Saturday, January 10, 2015

Do sunspots during pregnancy shorten baby's life by 5 years?

The Huffington Post, SciAm, and others bring our attention to a new spooky Norwegian paper
Solar activity at birth predicted infant survival and women's fertility in historical Norway
by Skjærvø, Fossøy, and Røskaft in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Yes, a proper Norwegian citizen is obliged to have an o-slash (or, in simple terms, \(o_\mu\gamma^\mu\)) in her or his name. They've looked at 8,662 lives of people in Norway begun between 1676 and 1878.

The number of sunspots is approximately changing in 11-year-long cycles. They seem to believe that the solar maxima increase the amount of ultraviolet radiation – and that's known to inhibit some vital cellular processes. But you wouldn't believe that the sunspots should significantly affect the life expectancy, would you?

Contradicting several similar surveys in the past that ended with the negative result, these three folks claim that the effect of the solar maxima on the life expectancy (and women's fertility) exists and is rather large. Most shockingly, the babies born during solar maxima are claimed to have lives shorter by 5.2 years than those born during the solar minima. The barchart above says that the probability of dying before the adulthood is about 3 percentage points higher for the babies from the solar maxima.

This is such a large difference that I believe that it should be significantly higher than the noise expected from the respective groups. But when it comes to this most important conclusion about the life expectancy, I don't see any clear information about the statistical significance in the paper. So I guess that I am not the only one who will remain deeply uncertain about our belief in their conclusion.

One may imagine various mechanisms by which the solar activity could affect the life expectancy and other quantities. But despite this fact, I admit that the hugeness of this effect is surprising for me. If that conclusion is true, it almost looks like a vindication for the "astrological" way of thinking and one may say that your birth near the solar maximum is more harmful for you than life-long smoking!

If you decide to take the conclusion seriously, you may want to check your chances. Were you born closer to a blue solar minimum (good news) or the red solar maximum (bad news)? The (bad news) maxima came in 1905, 1917, 1928, 1937, 1947, 1957, 1968, 1979, 1989, 2000, 2013. The (good news) minima occurred at 1902, 1913, 1923, 1933, 1944, 1954, 1964, 1976, 1986, 1996, 2008. I apologize the rich community of TRF readers born before 1902 for the absence of data on older solar cycles.

Also, if you want a longer life for your baby, it may be ideal to wait to 2019 or so – an expected solar minimum. But the recent solar maximum in 2013 was rather weak so it may cut less than 5 years from the babies' lives.

Do you believe the claims? Will it affect your behavior (including the usage of contraceptives) or your anxiety? ;-)


  1. If there is a real effect, it would be logical observed more in Norway and high latitudes than elsewhere.

  2. If there is a real effect, it would be logical that was observed more in Norway and high latitudes than elsewhere. Graphically.

  3. If this research is anything like the research coming out of the medical-industrial complex here in the US, it's not worth the paper it's written on, Lubos. Every now and then I look at the long list of research studies taking place at the teaching hospital where I work and I shake my head in absolute disgust. I don't have any problem at all with billions of tax dollars going into cancer research and the like, but I do have a very big problem with all of this money going into research doesn't amount to anything in term of improving health or longevity. Either that, or it's simply a rehashing of common sense that your kindergarten teacher could have taught you while reading "Green Eggs and Ham."

    I noticed that one sure way to get a ginormous federal grant is to specifically study the health of African Americans. If blacks are also human beings, why should their health be any different from the rest of us human beings with health issues? I don't get it. It's totally irrational, and more importantly, it's a total waste of tax money! And if they get private grants to do such worthless research, which thankfully only makes up a very small fraction of all the grant money for teaching hospitals, none of it should be tax deductible. Making it tax deductible only encourages the medical-industrial complex to churn out worthless research papers.

    No doubt there's a lot of fat that can be taken out of ObamaCare, most of which is very bureaucratic in nature. This is going to be very hard to do though not only because most of ObamaCare is classified as non-discretionary spending, but also because King Obama will use his executive powers to keep his big fat baby very well fed with federal dollars. OTOH, federal grant money for medical research is more vulnerable to the axe, so to speak. That's because such money is classified as discretionary spending. Congress can cut the fat out of medical research without much pushback from Obama. It also helps that the stimulus money has finally come to an end.

  4. Hmm, was this published here?--

  5. If longevity were so strikingly dependent on very small changes in ultraviolet radiation exposure then other causes of differences in UV exposure should have observable effects. People living nearer the equator are exposed to much more solar UV than those much closer to the poles and this latitude effect should have relatively disastrous consequences.
    I am reminded of a famous quote by Mark Twain, “-there’s lies, damn lies and statistics."

  6. Can't the effect be due to something else than just incoming UV radiation? Some other ionizing radiation? Some chemicals that are created in the plants because of the solar activity? Differences in the magnetic field?

  7. Epigenetic changes?

    Mother's nutrition during pregnancy links to weight gain. newborn is then programmed to suitable "fatgainlevel" and the mechanism behind is probably epigenetic . I've heard.

  8. No one gets out alive in the end. When you say we are not allowed to hold ethnic statistics, do you mean the French state is not allowed to collect descriptive statistics based on race, sex, ethnicity, etc, or does that only apply to private citizens? Does that mean the state can "racially profile" but the private French citizen cannot? In the United States it's just the opposite. Accept in housing and employement, the private citizen can racially profile to their heart's content. Agents of the state, the police for example, cannot "racially profile" and stop and question people because they're driving while Muslim. However, other state organs, Social Security and the Census, can profile based on sex and race and distribute monetary benefits based on that profiling to favored ethnic groups in reparations for past incidents of profiling. I bet France does the same thing and I'm sure their state officials think they're not ethnically profiling too.

  9. Eelco HoogendoornJan 10, 2015, 8:20:00 PM

    The first barchart you showed is indicated as displaying mean + standard error in the paper; not mean + confidence interval. Even taking a low sigma for a claim this hard to believe, its pretty clear why they didn't test the statistical significance of their claims; because there isn't any.

  10. I noticed that one sure way to get a ginormous federal grant is to
    specifically study the health of African Americans. If blacks are also
    human beings, why should their health be any different from the rest of
    us human beings with health issues? I don't get it. It's totally irrational, and more importantly, it's a total waste of tax money!

    Nice going - you're advocating a priori "science." It happens that there are differences. In fact, the info sheet for a drug which either I or my wife takes (I forget which) says that it does not work as well for African-Americans.

    Howard University (historically black) is probably the world's leading center of research on racial differences in vital signs, medical problems, and drug responses.

  11. How can you say that they have not tested significance of their claims. (They probably did.) They just have not reported the outcome of the test. ;-) (And yes, you got the reason for that right.)

  12. Some of us are civilized others almost as barbarians mostly
    arabs and asians. Einstein said

    “Ego=1/Knowledge, More
    the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.“

    My analysis regarding this
    Einstein’s quote


    extremes of this


    max[-1,-1]= debil;

    interpretation of professional;

    100% KNOWLEDGE= 100%

    Confidence = EGO +

    Confidence =EGO+(1/EGO);

    Confidence = x+1/x;

    According to above formula
    is high confidence both cases low knowledge-->high EGO (low knowledge=low
    doubts-->I strongly believe in yourself) or low EGO--> high knowledge (I
    am world class expert, facts are playing my cards)

    I am going for
    further analysis.

  13. Not the most significant/surefooted/disconcerting finding I have come across!

  14. Of course I don't believe these claims even for a minute. As for the flaw in the paper, I only know that most research results, especially in the medical field, are wrong. These results will not be replicated with different population samples.

  15. No. All solar actinic effects vary strongly as a function of latitude and solar magnetic effects are chemically negligible.

  16. She is just jealous of a superior culture, David. Notice how often she injects the word "jew" into any blog post. The word has obviously become a viral meme in her brain and forms links with "wandering", and "Zionist", triggering clades of similar scape-goating terms.
    I am against all fundamentalist religions but not against a culture that values learning.

  17. These quotes from wikipedia seem somewhat exaggerated, but in the case of high latitudes and embryo development in pregnancy could perhaps have some effect.

  18. amazing, really.

  19. yes really. guy walks into a kosher supermarket and kills 4 jews..nothing to see here...supermarker related violence...guy was pissed that the challah wasnt fresh enough.

  20. You mentioned a discussion on consciousness. What are your views there? What about free will? While it may be argued that consciousness seems passive, so may not do anything, at least the question of free will must be a physics issue. Do you think physics will ever need to be 'expanded' to include these, or how should they be treated?

  21. Great playlist! :-)

  22. I was responding to your slur directed toward Shannon.

  23. yet she is.

  24. No, I'm not advocating for priori science, Frogman. I'm advocating for science that is not a waste of time and money. Doubtlessly, there is a lot of science being done at the taxpayer's expense that's a huge waste of time and money.

    And if there are studies being done to see whether particular drugs work or don't work on blacks, then why isn't this also being done on the rest of the population that not black? This is clearly indicative of racial discrimination against non-blacks with regards to medical research. But in this case, I don't feel the less bit discriminated against or shortchanged because, as I said before, most of this kind of research doesn't amount to anything in terms of improving health and longevity. And no one should be envious of a guinea pig.;~)

    Perhaps I'm wrong, but my guess is that the meds you are referring to are anti-hypertensives. Most of us in the clinical setting have known for years, long before any research data became available, that as a general rule, it's more difficult to get hypertension under control in the black population. That is something that we all keep in mind when we are treating a black patient with hypertension. Much of this has to do with the fact that blacks with hypertension tend to have it worse and tend to be more resistant to ant-hypertensives than non-blacks with hypertension. That's just a general rule to go by, it's certainly not an absolute. If you treat this as an absolute, you are likely to over treat blacks with hypertension, as well as under treat non-blacks with hypertension.

    Treat anyone, regardless of race, as an individual and you are likely to come up with the best treatment plans, resulting in the best possible outcomes. Race is just one among a large number of other variables to consider when treating a patient and often times race as a variable is totally insignificant in the treatment plan. The best thing about this approach to treating patients is that it don't require a single dime in research money to prove it.

  25. The first lady of the US was nodding her head while Yasir Arafat's wife was saying Jews drink the blood of Palestinian babies, and later gave her a hug. I think they would get away with such movies with ease, though studio heads might not make it. Obama himself has an anti-Jew history, including a college poem about apes and figs.

  26. We know what motivates extremist action of the type that we have seen. It is an appearance of injustice, which is fed by attacking and occupying other countries. I think that the biggest motivator came from the Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse photos and stories. You had foreign invaders occupy a country and humiliate ordinary Muslims who were not a threat to anyone. I don't know about you but reports of children being raped before their mothers would be sufficient to radicalize more than a few young people who were on the edge. Once the preception that the invaders were anti-Muslim got out in the open community it was easy for a few rhetoricians to convince young men to take up arms against not just the invading army but against Christianity in general. And that made it easier to get riled up against a few rude idiots who crated satire that offended not just Muslims but Christians and Jews as well. Those idiots were just a soft target, noting more and nothing less. While they can help spin a narrative the same could have happened if the attack was against a police station, army barrack, school, or church. The goal of the handlers of these young idiots is to try to get French society to attack ordinary Muslims who have little in common with them and to have the prosecution of innocent Muslims provide a recruitment ground for n more young fools.

    If you expect me to predict that some idiot will drive a truck full of explosives into a Walmart and set it off or to attack a casino in Vegas I can't do that because nobody knows that the specific targets will be. The fact that we will get an attack is foreseeable because it is inevitable not just in the EU but in the US, Canada, Australia, and other countries that send troops to attack Muslim lands.

  27. Vangel - What you claim as knowledge is nothing more than an assumption, forming part of an interpretational framework to which you are irrationally committed. Moreover, it now seems rather malleable, it's current form being 'an appearance of injustice, which is fed by attacking and occupying other countries'. Can you explain why this causes 'extremist action' in some conflicts and not in others? If 'reports' of events so distant in space and time serve as motivation then where are the expected 'extremists' acting in response to ISIS and Boko Haram?
    Furthermore, your explanations of motives changes to suit this framework as facts about those who commit these 'extremist actions' emerge. At first it was Libya and droned wedding parties; now it's Abu Ghraib and 'reports' of child rape.
    Of course I do not expect you to predict or explain any such 'extremist actions'. I do expect you to present any and all facts that your framework will admit and to ignore those it will not; all while giving no consideration to the individuals involved on either side. And how do you know the goal of the 'handlers'? And how did your framework come to inform their strategy and tactics? Have you been in touch with them? Perhaps great minds do think alike.
    I would expect such an interpretation, rooted in historical, material, and psychological determinism, from a marxist, but not from someone who has defended free agency and the Austrian concept of subjective value. Is there a name for your sort of 'libertarianism'?

  28. >but nothing, absolutely nothing against the jews or Israel

    Yet he couldn't resist the opportunity to kill the Jews.

  29. If I were looking for a cause of longevity, I would suspect UV rays regulate sun cancer and Vitamin D which has immune system effects, a change that is particularly strong in Scandinavia. Given the surprisingly strong fitness effect of appropriate skin color for latitude genetically, such a result wouldn't be too surprising.

    As for fertility, one could argue either immune system effect, or intermediate impacts on crop success and hence dietary sufficiency, or Aurora Borealis impacts on hot date nights ;)

  30. If skin color calibrates for UV exposure, then the issue at very high latitudes where the calibration is to low UV exposure may be that sunspots produce a relatively large percentage change to the skin color calibrated optimum, and that the big percentage change brings the actual UV exposure into the harmful range.