By keeping vaccine coverage near or above 95%, herd immunity where there are enough people vaccinated helps prevent measles from spreading to others, including those who cannot be vaccinated.

But in our interconnected world, we must work together to reduce the threat of measles worldwide by boosting immunisation programs in regions with low coverage, including in the Asia Pacific.




Read more:
Why it’s hard to run a mass measles campaign in Nigeria’s war-torn states


Measles have resurfaced in some countries due to falls in vaccine coverage from unfounded safety concerns as well as weak health systems. In the first six months of last year, for instance, Europe had 41,000 cases of measles, nearly double the total number of the previous year. This, among other factors, has prompted the World Health Organisation to list vaccine hesitancy as a top ten threat to global health in 2019.

A continued global coordinated effort will be required to maintain elimination and prevent resurgence of this deadly disease in Australia.

* Correction: this article has been updated to note a school-based catch-up program also operated in 1998.The Conversation

Kristine Macartney, Professor, Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Sydney and Lucy Deng, Staff Specialist Paediatrician, National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance; Clinical Associate Lecturer, Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Two types of tectonic plate activity create earthquake and tsunami risk on Lombok


Jane Cunneen, Curtin University and Phil R. Cummins, Australian National University

Several large earthquakes have struck the Indonesian island of Lombok in the past week, with the largest quake killing at least 98 people and injuring hundreds more.

Thousands of buildings are damaged and rescue efforts are being hampered by power outages, a lack of phone reception in some areas and limited evacuation options.

The majority of large earthquakes occur on or near Earth’s tectonic plate boundaries – and these recent examples are no exception. However, there are some unique conditions around Lombok.

The recent earthquakes have occurred along a specific zone where the Australian tectonic plate is starting to move over the Indonesian island plate – and not slide underneath it, as occurs further to the south of Lombok.

This means there is earthquake and tsunami risk not only along the plate boundary south of Lombok and Bali, but also from this zone of thrusting to the north.




Read more:
Bali’s Agung – using ‘volcano forensics’ to map the past, and predict the future


Jammed subduction zone

Tectonic plates are slabs of the Earth’s crust that move very slowly over our planet’s surface. Indonesia sits along the “Pacific Ring of Fire” where several tectonic plates collide and many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.

Some of these earthquakes are very large, such as the magnitude 9.1 quake off the west coast of Sumatra that generated the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. This earthquake occurred along the Java-Sumatra subduction zone, where the Australian tectonic plate moves underneath Indonesia’s Sunda plate.

But to the east of Java, the subduction zone has become “jammed” by the Australian continental crust, which is much thicker and more buoyant than the oceanic crust that moves beneath Java and Sumatra.

The Australian continental crust can’t be pushed under the Sunda plate, so instead it’s starting to ride over the top of it. This process is known as back-arc thrusting.

The data from the recent Lombok earthquakes suggest they are associated with this back-arc zone. The zone extends north of islands stretching from eastern Java to the island of Wetar, just north of Timor (as shown in map below).

Earthquake hazards along plate boundaries near Indonesia. The dates in the map show historical earthquakes, and Mw indicates earthquake magnitude.
Edited by P. Cummins from an original by Koulali and co-authors

Historically, large earthquakes have also occurred along this back-arc thrust near Lombok, particularly in the 19th century but also more recently. (Dates and sizes of past earthquakes are shown in the map above).

It is thought that this zone of back-arc thrusting will eventually form a new subduction zone to the north along from eastern Java to the island of Wetar just north of Timor.




Read more:
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Tsunami risk

Lombok’s recent earthquakes – the August 5 6.9 magnitude quake plus a number of aftershocks, and the 6.4 magnitude earthquake just a week before it – occurred in northern Lombok under land, and were quite shallow.

Recent earthquakes on Lombok were also felt on the neighbouring island of Bali.
US Geological Survey

Earthquakes on land can sometimes cause undersea landslides and generate a tsunami wave. But when shallow earthquakes rupture the sea floor, much larger and more dangerous tsunamis can occur.

Due to the large number of shallow earthquakes along the plate boundaries, Indonesia is particularly vulnerable to tsunamis. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 165,000 people along the coast of Sumatra, and in 2006 over 600 people were killed by a tsunami impacting the south coast of Java.




Read more:
Explainer: after an earthquake, how does a tsunami happen?


The region around Lombok has a history of tsunamis. In 1992 a magnitude 7.9 earthquake occurred just north of the island of Flores and generated a tsunami that swept away coastal villages, killing more than 2,000.

Nineteenth century earthquakes in this region also caused large tsunamis that killed many people.

The areas around Lombok and the islands nearby, including Bali, are at high risk for earthquakes and tsunamis occurring both to the north and the south of the island.

The ConversationUnfortunately, large earthquakes like the ones this week cannot be predicted, so an understanding of the hazards is vital if we are to be prepared for future events.

Jane Cunneen, Research Fellow, Curtin University and Phil R. Cummins, Professor, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Six things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia



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Challenging and training your brain is important to prevent dementia risk.
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Helen Macpherson, Deakin University

An ageing population is leading to a growing number of people living with dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms including memory impairment, confusion, and loss of ability to carry out everyday activities.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, and causes a progressive decline in brain health.

Dementia affects more than 425,000 Australians. It is the second-ranked cause of death overall, and the leading cause in women.

The main risk factor for dementia is older age. Around 30% of people aged over 85 live with dementia. Genetic influences also play a role in the onset of the disease, but these are stronger for rarer types of dementia such as early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.




Read more:
What causes Alzheimer’s disease? What we know, don’t know and suspect


Although we can’t change our age or genetic profile, there are nevertheless several lifestyle changes we can make that will reduce our dementia risk.

1. Engage in mentally stimulating activities

Education is an important determinant of dementia risk. Having less than ten years of formal education can increase the chances of developing dementia. People who don’t complete any secondary school have the greatest risk.

The good news is that we can still strengthen our brain at any age, through workplace achievement and leisure activities such as reading newspapers, playing card games, or learning a new language or skill.

Even playing cards can strengthen your brain.
Photo by Inês Ferreira on Unsplash

The evidence suggests that group-based training for memory and problem-solving strategies could improve long-term cognitive function. But this evidence can’t be generalised to computerised “brain training” programs. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities in a social setting may also contribute to the success of cognitive training.




Read more:
What is ‘cognitive reserve’? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia


2. Maintain social contact

More frequent social contact (such as visiting friends and relatives or talking on the phone) has been linked to lower risk of dementia, while loneliness may increase it.

Greater involvement in group or community activities is associated with a lower risk. Interestingly, size of friendship group appears less relevant than having regular contact with others.

3. Manage weight and heart health

There is a strong link between heart and brain health. High blood pressure and obesity, particularly during mid-life, increase the risk of dementia. Combined, these conditions may contribute to more than 12% of dementia cases.

In an analysis of data from more than 40,000 people, those who had type 2 diabetes were up to twice as likely to develop dementia as healthy people.

Managing or reversing these conditions through the use of medication and/or diet and exercise is crucial to reducing dementia risk.

Exercise is protective for heart health and diabetes, as well as against cognitive decline.
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

4. Get more exercise

Physical activity has been shown to protect against cognitive decline. In data combined from more than 33,000 people, those who were highly physically active had a 38% lower risk of cognitive decline compared with those who were inactive.

Precisely how much exercise is enough to maintain cognition is still under debate. But a recent review of studies looking at the effects of taking exercise for a minimum of four weeks suggested that sessions should last at least 45 minutes and be of moderate to high intensity. This means huffing and puffing and finding it difficult to maintain a conversation.




Read more:
Could too much sitting be bad for our brains?


Australians generally don’t meet the target of 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

5. Don’t smoke

Cigarette smoking is harmful to heart health, and the chemicals found in cigarettes trigger inflammation and vascular changes in the brain. They can also trigger oxidative stress, in which chemicals called free radicals can cause damage to our cells. These processes may contribute to the development of dementia.

The good news is that smoking rates in Australia have dropped from 28% to 16% since 2001.

As dementia risk is higher in current smokers compared with past smokers and non-smokers, this provides yet another incentive to quit once and for all.

6. Seek help for depression

Around one million Australian adults are currently living with depression. In depression, some changes occur in the brain that may affect dementia risk. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been linked to shrinkage of brain regions that are important for memory.

High blood pressure can increase the risk of dementia.
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

Vascular disease, which causes damage to blood vessels, has also been observed in both depression and dementia. Researchers suggests that long-term oxidative stress and inflammation may also contribute to both conditions.




Read more:
You’ve been diagnosed with depression, now what?


A 28-year study of more than 10,000 people found that dementia risk was only increased in those who had depression in the ten years before diagnosis. One possibility is that late-life depression can reflect an early symptom of dementia.

Other studies have shown that having depression before the age of 60 still increases dementia risk, so seeking treatment for depression is encouraged.

Other things to consider

Reducing dementia risk factors doesn’t guarantee that you will never develop dementia. But it does mean that, at a population level, fewer people will be affected. Recent estimates suggest that up to 35% of all dementia cases may be due to the risk factors outlined above.

This figure also includes management of hearing loss, although the evidence for this is less well established.

The contribution of sleep disturbances and diet to dementia risk are emerging as important, and will likely receive more consideration as the evidence base grows.

The ConversationEven though dementia may be seen as an older person’s disease, harmful processes can occur in the brain for several decades before dementia appears. This means that now is the best time to take action to reduce your risk.

Helen Macpherson, Research Fellow, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New online tool can predict your melanoma risk



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People who are unable to tan and who have moles on their skin are among those at heightened risk of developing melanoma.
from shutterstock.com

Phoebe Roth, The Conversation

Australians over the age of 40 can now calculate their risk of developing melanoma with a new online test. The risk predictor tool estimates a person’s melanoma risk over the next 3.5 years based on seven risk factors.

Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia and the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

The seven risk factors the tool uses are age, sex, ability to tan, number of moles at age 21, number of skin lesions treated, hair colour and sunscreen use.

The tool was developed by researchers at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. Lead researcher Professor David Whiteman explained he and his team determined the seven risk factors by following more than 40,000 Queenslanders since 2010, and analysing their data.




Read more:
Interactive body map: what really gives you cancer?


The seven risk factors are each weighted differently. The tool’s algorithm uses these to assign a person into one of five risk categories: very much below average, below average, average, above average, and very much above average.

“This online risk predictor will help identify those with the highest likelihood of developing melanoma so that they and their doctors can decide on how to best manage their risk,” Professor Whiteman said.

After completing the short test, users will be offered advice, such as whether they should see their doctor. A reading of “above average” or “very much above average” will recommend a visit to the doctor to explore possible options for managing their melanoma risk.

But Professor Whiteman cautions that people with a below average risk shouldn’t become complacent.

“Even if you are at below average risk, it doesn’t mean you are at low risk – just lower than the average Australian,” he said.




Read more:
Explainer: how does sunscreen work, what is SPF and can I still tan with it on?


An estimated one in 17 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma by their 85th birthday.

The test is targeted for people aged 40 and above as this was the age range of the cohort studied.

However, melanoma remains the most common cancer in Australians under 40.

Professor Whiteman said that the test may be useful for those under 40, but it may not be as accurate, as that wasn’t the demographic it was based on.

But he added complete accuracy couldn’t be guaranteed even for the target demographic.

“I don’t think it’s possible that we’ll ever get to 100%. I think that’s a holy grail that we aspire to, but in reality, cancers are very complex diseases and their causality includes many, many, factors, including unfortunately some random factors.”

The prognosis for melanoma patients is significantly better when it is detected earlier. The University of Queensland’s Professor of Dermatology H. Peter Soyer explained that the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 90%. But this figure jumps to 98% for patients diagnosed at the very early stages.

“At the end of the day, everything that raises awareness for melanomas and for skin cancer is beneficial,” Professor Soyer said.

Dr Hassan Vally, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at La Trobe University, said the way risk is often communicated is hard for people to grasp. But he said this model would provide people with a tangible measure of their risk of disease, and point them towards what they may be able to do to reduce it.

“Everything comes back to how people perceive their risk, and how can they make sense of it.

The Conversation“If it makes people more aware of their risks of disease that’s a good thing, and if that awareness leads to people taking action and improving their health then that’s great.”

Phoebe Roth, Editorial Intern, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

US shouldn’t give up benefits of ‘green card lottery’ over low risk of terrorism



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The Statue of Liberty casts a wary eye at the bike path that runs along the western edge of Manhattan, where the Oct. 31 attack occurred.
Songquan Deng/Shutterstock.com

Ethan Lewis, Dartmouth College

After a man barreled down a New York City bike path on Oct. 31, killing eight, President Donald Trump reacted by calling for an end to the “green card lottery” program that allowed the attacker to enter the country.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, as it is officially known, has been in the sights of the president for a while. In August, Trump publicly backed a GOP bill that would end the program and replace it with a merit-based system.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have long decried illegal immigration, but they have traditionally favored the legal kind, partly because their business donors demand it.

As someone who researches the impact of immigration on workers, I believe their plans to change who can enter the country legally is a big mistake. We would be giving up a program that benefits American workers with very little chance of a gain in safety.

While the driver reportedly entered the country through a green card, very few Americans have been killed by recipients of such visas.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews

Curbing immigration

While Trump’s tweets about the lottery program are based on security concerns, the usual argument supporting curbs on immigration is that new arrivals hurt native-born American workers and the economy at large.

I’ll leave analyzing the security concerns to other experts; suffice it to say that the risk, according to experts, is very small. Green card holders have killed just 16 people – including yesterday – in terror attacks on U.S. soil since 1975.

As for the economic impact on U.S.-born workers, the key thing to bear in mind is that the more homogeneous and similar immigrants are to natives, the greater the odds they’ll in fact have a negative effect.

In contrast, immigrants who come from diverse backgrounds with a range of skills – such as the lottery winners and the so-called “Dreamers” – tend to produce greater economic benefits. That may be one reason at least some Republicans and most Americans are in favor of keeping the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program that protects the Dreamers from deportation, which Trump recently ended.

A new approach

Currently, the U.S. receives a lot of immigrants without a college degree or with imperfect English. About half of immigrants fit either description.


https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/y6110/3/


Legislation proposed earlier this summer – the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act – would exclude most such workers and reduce the total number of green cards awarding permanent legal U.S. residence to just over 500,000 from more than one million today.

It would also end the green card lottery, which awards 50,000 green cards a year to people from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S.

Importantly, it would also change who gets a leg up when applying for a green card. Currently, family of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, including siblings and adult children, are able to apply. The new system would limit that to minor children and spouses.

Instead, the bill would create a point-based system like those used in countries such as the U.K. and Australia that use factors such as English ability, education and job offers to rank applicants. However, it would be stricter than point systems used in those countries, which admit immigrants through other programs as well.

In essence, the plan would make the pool of immigrants more homogeneous and dramatically smaller in number, mirroring the misguided origin-based restrictions from the 1920s.

The DACA program’s inherent diversity is what makes it a boon for the U.S. economy.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

What economists say

Those who wish to restrict immigration often cite what they naïvely call “supply-and-demand economics” to essentially argue that the economy is a fixed pie that gets divided among a country’s residents. Fewer immigrants means “more pie” for the U.S.-born, as the story goes.

I am an economist, and this is not what my colleagues and I say. The commonplace argument that more immigrants, by themselves, lower wages and take jobs from Americans – an argument which Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to defend ending the “Dreamers” program – has neither empirical nor theoretical support in economics. It is just a myth.
Instead, both theory and empirical research show that immigration, including people with few skills and little English, grows the pie and strengthens the American workforce.

The main registry building on Ellis Island is shown in this 1905 photo. It was once the nation’s gateway for millions of immigrants.
AP Photo

Value in diversity

While all the recently proposed changes to our immigration system will make U.S. workers worse off, the English requirement is likely to be particularly harmful to U.S. workers, especially low-skilled ones.

Indeed, I have found the relative fluency of U.S.-born workers is what keeps them from being harmed from labor market competition from immigrants.

The reason for this is the following. Essentially, immigrants with imperfect English skills tend to specialize in jobs that are less “communication-intensive,” such as manual labor. Americans fluent in the language, on the other hand, tend to take on higher-paying, communication-intensive jobs that are out of reach of those without a strong grasp of English. In other words, these groups aren’t likely to compete for the same jobs, making them more complementary than adversarial.

In contrast, when new immigrants are more fluent in English, something the Trump-backed proposal would encourage, the types of occupations they are qualified for are almost identical to those of American workers. Thus, insisting on strong English skills as a condition of coming to America is likely to increase labor market competition and suppress wages.

When Congress in 1964 ended the Bracero program, which allowed large numbers of Mexicans to work on U.S. farms, neither wages nor employment rates of American workers rose.
AP Photo

Immigration that helps

Immigration that emphasizes diversity, rather than merely merit, tends to attract more people who specialize in occupations uncommon among U.S.-born workers. And, in fact, this is the key source of the well-known economic benefits of immigration.

Studies by economists Giovanni Peri and Chad Sparber, for example, show this tendency toward job specialization is a key reason the large volume of low-skill immigration does not drive down incomes of Americans. Other research by Peri and Gianmarco Ottaviano shows that simply encouraging immigration from diverse origins lifts wages.

Put differently, there is direct evidence that the sort of diversity that the green card lottery encourages makes all Americans better off. It would be a shame to give all of that up because of a tiny risk of terrorism.

The ConversationThis is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 15, 2017.

Ethan Lewis, Associate Professor of Economics, Dartmouth College

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia relies on data from Earth observation satellites, but our access is high risk



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The NASA satellite Landsat-8 collects frequent global multispectral imagery of the Earth’s surface.
NASA

Stuart Phinn, The University of Queensland

This article is part of a series Australia’s place in space, where we’ll explore the strengths and weaknesses, along with the past, present and the future of Australia’s space presence and activities.


Rockets, astronomy and humans on Mars: there’s a lot of excited talk about space and what new discoveries might come if Australia’s federal government commits to expanding Australia’s space industry.

But one space industry is often left out of the conversation: Earth observation (EO).


Read more: Why it’s time for Australia to launch its own space agency


EO refers to the collection of information about Earth, and delivery of useful data for human activities. For Australia, the minimum economic impact of EO from space-borne sensors alone is approximately A$5.3 billion each year.

And yet the default position of our government seems to be that the provision of EO resources will come from other countries’ investments, or commercial partners.

This means the extensive Commonwealth-state-local government and industry reliance on access to EO services remains a high-risk.

What is EO (Earth observation)?

You’ve almost certainly relied on EO at some point already today.

The wide range of government, industry and societal uses of Earth observation in Australia.
Australian Earth Observation Community Coordination Plan 2026

EO describes the activities used to gather data about the Earth from satellites, aircraft, remotely piloted systems and other platforms. It delivers information for our daily weather and oceanographic forecasts, disaster management systems, water and power supply, infrastructure monitoring, mining, agricultural production, environmental monitoring and more.

Global positioning and navigation, communications and information derived from satellites looking at, and away from Earth are referred to as “downstream” space activities.

“Upstream” activities are the industries building infrastructure (satellites, sensors), launch vehicles and ground facilities for operating space-based equipment. In this arena, countries such as Russia focus on building, launching and operating satellites and space craft. Others (such as Canada, Italy, UK) target developing industries and government activities that use these services. The US and China maintain a balance.

Components of Australia’s Earth-observation space capabilities (click to zoom for a clearer view)
Australian Earth Observation Community Coordination Plan 2026, Author provided

Australia spends very little on space

Although we rely so heavily on downstream space activities in our economic and other operations, Australia invests very little in space: only 0.003% of GDP, according to 2014 figures.

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Other countries have taken very proactive roles in enabling these industries to develop. Most government space agencies around the world invest 11% to 51% of their funds for developing EO capacity. These investments allow industries and government to build downstream applications and services from secure 24/7 satellite data streams.

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Historically, Australia has invested heavily in research and research infrastructure to produce world leading capabilities in the science of astronomy, space-debris tracking and space exploration communications.

In EO there are no comparable national programs or infrastructure, nor have we contributed to international capability at the same levels as these areas. This seems strange given:

  • our world leading status in applied research and extensive government use of these data as fully operational essential and critical information streams
  • all of the reports requesting increases in government support and enabling for “space” industry cite our reliance on EO as essential, but then don’t present paths forward for it
  • there are now a number of well established and growing small companies focused on delivering essential environmental, agricultural, grazing, energy supply and infrastructure monitoring services using EO, and
  • we have a well organised EO community across research, industry and government, with a clearly articulated national strategic plan to 2026.
Example of an information delivery service built from Earth observation data streams to deliver property level information to graziers and others land-holders (click to zoom for a clearer view).
P Tickle, FarmMap4D, Author provided

Building Australia’s EO capacity

EO plays a vital role in many aspects of Australian life. Australia’s state and Commonwealth agencies, along with research institutions and industry have already built essential tools to routinely deliver satellite images in a form that can be developed further by private industry and delivered as services.

But our lack of a coordinating space agency adds a layer of fragility to vital EO operations as they currently stand.


Read more: The 50 year old space treaty needs adaptation


This places a very large amount of Commonwealth, state and local government activity, economic activity and essential infrastructure at risk, as multiple recent national reviews have noted.

Our federal government started to address the problem with its 2013 Satellites Utilisation Policy, and will hopefully build on this following the current rounds of extensive consultation for the Space Industry Capability Review.

Although our private EO upstream and downstream industry capabilities are currently small, they are world leading, and if they were enabled with government-industry support in a way that the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency/European Commission and UK Space Agency do, we could build this sector.

If Australia is to realistically participate in the “Space 2.0” economy, we need to act now and set clear goals for the next five, ten and 20 years. EO can be a pillar for this activity, enabling significant expansion of our upstream and downstream industries. This generates jobs and growth and addresses national security concerns.

That should be a win for all sectors in Australia – and we can finally give back and participate globally in space.


The ConversationData sources for figure “Proportion of space budget spent on different capacities”: NASA; ESA – here and here; JAXA; PDF report on China.

Stuart Phinn, Professor of Geography, Director – Remote Sensing Research Centre, Chair – Australian Earth Observation Community Coordination Group, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Labor takes a political risk and opposes government’s tougher citizenship legislation



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Peter Dutton says changes to citizenship legislation are a modernisation that would bring Australia in line with other countries.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has finally found an issue it can cast in terms of “national security” on which it can get a fight with Labor.

Bill Shorten usually sticks leech-like to bipartisanship on anything with even a whiff of “security”. But now the opposition has said “enough” on the proposals to toughen the criteria for people seeking citizenship.

In political terms, the question is whether the government can turn this into an effective wedge against Shorten, claiming he is “soft” on citizenship. Labor’s challenge is to keep the debate as one about what are reasonable conditions to place on aspiring Australians.

The government believes it is in tune with the mainstream; its eye to the politics was obvious when Malcolm Turnbull went out of his way to make a statement on the matter at Tuesday’s news conference on his latest energy security initiatives.

“The Labor Party does not value Australian citizenship enough to say, as we do, that it must be more than simply the outcome of an administrative tick-and-flick form-filling process,” Turnbull said. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton invokes national security and claimed Shorten has been “mugged by the left of his party”.

The proposed legislation requires potential citizens to have a higher English proficiency than at present. Additionally, the applicant will need to have lived in Australia as a permanent resident for at least four years (just one at present).

There will be a defined process to assess a person’s commitment to Australian values, helped by the longer residency requirement; people will have to show what they’ve done to integrate into the community.

The immigration minister will acquire the power to override decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal on citizenship, subject to a court appeal.

Labor is opposing the bill as a whole; it wants it referred to a Senate inquiry, and says that then, if it considers there are parts worth supporting, it would ask the government to bring them back in separate legislation.

Aware Labor is treading on potentially dangerous ground, citizenship spokesman Tony Burke is trying to fireproof it. “Don’t lie and pretend something is national security when it is not,” he said.

The opposition is challenging in particular the longer qualifying period and the harder English test.

The government has a case with the former; comparable countries make residents wait between five and eight years before applying for citizenship. It is on more dubious ground on English testing, where the standard is to be raised to “competent”.

This is a level where the person has “an effective command of the language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage and misunderstandings. They can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations.”

Burke pointed out that the questions now asked of those seeking citizenship are in a test “which is written in English. If you can’t speak English, you can’t pass the test.”

He warned the new requirement would “guarantee there will be a group of permanent residents who live here their entire lives and are never invited to take allegiance to Australia and are never able to be told by the Australian government: ‘you belong’. That is a fundamental change in our country.”

While it is desirable, not least for their own benefit, to have aspiring citizens acquire good English, people can also be excellent citizens even though their English language will always be poor. Many of us know people like that.

One motive for upping the English requirement might be fears about inward-looking communities. But insisting on the proposed level of English proficiency makes for a very un-level playing field, discriminating against those from certain countries.

Immigrants should be encouraged to become citizens – surely that is likely to be a positive for national security because it promotes a more unified nation. A “two-class” situation in the migrant/refugee population, where some can’t make the cut because of the language issue, is not what we want.

Dutton dismisses Labor’s concerns about the longer qualifying period and the harder language test.

Possibly wearing a focus group on his sleeve, he says: “The Australian public wants to see an increase in the English language requirement, they want to see people meet Australian laws and Australian values”.

There have been mild concerns in Coalition ranks about people who are about to qualify for citizenship under current rules but will face waiting longer. Dutton has told colleagues to bring him any particular cases.

If the government is playing politics with its citizenship move, Labor will have its eye on what might be opportunities on the ground.

These changes won’t be popular with some in ethnic communities, where Labor seeks votes.

On the other hand, some of those who’ve entered the citizenship tent can be less than sympathetic to aspirants.

The ConversationThe government may get the legislation through regardless of Labor’s stand, via the crossbench. If so, the opposition would have to decide whether it would undertake to alter the law if it won the election, or just move right on.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/icjdu-6b9a25?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monsters of Australia and New Zealand


The link below is to an article that features many of the dangerous creatures lurking throughout Australia and New Zealand. The threat is real – you have been warned! Visit at your own risk. Those Drop Bears are always out there waiting for you.

For more visit:
http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/146182

Church in China to Risk Worshipping in Park


Evicted from one site and denied others, unregistered congregation resorts to open air.

LOS ANGELES, April 7 (CDN) — One of the largest unregistered Protestant churches in Beijing plans to risk arrest by worshipping in the open air this Sunday (April 10) after eviction from the restaurant where they have met for the past year.

The owner of the Old Story Club restaurant issued repeated requests for the Shouwang Church to find another worship venue, and authorities have pressured other prospective landlords to close their facilities to the 1,000-member congregation, sources said. Unwilling to subject themselves to the controls and restrictions of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the congregation has held three services each Sunday in the restaurant for more than a year.

Church members have said they are not opposed to the government and are not politically active, but they fear authorities could find their open-air worship threatening.

“Normal” (state-sanctioned) religious assembly outdoors is legal in China, and even unregistered church activity is usually tolerated if no more than 50 people gather, especially if the people are related and can cite the gathering as a family get-together, said a source in China who requested anonymity. Although the congregation technically risks arrest as an unregistered church, the primary danger is being viewed as politically active, the source said.

“For a larger group of Christians to meet in any ‘unregistered’ location led by an ‘unregistered’ leader is illegal,” he said. “The sensitivity of meeting in a park is not being illegal, but being so highly visible. Being ‘visible’ ends up giving an impression of being a political ‘protest.’”

The congregation believes China’s Department of Religious Affairs has overstepped its jurisdiction in issuing regulations limiting unregistered church activity, according to a statement church leaders issued this week.

“Out of respect for both the Chinese Constitution [whose Article 36 stipulates freedom of worship] and Christian conscience, we cannot actively endorse and submit to the regulations which bid us to cease all Sunday worship activities outside of [the] ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’ – the only state-sanctioned church,” according to the statement. “Of course, we still must follow the teachings of the Bible, which is for everyone to submit to and respect the governing authorities. We are willing to submit to the regulations with passivity and all the while shoulder all the consequences which . . . continuing to worship outside of what is sanctioned by these regulations will bring us.”

The church decided to resort to open-air worship after a prospective landlord backed out of a contractual agreement to allow the congregation to meet at the Xihua Business Hotel, the church said in its statement.

“They had signed another rental contract with another property facility and announced during the March 22 service that they were to move in two weeks,” the source said. “In spite of the fact that they had signed a formal contract, the new landlord suddenly called them on March 22 and refused to let them use the facility.”

The landlord offered various excuses for reneging on the contract, according to church leaders, and that disappointment came after 15 months of trying to obtain the key to another property the church had purchased.

“The space in Daheng New Epoch Technology building, which the church had spent over 27.5 million RMB [US$4.2 million] to purchase, has failed to hand the key over to the church for the past year and three months because of government intervention,” the church said in its statement. “For the past year, our church has not had a settled meeting place.”

Beginning as a house church in 1993, the Shouwang Church has been evicted from several rented locations. It also met outside after its last displacement in 2009. The congregation does not believe its calling is to split up into smaller units.

“For the past several years the church has been given a vision from God to be ‘the city on a hill,’” the source said. “Especially since 2009, when they officially began the church building purchase, they have been trying to become a more officially established status. At this point, they feel that they have not completed the journey in obedience to God.”

The number of Protestant house church Christians is estimated at between 45 and 60 million, according to Yu Jianrong, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Rural Development Institute. Yu and others have concluded that house churches are a positive influence on society, but the government is wary of such influence.

Yu estimated another 18 to 30 million people attend government-approved churches – potentially putting the number of Christians higher than that of Communist Party members, which number around 74 million.

The government-commissioned study by Yu and associates suggested that officials should seek to integrate house churches and no longer regard them as enemies of the state. The study employed a combination of interviews, field surveys and policy reviews to gather information on house churches in several provinces from October 2007 to November 2008.

Yu’s team found that most house or “family” churches fit into one of three broad categories: traditional house churches, open house churches or urban emerging churches. Traditional house churches were generally smaller, family-based churches, meeting in relative secrecy. Though not a Christian himself, Yu attended some of these meetings and noted that the focus was not on democracy or human rights but rather on spiritual life and community.

The “open” house churches were less secretive and had more members, sometimes advertising their services and holding public gatherings, he found. Urban emerging churches functioned openly but independently of TSPM churches. In some provinces such as Wenzhou, these churches had constructed their own buildings and operated without interference from local officials.

While some house churches actively seek registration with authorities to avoid arrests and harassment, they would like the option of registering outside the government-approved TSPM structure, as they disagree with TSPM beliefs and controls. Many unregistered evangelical Protestant groups refuse to register with TSPM due to theological differences, fear of adverse consequences if they reveal names and addresses of church leaders or members or fear that it will control sermon content.

Report from Compass Direct News
http://www.compassdirect.org