We did start the fire

An ‘air purification’ ritual by Indian priests in Tokyo is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen done in a while.

This is one of the dumbest things I’ve seen done in a while:

The Asian News International network tweeted that a group of Indian priests had performed a long yagya in Tokyo for the express purpose of purifying the environment. A yagya (or a yagna, although I am not sure if they’re the same) typically involves keeping a pyre of wooden logs lubricated with ghee burning for a long time. So a plea to the gods to clear the airs was encoded in many kilograms of carbon dioxide? Clearly these god-fearing gentlemen insist that they will accept only the gods’ solutions to their problems – not anyone else’s, no matter how motivated. I dearly hope that, if nothing else, the event will create an ironic awareness of what is at stake.

Featured image credit: kabetojamaicafotografia/Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Why India's rabies problem is especially bad

India bears the world’s heaviest rabies burden, according to a new study from the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, accounting for 35% of all deaths due to the disease. Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised (data from GARC).

1. Vaccination coverage of dogs

Vaccination coverage of dogs in BRICS nations.
Vaccination coverage of dogs in BRICS nations.

Among the BRICS nations, India has the highest population of dogs and one of the lowest rates of vaccination.

2. Chances of receiving care

Chances of receiving prophylactic care after a rabid animal bite, in BRICS countries.
Chances of receiving prophylactic care after a rabid animal bite, in BRICS countries.

If you were bitten by an animal, in India the animal could be rabid 54% of time, and in China, 55%. But of every thousand people bitten by rabid animals, 24 don’t receive palliative care in India, while only 4 people don’t receive it in China.

3. Access to post-exposure care

Years of life lost due to rabies, in BRICS countries.
Years of life lost due to rabies, in BRICS countries.

Despite China being more populous than India and having a greater bite-incidence (1,107 vs. 691, per 100,000 people), the years of life lost due to rabies is higher in India. The GARC report uses multiple studies to come up with different estimates of that number, but India’s lower limit is comfortably higher than other BRICS countries’ upper limits. This is about there being more people in India exposed to dog-bites – as well as about the physical access to, the quality of and the affordability of care.

The result…

Types of losses incurred due to the burden of rabies, in BRICS countries.
Types of losses incurred due to the burden of rabies, in BRICS countries.

Why India’s rabies problem is especially bad

India bears the world’s heaviest rabies burden, according to a new study from the Global Alliance for Rabies Control, accounting for 35% of all deaths due to the disease. Here’s why you shouldn’t be surprised (data from GARC).

1. Vaccination coverage of dogs

Vaccination coverage of dogs in BRICS nations.
Vaccination coverage of dogs in BRICS nations.

Among the BRICS nations, India has the highest population of dogs and one of the lowest rates of vaccination.

2. Chances of receiving care

Chances of receiving prophylactic care after a rabid animal bite, in BRICS countries.
Chances of receiving prophylactic care after a rabid animal bite, in BRICS countries.

If you were bitten by an animal, in India the animal could be rabid 54% of time, and in China, 55%. But of every thousand people bitten by rabid animals, 24 don’t receive palliative care in India, while only 4 people don’t receive it in China.

3. Access to post-exposure care

Years of life lost due to rabies, in BRICS countries.
Years of life lost due to rabies, in BRICS countries.

Despite China being more populous than India and having a greater bite-incidence (1,107 vs. 691, per 100,000 people), the years of life lost due to rabies is higher in India. The GARC report uses multiple studies to come up with different estimates of that number, but India’s lower limit is comfortably higher than other BRICS countries’ upper limits. This is about there being more people in India exposed to dog-bites – as well as about the physical access to, the quality of and the affordability of care.

The result…

Types of losses incurred due to the burden of rabies, in BRICS countries.
Types of losses incurred due to the burden of rabies, in BRICS countries.

Curious Bends – expanding nuclear power, the Bombay Blood Group, doubting the tobacco-cancer link & more

1. India’s new forest laws are criminalising tribes’ once-normal livelihoods

“India has forest coverage of 23% and more than 200 million live in and around these forests and depend on them for their life, livelihood and cultural identity. But under the banner (some call it “guise”) of scientific management of forests, the intended objectives of our forest policies has been to “maximise profits” by sale of forest products and discouraging forest dwellers from “exploiting” forest resources. To do so, some trees like red sanders have been ‘nationalised’. This legal appropriation of forests has led to the ‘criminalisation’ of normal livelihood activities of forest-dependent people, making them ‘encroachers’.” (4 min read, hindustantimes.com)

2. A large-scale expansion of nuclear power in India should include fuel-reprocessing, if only to minimise the amount of radioactive waste lying around

“Putting aside additional uranium resources that may be identified in the future, and also putting aside nuclear energy’s future growth rate, one must conclude that uranium-based fission energy cannot in any event last for more than a few centuries. This is not much time—when measured against the length of time that humankind is likely to exist. We, the authors, believe that the current generation bears a responsibility toward future generations not to deplete the world’s uranium resources. This means that uranium cannot be discarded as waste after only 1 percent of its energy is utilized—as happens today. Rather, reprocessing and recycling must be pursued so that 75 percent of uranium (if not more) is used to produce fission energy. Reprocessing and recycling have the potential, compared to the once-through use of uranium, to increase by a factor of at least 50 the amount of time during which humankind can derive fission energy from uranium resources.” (6 min read, thebulletin.org)

3. Why is a rare blood group more common in India than in Europe or the US?

“What took Swapna by surprise actually takes a lot of people by surprise. It’s because 1-in-17,000 people report something called the Bombay Blood Group. That’s one person in 17,000. Now imagine the Eden Gardens stadium filled with capacity with cricket fans. Five people in that stadium would have this blood group. And that’s how rare it is in India. In the United States and Europe, it’s even rarer. It’s one in a million, even if that. And that’s what we’re putting under the microscope today. The only difficult thing about living life with a Bombay Blood Group is getting a transfusion, if you need it. You cant just stroll into a bloodbank and ask for Bombay-type. It’s too rare.” (14 min listen, audiomatic.in)

+ This new podcast, The Intersection, is produced by the journalists Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian.

4. The Indian government is suspicious of the link between tobacco and cancer

“In a move denounced by India’s health activists, the Central government on Tuesday deferred its decision mandating that pictorial health warnings cover 85% of all tobacco packaging. The postponement comes a day before the rule was to come into effect and a day after puzzling remarks by Dilip Gandhi, the head of the parliamentary panel examining provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act. “All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco,” PTI reported Gandhi as saying. “But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco.”” (4 min read, scroll.in)

5. “You come to such a big hospital and expect it to be free?”

“Take the example of Selphili Kumar, a 25-year-old mother. In a government hospital in Ambikapur, she shivered alone on a dirty cot, waiting for the doctor to treat her two-day-old son, who had been sick and weak since birth. There was intense pressure in her abdomen and sudden chills racking her body, but all she could think about was money. Her husband, a labourer with a monthly income of about Rs3,500, had paid Rs1,000 to get to the hospital from her village of Kailashpur, Rs600 to order her post-cesarian medicine from the pharmacy (that the hospital claimed they didn’t have on hand), and Rs1,500 for her baby’s treatment. Wrapping her purple sweater tightly around her, her breaths short and shallow, Kumar worried that staying in the hospital longer would only rack up the bill further—a bill that, legally, shouldn’t have existed.” (14 min read, qz.com)

Chart of the Week

“Archeological studies show that societies in the past were very violent indeed. The share of people killed by other people was often more 10%. Ethnographic evidence confirms that violence is very common in nonstate societies and drastically higher than in modern state societies. The historical record of homicide rates in Europe shows that modern levels of violence were only arrived at after a long decline. In these barcharts we compare rates of violence – rather than shares of violent deaths. Again, ethnographic studies show that violence in nonstate societies was much higher than in modern state societies.” (ourworldindata.org)

Rate of violent deaths in nonstate and state societies; Max Roser. Credit: ourworldindata.org
Rate of violent deaths in nonstate and state societies; Max Roser. Credit: ourworldindata.org

Curious Bends – expanding nuclear power, the Bombay Blood Group, doubting the tobacco-cancer link & more

1. India’s new forest laws are criminalising tribes’ once-normal livelihoods

“India has forest coverage of 23% and more than 200 million live in and around these forests and depend on them for their life, livelihood and cultural identity. But under the banner (some call it “guise”) of scientific management of forests, the intended objectives of our forest policies has been to “maximise profits” by sale of forest products and discouraging forest dwellers from “exploiting” forest resources. To do so, some trees like red sanders have been ‘nationalised’. This legal appropriation of forests has led to the ‘criminalisation’ of normal livelihood activities of forest-dependent people, making them ‘encroachers’.” (4 min read, hindustantimes.com)

2. A large-scale expansion of nuclear power in India should include fuel-reprocessing, if only to minimise the amount of radioactive waste lying around

“Putting aside additional uranium resources that may be identified in the future, and also putting aside nuclear energy’s future growth rate, one must conclude that uranium-based fission energy cannot in any event last for more than a few centuries. This is not much time—when measured against the length of time that humankind is likely to exist. We, the authors, believe that the current generation bears a responsibility toward future generations not to deplete the world’s uranium resources. This means that uranium cannot be discarded as waste after only 1 percent of its energy is utilized—as happens today. Rather, reprocessing and recycling must be pursued so that 75 percent of uranium (if not more) is used to produce fission energy. Reprocessing and recycling have the potential, compared to the once-through use of uranium, to increase by a factor of at least 50 the amount of time during which humankind can derive fission energy from uranium resources.” (6 min read, thebulletin.org)

3. Why is a rare blood group more common in India than in Europe or the US?

“What took Swapna by surprise actually takes a lot of people by surprise. It’s because 1-in-17,000 people report something called the Bombay Blood Group. That’s one person in 17,000. Now imagine the Eden Gardens stadium filled with capacity with cricket fans. Five people in that stadium would have this blood group. And that’s how rare it is in India. In the United States and Europe, it’s even rarer. It’s one in a million, even if that. And that’s what we’re putting under the microscope today. The only difficult thing about living life with a Bombay Blood Group is getting a transfusion, if you need it. You cant just stroll into a bloodbank and ask for Bombay-type. It’s too rare.” (14 min listen, audiomatic.in)

+ This new podcast, The Intersection, is produced by the journalists Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian.

4. The Indian government is suspicious of the link between tobacco and cancer

“In a move denounced by India’s health activists, the Central government on Tuesday deferred its decision mandating that pictorial health warnings cover 85% of all tobacco packaging. The postponement comes a day before the rule was to come into effect and a day after puzzling remarks by Dilip Gandhi, the head of the parliamentary panel examining provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act. “All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco,” PTI reported Gandhi as saying. “But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco.”” (4 min read, scroll.in)

5. “You come to such a big hospital and expect it to be free?”

“Take the example of Selphili Kumar, a 25-year-old mother. In a government hospital in Ambikapur, she shivered alone on a dirty cot, waiting for the doctor to treat her two-day-old son, who had been sick and weak since birth. There was intense pressure in her abdomen and sudden chills racking her body, but all she could think about was money. Her husband, a labourer with a monthly income of about Rs3,500, had paid Rs1,000 to get to the hospital from her village of Kailashpur, Rs600 to order her post-cesarian medicine from the pharmacy (that the hospital claimed they didn’t have on hand), and Rs1,500 for her baby’s treatment. Wrapping her purple sweater tightly around her, her breaths short and shallow, Kumar worried that staying in the hospital longer would only rack up the bill further—a bill that, legally, shouldn’t have existed.” (14 min read, qz.com)

Chart of the Week

“Archeological studies show that societies in the past were very violent indeed. The share of people killed by other people was often more 10%. Ethnographic evidence confirms that violence is very common in nonstate societies and drastically higher than in modern state societies. The historical record of homicide rates in Europe shows that modern levels of violence were only arrived at after a long decline. In these barcharts we compare rates of violence – rather than shares of violent deaths. Again, ethnographic studies show that violence in nonstate societies was much higher than in modern state societies.” (ourworldindata.org)

Rate of violent deaths in nonstate and state societies; Max Roser. Credit: ourworldindata.org
Rate of violent deaths in nonstate and state societies; Max Roser. Credit: ourworldindata.org

Curious Bends – Indian Luddites, an academic career, the great forgetting and more

Curious Bends is a weekly newsletter about science, tech., data and India. Akshat Rathi and I curate it. You can subscribe to it here. If have feedback, suggestions, or would just generally like to get in touch, just email us.

1. Say with pride that we’re Luddites

Science is often confused with technology in India. The consequences range in flavour from amusing to dire – for example, we celebrate rockets, not rocket scientists. So we fund rockets, not rocket scientists. This piece explores the history of this perception with interesting and insightful episodes from the past. Beware, though: some of them have evolved many grey areas. (8 min read)

2. India’s hopes for development rely on its public health strategies

That India is neither a middling nor a superpower nation comes down to how good access to health, water, sanitation and education in it are. Health, in particular, needs special attention because of two reasons. First: India shares a disproportionate fraction of the world’s disease burden – especially among non-communicable diseases. Second: the skill and capital needed to resolve the problem is controlled by private interests operating only at state-wide levels. (10 min read)

3. Forgoing a fat pay cheque is totally worth it to become an academic

“The placement season is just starting for the 2015 graduates. And newspapers are already talking about crore+ salaries this year. That it would be for a very small number of graduates is lost on most people. And in this race to get the biggest package, one career that is often forgotten is that of an academic.” (6 min read)

+ The author, Dheeraj Sanghi, is a professor of computer science at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

4. China’s JUNO launches international collaboration while India’s INO looks on

The Jiangmen Underground Neutrino Observatory is expected to be completed by 2020, and will search for answers to unsolved problems in neutrino physics. More importantly, it will be China’s second big neutrino experiment and second also to feature an international collaboration of scientists and institutions. The India-based Neutrino Observatory, also foreseeing completion by 2020, is yet to find similar interest. As has frustratingly been the case, it’s the scientists who lose out. (3 min read)

5. Indian universities ban dissections

A campaign led by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has borne its fruits: a central body that sets standards for university education in India has banned dissections in zoology and life sciences courses. This move solves some legitimate problems but exacerbates some silly others. For one, removing endangered animals from the table doesn’t mean non-endangered ones can’t be put there. For another, assuming “most zoology students do not use the knowledge gained from dissections after they graduate” excludes those who do, and education is for everybody. (3 min read)

Featured longread: What happened to each one of us before the age of seven?

“… if the memory was a very emotional one, children were three times more likely to retain it two years later. Dense memories – if they understood the who, what, when, where and why – were five times more likely to be retained than disconnected fragments. Still, oddball and inconsequential memories such as the bounty of cookies will hang on, frustrating the person who wants a more penetrating look at their early past.” (18 min read)

Chart of the week

Gone are the days when Britain built most of the world’s ships and ruled the seas. By the end of the Second World War, the US was producing 90% of all the world’s ships by weight. By the 1990s, though, Japan and South Korea had in turns acquired the title. Now this decisive distinction could belong to China. Today, it produces around 35% of the world’s ships. The Economist has more.

World shipbuilding  of total in gross tonnage

If you know someone who’d appreciate a weekly roundup of science, tech and data stories from around India, all you need to do is forward them this email and this link to susbscribe.