Blog Brief: Paula Zahn, Stephen Colbert and Climate Change Jargon

Violence Against Women
The Justice Blog
Jan. 11, 2010

Journalist Paula Zahn takes a turn at the Justice Department blog as part of the department’s efforts to raise awareness of issues related to violence against women, such as stalking.

Zahn has been doing research on the topic for an investigative news program she is producing, providing an opportunity to talk with survivors about their stories and the devastating effects on their families.

“Despite the gains made in reducing stalking incidents, I am alarmed by the number of victims who are simply falling through the cracks, who are let down by the very system that is in place to protect them,” Zahn writes.

The data is alarming, she writes. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that 76 percent of domestic violence homicides were preceded by stalking.

Colbert and Clean Air
Jan. 13, 2010

Becky Fried, a student contractor at the Environmental Protection Agency, pulls up a video clip by comedian Stephen Colbert to highlight a generally overlooked 2009 study on the connection between clean air and life expectancy.

It sounds obvious — which is why it made a good target for Colbert — but scientists are not interested in appearances but in proof. The increase in life expectancy might have been attributable to concurrent factors, such as decreased cigarette smoking or better eating habits and health care. But that was not the case, which is why EPA wants to drum up more interest in the report.

“The subject of Colbert’s mockery is actually one of the most significant air studies recently published,” Fried writes. “It presents evidence, for the first time, that breathing cleaner air actually makes people live longer.”

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that cleaner air in the United States has increased life expectancy by an average of five months.

Climate Science Jargon
What on Earth blog
Dec. 21, 2009

When it comes to debating science policy, language is always a barrier. A recent blog post from NASA’s Earth Science News Team highlights the challenge by comparing the common understanding of scientific terms with their technical definitions.

For example, to most people the word "aerosols" refers to “spray cans that dispense a liquid mist, many of which damage Earth's ozone layer,” while to scientists, aerosol indicates “a suspension of any solid or liquid droplet in the atmosphere,” such as dust, soot, pollen, sea salt and sulfates.

Even more perplexing is the concept of "bias." To the public, it suggests a manipulation of data to suit political ideology. But to a scientist, it describes “a statistical sample in which members of the sample are not equally likely to be chosen,” according to the science team.


Sorting Through Time

The Social Security Administration’s blog, Social Security News ( recently provided readers with this glimpse into its history, showing employees filing and retrieving Social Security records in the 1940s, before the advent of electronic computers and data storage. The agency opened its first field office, in Austin, Texas, in 1936, and by the end of 1940, it had issued more than 54 million Social Security numbers. By 2004, the number had grown to 420 million.


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