• EpidemicsBusiness cycle drives the spread of viral diseases

    Next time a flu epidemic hits your area, putting everyone in bed, rejoice: it may mean that the recession is over. A new paper highlights the connection between the business cycle and the spread of viruses: “We find that epidemics spread faster during economic booms,” the paper says. “During booms more people are traveling, which increases inter-personal contacts and the spread of diseases.”

  • Extreme weatherWhen catastrophe strikes, who foots the bill?

    By Carolin Schellhorn

    One consequence of climate change is that extreme weather events are occurring more often with the potential to cause catastrophic damage more frequently. According to the 2016 Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum, extreme weather events rank second as the most likely threat to global stability going forward. And my research on the safety and soundness of financial institutions suggests this trend may also threaten the stability of the insurance industry. Extreme weather is expensive for insurance companies and their reinsurers, communities, taxpayers, and also, potentially, capital market investors. And it’s only getting more expensive as climate change increases the frequency of storms and their severity. While more can be done to improve risk pricing and risk management, climate change mitigation is critical for our ability to continue to survive and recover from the catastrophes that lie ahead.

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  • EnergyCoal's decline driven by technology, market forces – not policy

    Many people – and many politicians — attribute coal’s decline to the clean-air policies of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through rules that the agency applied to electricity generation plants. A new study points out that largely because of court challenges, EPA clean-air regulations did not change until 2015 — twenty-five years after President G. H. W. Bush signed amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1980. For eighteen years following new EPA rules, coal continued to thrive — until 2008, when its production peaked and then declined 23 percent in the next seven years. The study found that the decline is correlated with the shale revolution that began to be fully felt in 2007-2008, after which cheap natural gas outcompeted coal markedly.

  • First response technologyDHS S&T announces 10 start-ups for first responder technology innovation

    DHS S&T has announced the selection of ten startup companies to be part of EMERGE 2016: Wearable Technology, a program designed to bring startups, accelerators, and other strategic partners together in a common research and development effort. The program is focused on wearable technology that can be modified specifically for first responders.

  • Immigration & wagesImmigration: Small impact on wages, employment of native-born U.S. workers

    A new report on the impact of immigration over the past twenty years on the U.S. labor market and wages of native-born workers, found that the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small. To the extent that negative impacts occur, they are most likely to be found for prior immigrants or native-born workers who have not completed high school — who are often the closest substitutes for immigrant workers with low skills. There is little evidence that immigration significantly affects the overall employment levels of native-born workers. Some evidence on inflow of skilled immigrants suggests that there may be positive wage effects for some subgroups of native-born workers, and other benefits to the economy more broadly. Immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the United States.

  • R&DHalf of U.S. business R&D concentrated in five states

    Five states accounted for just over half of the $255 billion of research and development (R&D) companies paid for and performed in the United States in 2013. The five states with the highest levels of business R&D performance — California, Massachusetts, Michigan, Texas, and Washington — accounted for $133 billion, or 52 percent, of the total.

  • SurveillanceYahoo stealthily scanned customer e-mails on behalf of U.S. intelligence agencies

    A report on Tuesday accuses Yahoo of secretly building a customized software program to search all of its customers’ incoming e-mails for specific information provided by the U.S. intelligence company. The company, complying with classified NSA and FBI directives, scanned hundreds of millions of Yahoo Mail accounts. Yahoo is the first U.S. Internet company to agree to such a blanket request.

  • Common pool resourcesGame theory research highlights fragility of common resources

    New research in game theory shows that people are naturally predisposed to over-use “common-pool resources” such as transportation systems and fisheries even if it risks failure of the system, to the detriment of society as a whole. The research could have implications for the management of engineered systems such as the power grid, communications systems, distribution systems, and online file sharing systems, along with natural systems such as fisheries.

  • Emerging threatsOptimal strategies to cope with climate change depend on the pace of change

    What would we do differently if sea level were to rise one foot per century versus one foot per decade? Until now, most policy and research has focused on adapting to specific amounts of climate change and not on how fast that climate change might happen. Researchers, using sea-level rise as a case study, have developed a quantitative model that considers different rates of sea-level rise, in addition to economic factors, and shows how consideration of rates of change affect optimal adaptation strategies.

  • SurveillanceFrom 2012 to 2014, FBI submitted 561 Section215 applications: DOJ OIG

    The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) last week released a June 2016 report examining the FBI’s use of the investigative authority granted by Section 215 of the Patriot Act between 2012 and 2014. The report notes that from 2012 through 2014 the DOJ, on behalf of the FBI, submitted 561 Section 215 applications to the FISA Court, all of which were approved.

  • Chemical spillsFlorida tightens public notification rules for pollution incidents

    Last week Governor Rick Scott instructed Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Jon Steverson to issue an emergency rule that establishes new requirements for public notification of pollution incidents. The rule is to take effect immediately. Scott issued the instruction following the sewage spill in Pinellas County and the sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales facility.

  • Chemical spillsMassive 2014 West Virginia chemical spill was preventable: CSB

    The Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) final report into the massive 2014 release by Freedom Industries of chemicals into the primary source of drinking water of Charleston, West Virginia, concludes that Freedom Industries failed to inspect or repair corroding tanks, and that as hazardous chemicals flowed into the Elk River, the water company and local authorities were unable effectively to communicate the looming risks to hundreds of thousands of affected residents, who were left without clean water for drinking, cooking, and bathing.

  • Water securityCalifornia's almond boom ramped up water use, consumed wetlands

    Converting land in California to grow water-hungry almonds between 2007 and 2014 has led to a 27 percent annual increase in irrigation demands — despite the state’s historic drought. The expansion of almonds has also consumed 16,000 acres of wetlands and will likely put additional pressure on already stressed honeybee populations.

  • Terrorism & social mediaJudge questions whether Facebook is doing enough to deter terrorists from using its platform

    A federal judge harshly criticized Facebook, admonishing the social media giant for not be doing enough to deter terrorists from using its platform. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn, New York, also accused Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Facebook’s lawyers — who had sent a first-year associate to a hearing — of not taking seriously lawsuits which touch on important issues such as international terrorism and the murder of innocents. “I think it is outrageous, irresponsible, and insulting,” Garaufis told the attorney. The judge ordered the law firm to send a more senior lawyer to the next hearing on 28 September because he wanted to “talk to someone who talks to senior management at Facebook.”

  • Water securityAbnormalities found in drinking water in Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale region

    Chemists studying well water quality in the Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale region found some abnormal chloride/bromide ratios, alongside evidence of dissolved gases and sporadic episodes of volatile organic compounds, all indicative of some contamination from industrial or agricultural activities in the area.