TIME animals

Study Shows How Even Frogs Make Irrational Mating Choices

frogs mating
Getty Images

"In some in cases irrational decisions can be looked at as the better way to have gone"

Give a female frog two potential mating options—an attractive frog and an unattractive frog—and she’ll pick the attractive frog nearly every time. But all bets are off if you throw in a third, less attractive frog, new research shows.

Researchers evaluated mating calls from male túngara frog for the new study, published this week in the journal Science. The finding adds to a growing body of research suggesting that mating choices don’t follow rational expectations.

Male frogs produce a sound to advertise themselves to potential mates. Female frogs typically responded best to longer calls made at a lower frequency when choosing between two male options. But when researchers added a third option to the mix that performed worse on both metrics, the female frog would often choose the intermediate option.

Study author Amanda Lea, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, likened the scenario, known as the “decoy effect,” to the way in which a consumer might behave when purchasing a new car. A customer may opt to buy a cheap car with poor fuel efficiency instead of a more expensive car with good fuel efficiency. But the costumer might reconsider when a salesmen presents a third option that is the most expensive and also has good fuel efficiency. The customer won’t choose the third option, but he might instead choose the second most expensive.

Read more Bees Are Losing Their Habitat Because of Climate Change

“Whatever you choose as the most important trait to begin with should also be the most important trait if you introduce a third option,” Lea said. “For some reason, adding a third option leads you to evaluate the first two and reverse your preferences.”

But the unexpected result doesn’t necessarily mean that the frogs made the wrong choice. Additional analysis might reveal why picking the third option may in fact be better for a frog, according to Lea.

“In some in cases irrational decisions can be looked at as the better way to have gone,” Lea said. “Going with your intuition is often better. It just depends on how you weigh your costs and benefits.”

TIME climate change

The Green Rebuilding of Post-Katrina New Orleans

Katrina Changing City New Orleans
Gerald Herbert—AP Empty lots and new buildings dot the Lower 9th Ward section of New Orleans on July 29, 2015.

'Green building means lower bills, fewer trips to the hospital for children with asthma'

When Hurricane Katrina rocked the Gulf Coast in 2005, displacing hundreds of thousands of residents, many wondered what shape a rebuilt city would take—or whether restoring the city would be possible at all. But some experts saw an opportunity in the catastrophe of New Orleans. In the aftermath of the storm, a slew of nonprofits committed millions of dollars to support the construction of green homes in the city, which in turn prompted a green building trend in the city. Now, 10 years late, green building experts say the work rebuilding there can serve as a model for other communities.

The Make it Right Foundation, founded by the actor Brad Pitt, has built more than 100 homes in the hard-hit Lower Ninth Ward for local residents. The residences built by the foundation included solar panels that reduce energy use from external sources and countertops made from recycled materials. All the homes were built to LEED Platinum certification standards, the highest-level designation for sustainable building offered by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Green building offers low-income homeowners an opportunity to cut energy costs, says Make it Right senior advisor Taylor Royle. Green homes in New Orleans tend to have energy bills of around $30 per month, including gas and electricity, compared to more than $100 in conventional homes. Green building materials, which often replace materials that exacerbate respiratory disease, can also improve environmental health, especially in low-income communities where asthma is particularly prevalent.

“It’s not just because someone in the environmental community believes in green building,” said Royle. “Green building means lower bills, fewer trips to the hospital for children with asthma.”

The green building group Global Green has become a lasting presence in local New Orleans communities, offering workshops on green building and inspecting homes to help identify cost-effective improvements, says Michelle Pyne, a senior staffer in New Orleans for Global Green.

Global Green has also moved beyond building green homes to advocate for public policy that encourages green building in the public sector and other solutions to make building in the region more sustainable. New Orleans public schools—110 of which were severely damaged—now have sustainability programs and any new schools must be built to at least LEED Silver standards, Pyne said.

In addition to offering cost-saving and environmental benefits, green homes in the city have been built to better withstand hurricanes. Make it Right, for instance, builds homes elevated 5 or 8 feet off the ground. All homes include roof access to ensure that residents aren’t trapped in the attic during a flooding situation—as happened during Katrina.

New Orleans has done much to prepare the city itself for the next hurricane, with a $14.5 billion, but homes that are themselves equipped to withstand storms and flooding is also a key element in preparation. Indeed, Louisiana’s master plan, which provides guidelines for how to protect the city from future natural disasters, includes provisions to help fund elevated homes for homeowners who may not be able to afford the expense.

“Every dollar up front is more effective than five spent after the fact,” said Mike Foley, CEO of insurance company Zurich North America Commercial. “We need to shift the conversation from one of recovery to one of resilience.”

Read next: New Orleans, Here & Now

TIME climate change

Why Climate Change Could Make Hurricane Impact Worse

Victims of Hurricane Katrina stay at the Astrodome stadium in Houston.
Carlos Barria—Reuters Victims of Hurricane Katrina stay at the Astrodome stadium where 16,000 evacuees were receiving food and shelter in Houston on Sept. 4, 2005.

Sea level rise plays a key role

Hurricane Katrina surprised disaster preparedness authorities when it made landfall 10 years ago, leveling entire communities and killing more than 1,800 people. The storm caused more than $100 billion in damage, making it the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. But for all the damage the storm caused in New Orleans, Katrina was a relatively weak hurricane when it hit the city.

In the academic community, the unexpected disaster prompted climate scientists to consider the link between climate change and storms. Since then, research has shown that climate change will increase the devastation caused by hurricanes as sea levels rise due to global warming. Some research has also suggested that climate change has increased the intensity and frequency of storms.

The phenomenon of storm surge plays an essential role in the worsening effect of hurricanes. Storm surge occurs when waters rise above their normal level during a storm and wind and weather conditions push that water onto shore. Thanks to global warming and rising sea levels, the potential for ocean water to be washed ashore by a storm surge has risen as well.

Read More: These Are the Cities Most Vulnerable to the Next Katrina

During Katrina, storm surge pushed ashore the water, causing levees to fail. The storm was recorded as a hurricane of category 1 or category 2 strength when it hit New Orleans, relatively weak for such a devastating hurricane. But the storm surge reached as high as 12 feet in some places, creating flood conditions across the city and wreaking havoc with the city’s levee system. Hurricane Sandy, which hit the New York City in 2012, cost $2 billion more due to sea level rise than it would have otherwise, according to a RAND report.

“The strong winds in Katrina essentially blew water from the gulf up across southern Louisiana,” said Hugh Roberts, associate vice president at ARCADIS, a firm that has consulted on Louisiana’s rebuilding efforts. “Once it hits land, it begins to build up.”

In the future, rising sea levels will only exacerbate the storm surge problem. Around the globe, sea levels are estimated to rise 1 to 3 feet by 2100 due to climate change, and researchers say that in places like New Orleans 1 foot of sea level rise may lead to a 3 or 4 foot storm surge rise.

While scientists have come to a consensus about how storm surge will affect cities, research on how climate change affects hurricane strength and intensity remains unclear, and no findings have been positive. Many peer-reviewed studies suggest that warmer weather in tropical oceans has increased the frequency of tropical storm activity, though not necessarily the intensity. Others suggest that climate change has made storms more intense. Still other research has suggested that future storms will be both more frequent and more intense.

The projection of more frequent and more intense hurricanes might surprise even the causal weather observer. Indeed, a major hurricane of category 3 or higher hasn’t hit U.S. soil since 2005, according to a study from earlier this year. But the so-called hurricane drought shouldn’t be viewed as an indication of what’s to come. This year’s strong El Niño will likely reduce the chance of powerful hurricanes.

Increased hurricane risk due to climate change presents a unique challenge for policy makers. While the federal government has promoted cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in hopes of slowing climate change, preparing for more dramatic storms requires local solutions. Even if countries around the world stem global warming, sea level rise will occur.

“There is not uncertainty about sea level rise,” said RAND researcher Jordan Fischbach, who led a Louisiana flood risk assessment team. “As we get more sea level rise, these large storm events will with certainty damage to assets and people.”

 

TIME Natural Disasters

These Are the Cities Most Vulnerable to the Next Katrina

Katrina Changing City New Orleans
Gerald Herbert—AP Empty lots and new buildings dot the Lower 9th Ward section of New Orleans on July 29, 2015.

'The entities that were most resilient were the ones who are best at preparing for the worst'

Where should we expect the next Hurricane Katrina to hit? Despite 10 years of work and some $15 billion in investment in disaster preparedness, experts say we may still want to look to New Orleans.

Identifying the places facing the most serious risk of a devastating hurricane requires a two-pronged approach: figuring out where the next big storm is likely to strike and determining how well those locations have prepared.

In Louisiana, federal dollars have funded the creation of a 133-mile levee system designed to protect the city from a once in 100-year storm. (That means, there’s a 1% chance that a storm of that size will occur on any given year.) As a storm approaches, officials can close off 220-ton gates and activate pumps that remove rainwater from the city’s sewage system. The pumps—the world’s largest—could fill the Superdome with water in 90 seconds.

At a cost of nearly $15 billion, the system wasn’t cheap. But it may not be enough to withstand the next serious storm, one that will likely be exacerbated by global warming and changing conditions in New Orleans. For one, land in the city is sinking at a rate of nearly half an inch each year due in part to changes in the soil that have resulted from human settlement. The occurrence, known technically as subsidence, has left many parts of the sea below sea level and especially vulnerable to flooding.

And, while the city sinks, climate change has been contributing to higher sea levels, further exacerbating flood risk. Around the globe, sea levels are estimated to rise 1 to 3 feet by 2100 due to climate change. Policymakers say storm surge, a phenomenon that raises sea levels during storms and pushes ocean water onto land, has them particularly concerned. And, in recent months, research has suggested that chances of storm surge are worse than previously believed.

“Looking forward, New Orleans is faced with a double-whammy. The land on which the city is built is sinking, even faster than the sea levels are rising,” said Robert Muir-Wood, chief research officer at Risk Management Solutions.

The new levees may protect New Orleans from a 100-year event in 2015 terms, but all bets are off looking 50 or 100 years into the future. And that says nothing about what will happen if the city faces a 500-year storm. Research from RMS suggests that New Orleans currently has a 1-in-440 chance of suffering from a storm that causes $15 billion in economic loss in any given year. By 2100, that number will be down to 1-in-315 under conservative estimates and the assumption that the city continues to upgrade its current infrastructure, according to RMS.

It’s also unclear how much meaning those older storm predictions have in a global warming age. Scientists disagree on whether Katrina itself was a 100-year event, a 500-year event, or even greater. The models that go into calculating 100-year storms are constantly changing, yet the levee system, once built, will be fixed.

Some officials in Louisiana hope that they will be able to do more than work with what they already have built. A task force put together a $50 billion master plan in 2012 that was meant to more fully provide protections against devastating losses. The plan calls for a slew of different protection measures, from paying for homeowners to elevate their houses to construction of more levees.

But with a hefty price tag, funding for the program has fallen fall short of what’s needed. Nonetheless, the program sets priorities when funding does begins to flow to the region again, said RAND researcher Jordan Fischbach, who led the flood risk assessment team for the master plan.

“Do you want this to be total protection?” asked Robert Muir Wood, chief research officer at Risk Management Solutions (RMS). “The government was not prepared to invest that much.”

But, while New Orleans still has much work to do to prepare fully for the next storm, in some ways the storm has been a helpful reminder—albeit a painful one. For other regions that haven’t prepared, the next storm could only be a season away. According to RMS, three cities beyond New Orleans face especially high chances of large-scale damages: Miami, Tampa and New York City. Currently, Tampa faces a 1-in-80 annual chance of a storm surge event causing more than $15 billion in damage. The odds are 1-in-125 in Miami and 1-in-200 in New York City.

Motivating those regions to prepare, and pay for it, will be a tough task. In efforts to combat climate change, national efforts often focus on reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, while local policy makers often work to make cities and communities able to withstand climate-related natural disasters. In many places, like Florida, there’s little motivation to spend time thinking about how climate change may make the next storm worse. Though the state contains two of the four cities most threatened by rising sea levels, state policies have created a roadblock to preparation.

“The disconnect is big,” Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs at the World Resources Institute, told TIME earlier this year. “At some point it’s going to have to close.”

Read next: New Orleans, Here & Now

TIME Crime

What We Know About the Virginia TV Shooting Suspect

Vester Lee Flanagan II was "an unhappy man"

The suspect who shot and killed two members of a television news crew Wednesday morning was a disgruntled former employee of the crew’s TV station who apparently wrote of his motives in a lengthy, rambling manifesto and on social media.

Vester Lee Flanagan II, known on air at WDBJ as Bryce Williams, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound hours after opening fire on a reporter and cameraman in Virginia. In addition to killing two, his attack had injured a third person. He was angry over being fired from the station, staff said.

In a 23-page fax sent to ABC News shortly after the shooting, Flanagan, 41, said he bought a gun in response to the June massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C.

“As for Dylann Roof?” Flanagan, who is black, wrote in the manifesto, according to excerpts posted by ABC. “You want a race war (deleted)? BRING IT THEN YOU WHITE …(deleted)!!!”

Flanagan had also called ABC over the past several weeks saying he wanted to pitch a story and called again Wednesday morning after the shooting, saying police were “after me.” ABC turned the fax over to authorities.

Flanagan had a troubled history at WDBJ, with president and general manager Jeff Marks telling the Associated Press that Flanagan was “an unhappy man” and “difficult to work with.” When he was fired, police were required to escort him from the building.

“Eventually after many incidents of his anger…we dismissed him,” Marks told the AP. “He did not take that well.”

Flanagan died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a hospital Wednesday after crashing his car while Virginia State Police had pursued him for shooting and killing photographer Adam Ward and reporter Alison Parker as the pair was on assignment in Franklin County, Va.

Shortly after the shooting on Wednesday morning, social media accounts under Bryce Williams’ name began posting comments and videos related to the attack.

“Alison made racist comments,” he wrote, referring to the dead reporter. “Adam went to HR on me,” he wrote of the photographer. At one point, Flanagan had filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, according to his Twitter page.

His final posts on both the Twitter and Facebook accounts—which were disabled by early Wednesday afternoon—were videos taken from the perspective of the shooter in the attack. In the videos, the person filming approaches Parker and Ward who at first continue with their work interviewing the head of the local chamber of commerce. The shooter then begins firing at close range as Parker screams and runs. The camera goes black and more screams can be heard.

Earlier posts on Flanagan’s Twitter account were largely innocuous, including baby photos and selfies, while on Facebook he had shared videos of cats. But on Aug. 19, his posts took a dark turn. He posted a clip from the television show “Dynasty” showing a man strangling a woman and saying “I’m going to kill you.” He also posted what appeared to be a reel from his work as a reporter. Many of the recent clips focused on murder, crime and race issues. In one clip, he fires what appears to be a machine gun.

Flanagan previously sued a former employer, Tallahassee television station WTWC, for racial discrimination and retaliation in 2000, according to court documents and the Tallahassee Democrat. In the suit, Flanagan alleged that coworkers called him a “monkey” and said “blacks are lazy,” allegations that the network denied. The lawsuit’s outcome was unclear.

TIME Crime

Suspect in TV Broadcast Dead From Self-Inflicted Gunshot Wound

Two members of a Virginia television news crew were killed Wednesday morning during a live broadcast by a disgruntled former employee of their TV station who shot himself shortly afterward as police pursued him.

The victims—cameraman Adam Ward, 27, and reporter Alison Parker, 24—were in the middle of an interview when they were both shot dead by 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan II, a fellow journalist who went by Bryce Williams on air, authorities said. A third victim, who was being interviewed at the time of the shooting, survived and is in stable condition.

Shortly after the shooting, ABC News said it received a rambling 23-page fax from someone identifying himself as Williams, mentioning the June Charleston church shooting as a potential motive and saying the massacre at the historically black church “sent me over the top.”

Authorities apprehended Flanagan after spotting his vehicle and pursuing it. Flanagan refused to stop, and his vehicle ran off the road and crashed. Troopers found Flanagan with a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and he later died at a hospital.

The shooting of the two journalists, who worked for WDBJ, took place at Bridgewater Plaza, a shopping center in Moneta, Va., and was captured on live TV. The video of the broadcast begins like any local news report, but turns grisly as Parker, the on-camera reporter, screams and a gun can be heard firing multiple times. The video ends with the camera on the ground before cutting to a clearly distressed anchor.

Another video that circulated on social media a few hours after the shooting appeared to show the attack as filmed from the point of view of the shooter. The graphic video, which was posted to Twitter and Facebook under the name Bryce Williams, shows the shooter pointing a gun at the victims, briefly turning away with the camera, and then opening fire. “I filmed the shooting see Facebook,” Williams posted on Twitter. The Twitter and Facebook accounts were quickly suspended late Wednesday morning.

Read more: What We Know About Virginia Shooting Victims Alison Parker and Adam Ward

Parker was a graduate of James Madison University and Ward graduated from Virginia Tech, according to the station. The third victim was identified by the Roanoke Times as Vicki Gardner, head of the local Chamber of Commerce.

In an impromptu broadcast, Jeff Marks, WDBJ president and general manager, described the pair as “two fine journalists.”

“I cannot tell you how much they were loved by the WDBJ team,” he said. “Our hearts are broken.”

Shortly after the shooting, WDBJ7 anchor Chris Hurst said on Twitter that he and Parker had been dating.

Ward was engaged to producer Melissa Ott, according to the WDBJ, and was working in the station’s control room at the time of his death.

TIME Theater

Here’s What Benedict Cumberbatch’s Mom Had To Say About Her Son’s Hamlet Performance

The London production of Hamlet has been a runaway box office success

The critics may have had mixed reviews of the new production of Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch, but the actor’s mother gave no doubt that she was a fan of her son’s performance, saying her son was “a bloody good Hamlet.”

“He was quite lively growing up, but I thought that was phenomenal,” Cumberbatch’s mother Wanda Ventham told the Guardian. She urged critics to declare her son, “a bloody good Hamlet.”

The London production of the Shakespeare classic has been a runaway box office success, at least in part due to the fame surrounding Cumberbatch. Still, the production opened to mixed reviews earlier this month.

[Guardian]

TIME National Security

Pentagon Investigating ‘Misleading’ ISIS Intelligence Reports

The intelligence reports have landed on the desk of key policy makers including President Obama

The Pentagon is investigating whether military officials misled policy makers in the United States by suggesting that efforts to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have been more successful than they have been in reality, according to a report.

Citing anonymous U.S. officials, the New York Times reports that a civilian defense analyst blew the whistle on officials in a key division of the U.S. armed forces that had revised intelligence reports to make campaigns sound more successful. The intelligence reports have landed on the desk of key policy makers, including President Barack Obama.

The investigation, a rarity in given the often subjective nature of many intelligence assessments, is being handled by the inspector general at the Department of Defense.

The conclusion of the investigation has implications for ongoing U.S. efforts to weaken ISIS. The U.S. has led bombing campaigns against the extremist group, among other efforts.

Read more at the New York Times

TIME 2016 Election

Donald Trump and Univision’s Jorge Ramos Spar on Immigration

Trump sought to silence the Spanish-language journalist

Donald Trump attacked the most important journalist on Spanish-speaking television in a face-off with Univision’s Jorge Ramos on Tuesday in Iowa, the latest in a series of verbal assaults against journalists by the billionaire presidential candidate.

The latest kerfuffle began when Ramos tried to ask Trump about his immigration plan before he called. Trump responded by telling anchor Ramos to “go back to Univision.”

Earlier this month Trump insulted Fox News anchor Megan Kelly after she asked him tough debate questions, saying she had “blood coming out of her wherever.” This week Trump continued to taunt Kelly, using the word “bimbo” to describe Kelly in tweet and saying he liked her show better without her.

In another spat with journalists, Trump launched into a tirade against the Des Moines Register last month after the newspaper’s editorial board called on him to drop out of the race. In a statement, Trump said the paper had “lost much circulation, advertising, and power” and would “do anything for a headline.”

At a press conference this week, Trump pounced on Ramos as he stood up and asked Trump a question about his immigration plan before he was called. “Sit down. You weren’t called sit down. Sit down.”

“I have the right to ask a question,” said Ramos.

“No you don’t,” Trump said. “You haven’t been called. Go back to Univision.”

As Ramos continued to speak, Trump appeared to glance at his regular, traveling bodyguard and click his lips. The bodyguard then approached Ramos and escorted him out of the room.

When a reporter asked Trump about the exchange moments later, Trump said, “I don’t really know much about him… I didn’t escort him out. Whoever security is escorted him out.”

Trump added “Somebody just walked him out, I don’t know where he is, I don’t even mind if he comes back, frankly… He’s obviously a very emotional person.”

About ten minutes later, Ramos was allowed back into the room, and again challenged Trump on his immigration policy, saying “Your immigration plan is full of empty promises. You cannot deport 11 million people. You cannot deny citizenship to the children. You cannot—”

Trump cut him off. “Why do you say that? Excuse me, no, no. A lot of people think that’s not right, that an act of Congress can do that,” referring to citizenship by birth, a constitutional principle that grants citizenship to children born in the United States.

Trump interrupted Ramos several times, continuing to make his argument. “Excuse me, no. No, no, some of the greatest legal scholars, and I know some of those television scholars agree with you,” he told Ramos as they disputed birth citizenship.

The exchange between journalist and real estate mogul was so tense partly because it centered on one of the most controversial planks of Trump’s candidacy, his immigration platform. The real estate mogul has called for the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and the construction of a 1900-mile wall between the United States and Mexico. Trump’s plan has won him the support of the Republican conservative base, and anger among immigrant advocates, moderates, Democrats and Hispanics.

Ramos has been a persistent critic of Trump, questioning the Republican candidate’s scanty immigration white paper and the expense and chaos that deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants might cause.

Trump defended his plan to Ramos, saying “We’re going to do it in a very humane fashion,” said Trump. “I have a bigger heart than you do.”

TIME Environment

The Strange Cause of Air Pollution Decline in the Middle East

Tehran streets pollution
Getty Images

The Arab Spring contributed to a decline in air pollution, according to new research

The Arab Spring may have brought a literal breath of fresh air to the Middle East, according to new research.

Instability in the Middle East in 2010-11 can be linked to a decline in air pollution, reports a study published in the journal Science Advances. The findings suggest that short-term societal changes can disrupt climate trends years in the making.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas produced by car engines and power plants than can contribute to climate change, grew rapidly in cities like Damascus, Aleppo, Tehran and Cairo in the early years of the 2000s until they experienced a drop-off around the beginning of the following decade. The onset of unrest caused an economic impact that led to the decline, researchers say.

“The Middle East is a region that catches a lot of attention with political problems and upheaval and armed conflict,” said Jos Lelieveld, study author and professor at the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry, on a conference call for journalists. “We find the geopolitics and armed conflict in the Middle East has really drastically altered air pollution emissions.”

Read more: Here’s Where to Buy a House In the U.S. That Will Be Resilient to Climate Change

Researchers used satellite data to track how nitrogen dioxide emissions changed over time in the Middle East. Using that data, they evaluated nitrogen dioxide levels in conjunction with different policies and societal changes occurring at the time.

In Cairo, for instance, nitrogen dioxide emissions had grown at a rate between 5% and 7% per year in the five years up to 2010. The Egyptian Revolution that year brought with it fuel shortages and household economic problems that drove down levels of nitrogen dioxide, said Lelieveld. In Tehran, the decline in emissions was triggered as the United Nations tightened sanctions in 2010.

The researchers note some exceptions to the trend. Nitrogen dioxide levels declined in Riyadh despite relative stability in Saudi Arabia. Lelieveld attributed the decline to air quality legislation aimed at reducing pollution.

The findings suggest that it may be difficult to accurately project the human impact on climate change and the environment without considering unexpected short-term societal changes. The findings of the research were not predicted by past emissions scenarios, according to the study. “If you could predict crises that would be great, but crisis is invariably unpredictable,” said Lelieveld.

The study adds to research showing the link between air pollution and economy growth. Recent research showed that the 2008 economic collapse and the subsequent recession contributed to a decline in carbon emissions in the United States.

Read next: EPA Proposes New Rules to Cut Climate Change-Causing Methane Emissions

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