Curious Bends – the misery index, twin births, ethnic inequality and more

1. India’s heat wave has been made worse by its humidity

“But at least these places had a “dry heat,” and overnight temperatures have been falling into the 80s. Along the coast, temperatures were slightly lower, but much higher humidity levels created a punishing heat index that persisted throughout the night. In Mumbai, for example, the heat index bottomed out just below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and only for a few hours overnight Wednesday. In severe heat waves, oppressively hot overnight temperatures are extremely deadly, because there’s just no chance for overheated bodies to cool off. That means the “misery index”—a creation of Web developer Cameron Beccario that factors in both heat and humidity—is off the charts nearly nationwide.” (4 min read,

2. We’re producing enough electricity—but doing a bad job of distributing it

“There are no takers for all the generation capacity that is in place. There is demand but they don’t have the money to pay for the power due to the health of the [state distribution companies],” a senior government official told ET, adding that discoms across all states had incurred accumulated losses of Rs 2.51 lakh crore in 2012-13. In 2014-15, 22,566 MW of capacity was commissioned, which officials and experts said were stuck in the pipeline for years till they were put on the fast-track by the UPA in its fag end through the Cabinet Committee on Investments.” (4 min read,

3. The strange and mysterious science of twin births

“Twins have fascinated both scientists and Bollywood directors alike. Why are there are some places with a statistically higher incidence of twin births? Much higher! Is it the water, the air, or could it be the yam? Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian investigate the mysteries behind twin births, getting behind the science, the statistics and some plain old superstition to uncover the theories and the conspiracies.” (12 min listen,

4. The connection between Cristiano Ronaldo and a remote dengue fever outbreak

“Break Dengue, a site funded by drug companies, NGOs, and other health groups, posits an unlikely potential factor in Madeira’s outbreak: global football star Cristiano Ronaldo. The epidemic’s origins trace back to a charter flight of tourists from Venezuela, according to Ana Clara Silva, an epidemiologist at Madeira’s health institute, who spoke at a recent infectious disease conference in London. Break Dengue’s Gary Finnegan noted that the tourists were quite possibly making a pilgrimage to the Portuguese soccer mega-star’s birthplace, as Ronaldo is a major tourist draw for Madeira.” (3 min read,

5. In an ethnically divided country, the poor feel their poverty more keenly

“The authors show that as a country’s ethnic inequality falls, average GDP per person rises. A one-standard-deviation decline in a country’s ethnic Gini index—the equivalent of moving from the level of Nigeria to that of Namibia—is associated with a 28% increase in GDP per person. It seems likely that ethnic inequality leads to low levels of development, not the other way around. After all, in other tests the authors find that ethnic inequality mostly reflects unequal geographical endowments, such as more fertile land and distance to the coast. What explains these results? When there is inequality along ethnic lines, the paper suggests, those grouped at the bottom feel their poverty more keenly. The rich are easier to identify, and thus an easier target. All told, ethnically imbalanced societies may be more prone to conflict, which is hardly good for growth.” (2 min read,

Chart of the Week

“In 2000, United Nations member countries agreed to ambitious development targets that they hoped to reach by 2015. These are the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Among them was to reduce the number of people suffering from undernourishment—enough to cut the global hunger rate in half. Now 2015 is here, and it turns out the world is actually doing a pretty good job on that measure. The UN has released its annual report on hunger, which it defines as chronic undernourishment—the inability to acquire enough food for at least one year. Here’s what it found: since 1990 31 more countries have met the UN goal of cutting hunger in half or bringing it under 5% of their populations.” (2 min read,