Data, Info and News of Life and Economy

Daily Archives: August 10, 2022

Chart: U.S. On-line Shopping Habit Reverse Course

Source : Chartr

Humour: News in Cartoons

Is Caffeine a Friend or Foe?

Laura Williamson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Caffeine jump-starts your day and puts a bounce in your step. It can help you focus, improve your mood and maybe even help you live longer.

But how much is too much?

Caffeine, a natural stimulant, can be found in a variety of foods, such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao beans, guarana berries and yerba maté leaves. It also can be synthetically created and added to beverages such as soda and energy drinks. Research shows that about 90% of U.S. adults consume some form of caffeine every day.

One of the most popular ways people consume it is through coffee. Because of that, most caffeine research centers around this drink, said Dr. Greg Marcus, associate chief of cardiology for research and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

“The literature on the whole shows that coffee consumption is generally not a detriment to health,” he said. “But I am very reluctant to recommend anyone begin drinking coffee if they aren’t otherwise doing so, or to increase consumption for any health benefit.”

Studies have found caffeine can do both good and harm. People who regularly drink coffee may be less likely to develop chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and some cancers. A few studies suggest they are less likely to die from heart disease and other illnesses.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, as much as 400 milligrams of caffeine a day – equal to four or five cups of coffee – is considered safe for healthy adults. An 8-ounce cup of green or black tea has 30-50 mg of caffeine. Energy drinks may contain 40-250 mg for every 8 ounces, and a 12-ounce can of caffeinated soda contains 30-40 mg.

In moderate doses – up to two 8-ounce cups of coffee – caffeine can make people less tired and more alert. Some studies suggest it can reduce appetite and lower the risk for depression. But high doses – 12 cups or more – can make people feel anxious, raise blood pressure and lead to heart palpitations and trouble sleeping. For people who consume caffeine regularly, stopping consumption abruptly can lead to symptoms of withdrawal, such as headaches, fatigue and depressed mood.

Determining how much is too much can be tough. A moderate amount of caffeine for one person may feel like a high dose for someone else. That’s because some people metabolize caffeine faster than others, Marcus said. Factors such as how much someone weighs and what medications they take also can play a role. The bottom line is, caffeine affects everyone differently.

“The compound is complex, and we need to recognize that not only might there be benefits and harms, but this may vary from one person to another,” Marcus said.

He and his colleagues recently completed one of the few randomized studies on caffeine consumption, which he presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions last year. The researchers asked participants to drink – or refrain from drinking – coffee for no more than two consecutive days each for two weeks.

The findings, which are considered preliminary until the full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal, showed that people were more physically active and slept less on days they drank coffee than on days they went without. They also had more irregular heartbeats from the lower chambers of the heart but fewer episodes of abnormally rapid heartbeats from the upper chambers.

Marcus said one limitation of the study was that people were starting and stopping caffeine consumption, which could be causing an exaggerated reaction in people who were used to drinking it every day. “The effects of caffeine are attenuated when you drink it regularly,” he said. “The body adapts to that caffeine level. And more regular consumption of caffeine can speed up the metabolism.”

People who metabolized caffeine faster had fewer problems sleeping than those whose bodies broke it down more slowly, he said.

In his cardiology practice, Marcus tells patients who are having trouble sleeping or experiencing abnormal heart rhythms to see what role caffeine might be playing. “I generally advise that it is reasonable for patients bothered by trouble sleeping or with palpitations to experiment with their caffeine consumption. Take some time off of caffeine to see if it makes a difference.” But he does not give a blanket recommendation to avoid caffeine.

Marcus doesn’t distinguish between the caffeine that people get from coffee versus hot or iced tea. “There may be health differences between the two, but they haven’t been studied yet,” he said.

He is less flexible about the consumption of energy drinks, which typically have a higher concentration of caffeine, as well as added sweeteners or carbohydrates and no evidence they provide any health benefits. Research has found energy drinks can cause abnormal electrical activity in the heart and higher blood pressure that persists for several hours.

“In general, I would caution against the use of energy drinks,” Marcus said.

There are other ways to stay alert.

“The best strategies and overall most healthy strategies to boost alertness are long-term healthy habits,” such as getting a good night’s sleep and exercising regularly, Marcus said. He recommends people who have trouble staying awake consult a physician to see if they have sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.

Source: American Heart Association

China July Exports Rise, with Trade Surplus at Record-high

China’s export growth continued to rise in July, sending trade surplus to a record high, according to government data.

China’s exports grew 18% to $333 billion compared to the same period last year, and were up from 17.9% in June, according to data from China’s customs.

Imports, however, remained soft, growing 2.3% in July compared to a year ago. That was lower that economists’ estimates of 4%, and suggests weak domestic demand amid lockdowns across the country as China attempts to stem the outbreak of COVID-19.

China’s total trade surplus reached an all-time high of $101.3 billion in July, breaking the record set in June.

The country’s economy has rebounded from earlier in the year, when tough COVID-19 restrictions including a two-month lockdown in Shanghai and other measures across China disrupted manufacturing and logistics.

While manufacturing and supply chain issues have eased, recovery may be affected by fresh COVID-19 outbreaks, weak domestic demand and external uncertainties such as rising inflation in developed countries including Britain and the U.S.

The International Monetary Fund in July predicted that China’s economy would grow 3.3% this year, below the ruling Communist Party’s target of 5.5% set in April.

Source : AP

Chart: U.S. Electricity Generation

Source : Chartr

Nature Index Annual Tables 2022: China’s Research Spending Pays Off

Gemma Conroy & Benjamin Plackett wrote . . . . . . . . .

Experts say the country’s strong scientific performance is likely to be sustained in the coming years.

Chinese research outputs enjoyed something of a boom last year. The performance of Jiangsu University is a good example. Its campus sits on the banks of the Yangtze River in the city of Zhenjiang, which is about a three-hour drive inland from Shanghai. The university saw its ‘adjusted Share’ score in the Nature Index, which tracks author affiliations in research articles across 82 high-quality science journals, skyrocket by 118% between 2020 and 2021.

Share — Nature Index’s key metric — is a fractional count for an article allocated to an institution, city or country/region, that takes into account the proportion of authors on the article who are affiliated with that institution or location. Adjusted Share takes account of a small variation in the total number of articles in the Nature Index.

Jiangsu University is not an anomaly among Chinese institutions. According to an analysis of the Nature Index Annual Tables 2022, released today, the 31 fastest-rising institutions, as judged by their change in adjusted Share, were all in China. (See also ‘Leading institutions in the Nature Index 2022 Annual Tables’.) Out of the top 50 fastest-rising institutions, just 10 were from other countries or regions. This marks a significant change compared with the 2021 rankings, in which China could lay claim to only two out of the top ten fastest-rising institutions. These were the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Researchers speculate that last year’s poor showing by Chinese institutions might have been a blip; they think that the latest results could instead be a sign that the Chinese government’s long-term investments in science are beginning to bear fruit.

A similar pattern emerges when looking at China’s performance as a country alongside the other leading science nations in the Nature Index (see ‘Leading countries 2021’). The United States retains the top position with a Share of 19,857.35 for 2021, but its adjusted Share fell by 6.2% in 2021, the largest decline posted by the 10 leading countries and its steepest fall since 2015. China is in second place and its Share is 16,753.86, with a 14.4% growth in adjusted Share in 2021, the largest such increase among the leading 10 countries in the 2022 Annual Tables. This was a significant improvement on the previous year, when the nation posted an increase of 1.2%.

South Korea and Switzerland, in eighth and ninth place, respectively, also made improvements. In 2021, South Korea’s adjusted Share increased by 2.3%, compared with 1.9% in 2020. Although Switzerland reported a 1.7% decline in 2021, this was an improvement on 2020’s 6.6% decrease.

Money talks

“It’s no big secret, money is the main thing here” when it comes to China’s growth, says Miguel Lim, an education and international-development researcher at the University of Manchester, UK. Lim is a founding convenor of the China and Higher Education Network, an organization that brings together researchers around the world who are interested in Chinese higher education. “There’s been a steady and enormous increase in research funding [in China] and it’s taken time to percolate through, but I think that’s what we’re starting to see,” he adds.

Cong Cao, a science-policy researcher at the University of Nottingham Ningbo in China, says the Chinese government’s growing investment in research and development, which accounted for 2.4% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2021, continues to be a factor in China’s rise. Research expenditure, as a percentage of China’s gross domestic product, has risen steadily from 0.56% in 1996 to 2.14% in 2018, according to the World Bank (see ‘Steady spending)’.

The country’s science-spending spree began in 1995 under what was known as Project 211. The ‘21’ in the name was a nod to the twenty-first century, for which the policy aimed to prepare universities. The second ‘1’ was a reference to the roughly 100 universities that were included in the project; these institutions were given substantial funding to develop their research capacity.

Three years later, the government followed up with Project 985, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Peking University in Beijing. The policy issued further grants to nine universities from Project 211 to build new research centres, creating the C9 league — often described as China’s answer to the Ivy League group of eight prestigious universities in the eastern United States. Project 985 has since expanded to include 39 universities.

In 2017, the Chinese government announced the Double First-Class Initiative, which identified 140 universities with the potential to become world-class institutions. It also earmarked various disciplines in which China could become a world leader.

“I wouldn’t call it a vanity project. There are clearly reputational elements to all this, but the investments have been made to achieve strategic dominance in areas that China considers important, like engineering science,” says Lim. “It isn’t just about a position in the rankings, it’s also about competition with the United States at a strategic high level.”

Long-term thinking

The consistency of funding has also had an impact, says Hamish Coates, director of higher-education research at Tsinghua University in Beijing, because it means researchers can reliably plan for the years to come. The Double First-Class strategy has enshrined the government’s commitment to science until 2050, for example. “That sends a message that the government understands how science is done,” says Coates.

Eventually, however, Chinese investments in science will taper off once a critical mass of research has been reached, says Coates, although that might not happen for many years. “We see diminishing returns in the traditional powerhouses like the United Kingdom and United States. If you add another US$1 million to research there, you don’t see the same uplift as you would in China. That’s just economics 101, but that will start to happen in China one day,” he says.

Pandemic impacts

Is it a coincidence that Chinese institutions’ Share scores in the Nature Index rose faster between 2020 and 2021 than for universities elsewhere in the world? Did the COVID-19 pandemic influence the results? It’s impossible to say for sure, says Lim. “In the United Kingdom, we slowed down as we were told to support students first as we shifted to online teaching and to ensure student safety,” says Lim. “I can speculate that Western researchers were busy doing other things like that, but how can I say that for sure without data?”

Those data aren’t available, so it’s impossible to know whether Chinese researchers were less bogged down by the consequences of COVID-19 than were their colleagues elsewhere. “I would be really cautious about the COVID question,” Lim says.

Coates thinks it’s too early to see the effect of the pandemic in the Nature Index tables — he says that won’t be seen for a few years to come. “You’ve got to work it back. The research included in the 2022 tables might have been funded back in 2017; it’s not like all that research was done in 2020,” says Coates. “You can’t just say it’s all down to COVID.”

A question of work culture

Academics the world over lament the publish-or-perish culture, in which publishing in a high-impact journal is cherished above all else, but such a culture is especially pervasive in China, says Lim. “It’s a higher bar to clear than here in the United Kingdom. Here, you can begin your career without too many publications under your belt,” he says. “But in China, universities will demand a certain number of publications from even master’s or PhD students before they get jobs.” Often, says Cao, graduate students in China have to publish several papers, otherwise they are not allowed to graduate.

Whereas many Western researchers have denounced the pressure to keep churning out papers, saying it creates a toxic workplace culture, the heavy emphasis on publishing papers for career progression could partly explain China’s dominance in the list of fastest-rising institutions, says Lim. There are also ways in which the higher-education system in China can act as a valve to release excess pressure, however, and this could help to fuel research output by alleviating some of the risk that comes with an intense publish-or-perish mentality. “When you reach 60 years of age in China, you’re on the retirement track and you move into mentoring for the young people. That’s really important,” says Coates. “In the West, you get people in their eighties going up against young researchers for grants.”

It’s not possible to predict or explain year-on-year trends in isolation. This makes it difficult to understand why China’s performance in the fastest-rising institutions this year differs so much from last year. Given the consistent investment in Chinese research and development, however, it’s possible that this year’s strong performance is a harbinger of what’s to come.

“The tables show that China’s investment in research through their large and now well-established institutions is resulting in sustained research output in the natural sciences,” says David Swinbanks, founder of the Nature Index. He adds: “While the Annual Tables are a good indicator of high research output in the natural sciences, we encourage readers to use the findings alongside other scientific outputs such as data, software and intellectual property when considering research quality and institutional performance.”

Leading institutions in the Nature Index 2022 Annual Tables

For the tenth year running, the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing maintained its status as the leading institution in the Nature Index, with a Share of 1,963.00 in 2021. (The Nature Index launched in 2014, with data going back to 2012.) Its Share is more than double that of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is in second place with a Share of 910.93.

The University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) in Beijing made its debut among the top ten global institutions in the Nature Index 2022 Annual Tables (see ‘Leading institutions 2021’), jumping from 13th to 8th place, knocking the University of Tokyo down to 14th place, its lowest rank since 2015.

UCAS also achieved the highest growth among the leading institutions in the Nature Index: its Share jumped from 425.45 in 2020 to 530.20 in 2021, representing a 21.4% increase in adjusted Share.

The University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei isn’t far behind, jumping two positions to ninth place. After missing out on a place among the leading ten institutions in 2020, Peking University in Beijing jumped two positions to secure tenth place.

Source : Nature