Saturday, January 31, 2015

1719. Vaccine Critics Turn Defensive Over Measles

By Jack Healy and Michael Paulson, The New York Times, January 30, 2015 
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Their children have been sent home from school. Their families are barred from birthday parties and neighborhood play dates. Online, people call them negligent and criminal. And as officials in 14 states grapple to contain a spreading measles outbreak that began near here at Disneyland, the parents at the heart of America’s anti-vaccine movement are being blamed for incubating an otherwise preventable public-health crisis.

Measles anxiety rippled thousands of miles beyond its center on Friday as officials scrambled to try to contain a wider spread of the highly contagious disease — which America declared vanquished 15 years ago, before a statistically significant number of parents started refusing to vaccinate their children.

In recent days, new measles cases popped up in Nebraska and Minnesota, New York and Marin County in California. Officials around the country reported rising numbers of patients who were seeking shots, as well as some pediatricians who were accepting nonvaccinated families but were debating changing their policies. The White House urged parents to listen to the science that supports inoculations.

In Arizona, health officials warned that 1,000 people could have been exposed to measles and urged anyone displaying symptoms to avoid this weekend’s Super Bowl events in the Phoenix area. In a small planned community where one family became ill after visiting Disneyland, store windows were lined with measles alerts, and a sign on the Pinal County office building warned: “Stop! Measles is in our county!” and asked people with symptoms to wear masks before entering.

But here in California, anti-vaccine parents whose children have endured bouts of whooping cough and chickenpox largely defended their choice to raise their children on natural foods, essential oils and no vaccinations.

“There is absolutely no reason to get the shot,” said Crystal McDonald, whose 16-year-old daughter was one of 66 students sent home from Palm Desert High School for the next two weeks because they did not have full measles immunizations.

After researching the issue and reading information from a national anti-vaccine group, Ms. McDonald said she and her husband, a chiropractor, decided to raise their four children without vaccines. She said they ate well and had never been to the doctor, and she insisted that her daughter was healthier than many classmates. But when the school sent her home with a letter, Ms. McDonald’s daughter was so concerned about missing two weeks of Advanced Placement classes that she suggested simply getting a measles inoculation.

“I said, ‘No, absolutely not,’ “ Ms. McDonald said. “I said, ‘I’d rather you miss an entire semester than you get the shot’.”

The anti-vaccine movement can largely be traced to a 1998 report in a medical journal that suggested a link between vaccines and autism but was later proved fraudulent and retracted. Today, the waves of parents who shun vaccines include some who still believe in the link and some, like the Amish, who have religious objections to vaccines. Then there is a particular subculture of largely wealthy and well-educated families, many living in palmy enclaves around Los Angeles and San Francisco, who are trying to carve out “all-natural” lives for their children.

“Sometimes, I feel like we’re practicing in the 1950s,” said Dr. Eric Ball, a pediatrician in southern Orange County, where some schools report that 50 to 60 percent of their kindergartners are not fully vaccinated and that 20 to 40 percent of parents have sought a personal beliefs exemption to vaccination requirements. “It’s very frustrating. It’s hard to see a kid suffer for something that’s entirely preventable.”

Two of Dr. Ball’s patients are unvaccinated girls who became sick with the measles last week, though they had not been at Disneyland and it was unclear how they had been infected. Their father called the clinic to tell Dr. Ball and has been sending digital photographs of the girls, their faces stippled with red dots, to update him on how they are doing.
Dr. Ball said he spent many days trying to persuade parents to vaccinate their children. He tries to alleviate their concerns. He shows parents his own children’s vaccine records. But it has not worked, and lately, as worries and anger over this outbreak have spread, some families who support vaccines have said they do not want to be in the same waiting room as unvaccinated families. The clinic where Dr. Ball works has treated unvaccinated children for years, but its staff is meeting next week to discuss a ban.
“Our patients are really scared,” Dr. Ball said. “Our nightmare would be for someone to show up at our door with the measles.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that measles cases soared last year to 644, many more than in any other year in more than a decade. Since Jan. 1, the C.D.C. has confirmed 84 measles cases in 14 states. California’s health agency, which is updating a measles count more frequently, has reported 91 cases, with the biggest number, 27, here in Orange County.

The county’s vaccination rate for kindergartners is about 90 percent, a little lower than the statewide rate, 90.4 percent. But rates in some pockets, especially in the wealthier southern half, are sharply lower.

“There are different threads of concern out there” when it comes to vaccination, said Matt Zahn, the medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Agency. “It becomes a game of Whack-a-Mole: As soon as you get rid of one issue, there’s another.”

The people most at risk of becoming seriously ill are babies too young to be vaccinated and the immunologically frail; measles can transform into something much worse, like encephalitis, and can be deadly. Among the fully vaccinated, the chances of contracting measles are small but do exist; the C.D.C. says the vaccine is more than 95 percent effective.

On Friday, all unvaccinated students who had been sent home from Huntington Beach High School after a possible measles exposure were allowed to return to school. But in Riverside County, officials reporting a probable case of a school employee with the measles ordered 40 students without vaccinations to stay home.

Similar scares are playing out far from Disneyland. In Kearny, Ariz., a small rural community with an economy tied to a nearby copper mine, a single family’s Christmas vacation has upended the rhythms of daily life. The family visited Disneyland in December, and four of its unvaccinated members came back with measles; a fifth person in Kearny also contracted the disease.

Now, many businesses in town — the grocery store, the post office, and more — have measles alerts in the windows featuring a blond boy with a rash all over his face. Several signs say that someone with the measles was in the store at a specific time last week and advise others who were there at the same time to be alert to symptoms.

Some parents in Kearny are sympathetic to the family that did not vaccinate children.
“I strongly believe in getting children the vaccines they need to protect them from any childhood disease out there, but that is my opinion,“ said Tiffany Magee, a mother of three. “I also strongly believe other parents have the right to choose not to get their children vaccinated due to religion or health reasons.”

Kearny school officials sent a letter home to all parents, urging calm, noting that, other than the children in the affected family, all other students in the district had been vaccinated. But it also advised parents to keep an eye out for symptoms. The measles outbreak has dominated talk in town and in two Facebook groups that discuss Kearny goings-on, and it has altered the way some people in town think about vaccines.

Missy Foster, 43, said she had not vaccinated her daughter, Tully, who is now 18 months old, against measles because of concern that the M.M.R. vaccine — which stands for measles, mumps and rubella, or German measles — might be associated with autism.

“It’s the worst shot,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Do you want to wake up one morning and the light is gone from her eyes with autism or something?”

But as soon as Ms. Foster heard about the measles outbreak, she called her pediatrician and scheduled the vaccine, still with trepidation about possible side effects but with greater worries about measles. Now she is planning to stay home, leaving only to go to church, until the vaccine fully takes effect.

“We didn’t think this would explode again, but it did,” Ms. Foster said. “I want her to be protected.”

And Norm Warren, the manager of the supermarket in Kearny, Gordon’s IGA, has changed his thinking toward those who do not vaccinate their children.

“Before, I thought, ‘If you think your child will become autistic, fine.’ But now they’re pushing their beliefs on everybody, and I feel differently,” he said. “How many lives have been saved by vaccination?”

Members of the anti-vaccine movement said the public backlash had terrified many parents. “People are now afraid they’re going to be jailed,” said Barbara Loe Fisher, the president of the National Vaccine Information Center, a clearinghouse for resisters. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing. It’s gotten so out of hand, and it’s gotten so vicious.”

In San Geronimo, Calif., a mostly rural community of rolling hills and oak trees about 30 miles north of San Francisco, 40 percent of the students walking into Lagunitas Elementary School have not been inoculated against measles, according to the school’s figures. Twenty-five percent have not been vaccinated for polio. In all, the state says that 58 percent of Lagunitas kindergartners do not have up-to-date vaccine records.

“A lot of people here have personal beliefs that are faith based,” said John Carroll, the school superintendent, who sent a letter home to parents last week encouraging them to vaccinate their children. The faith, Mr. Carroll said, is not so much religious as it is a belief that “they raise their children in a natural, organic environment” and are suspicious of pharmaceutical companies and big business.

Some parents forgo shots altogether. Others split vaccine doses or stretch out their timeline, worried about somehow overwhelming their children’s immune system. Kelly McMenimen, a Lagunitas parent, said she “meditated on it a lot” before deciding not to vaccinate her son Tobias, 8, against even “deadly or deforming diseases.” She said she did not want “so many toxins” entering the slender body of a bright-eyed boy who loves math and geography.

Tobias has endured chickenpox and whooping cough, though Ms. McMenimen said the latter seemed more like a common cold. She considered a tetanus shot after he cut himself on a wire fence but decided against it: “He has such a strong immune system.”

As Ciel Lorenzen, a massage therapist, picked up her children, Rio, 10, and Athena, 7, at Lagunitas Elementary, she defended her choice to not vaccinate either of them, even as health and school officials urged a different course.

“It’s good to explore alternatives rather than go with the panic of everyone around you,” she said. “Vaccines don’t feel right for me and my family.”

Friday, January 30, 2015

1718. Raul Castro Lays Out Conditions for Normalization of Relations with Washington

By Raul Castro Ruz, Granma, January 29, 2015

President Raúl Castro addressing the Third Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit in Costa Rica.

Esteemed President Luis Guillermo Solis; Esteemed Head of State and Government of Latin America and the Caribbean; Esteemed Heads of the Delegations and guests accompanying us:

Our America has entered a new era and has advanced, since the creation of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, in its goals of independence, sovereignty over its natural resources, integration, the construction of a new world order, social justice and democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

Today there is a commitment to justice and the rights of the peoples which is superior to that in any other historical period. Together, we are the third largest economy in the world, the area with the second largest oil reserves, the greatest biodiversity on the planet and a high concentration of the globe’s mineral resources.

To develop unity within diversity, cohesive action, and respect for differences will remain our primary purpose and an inescapable necessity, because the world’s problems are serious, and great dangers and tough challenges persist which transcend national and even sub-regional possibilities. Over the past decade, economic and social policies and sustained growth have allowed us to confront the global economic crisis and made possible a reduction in poverty, unemployment and unequal income distribution.

The profound political and social transformations carried out in several countries in the region have brought dignity to millions of families who have escaped poverty. But the Latin America and Caribbean region remains the most unequal on the planet. On average, 20% of households with the lowest incomes receive 5% of total income; 167 million people still suffer from poverty, one in five children under-15 live in poverty, and the number of illiterates exceeds 35 million. Half of our youth do not have secondary education or a ninth grade education, but, in the lower income sector, 78% do not complete their studies. Two thirds of the new generation does not reach university.

The number of victims of organized crime and violence, which threatens the stability and progress of nations, is increasing. What would be the thoughts of the tens of millions of marginalized on democracy and human rights? What would their opinion be regarding political models? What would they argue about election laws? Is this the civil society which governments and international organizations take into account? What would they say if they were consulted on economic and monetary policies?

Little do many of the industrialized States have to show our region in this respect, where half of youth are unemployed, the crisis is heaped onto the workers, and students are repressed while the bankers are protected, unionization is prevented, lower wages are paid to women for equal work, inhumane policies are applied against immigrants, racism, xenophobia, violent extremism and neo-fascist tendencies are on the rise, and where citizens do not vote because they see no alternative to political corruption, or they know that election promises are soon forgotten. 

To achieve social inclusion and environmental sustainability, we are obliged to create our own vision regarding economic systems, patterns of production and consumption, the relationship between economic growth and development, and also, the effectiveness of political models. We must overcome the structural gaps; ensure high quality free education, free universal health coverage, social security for all, equal opportunities, and the full exercise of all human rights for all people. Within such efforts, an elementary duty will be solidarity and defense of the interests of the Caribbean and, in particular, Haiti.

A new international economic, financial and monetary order is required, where the interests and needs of the countries of the South, and of the majority, are accommodated and prioritized, in which those who impose the concentration of capital and neoliberalism does not prevail.

The [UN] post 2015 Development Agenda must provide solutions to the structural problems of economies of the region, and generate the changes that will lead to sustainable development. It is also essential to build a world of peace, governed by the Principles of the United Nations Charter and International Law, without which development is impossible.

The signing by heads of state and government of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace marked a historic step forward and provides a reference for relations between our states and with the rest of the world. Solidarity in Our America will be decisive to advancing common interests.

We express vigorous condemnation of the unacceptable and unjustified unilateral sanctions against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and the continuing external intervention aimed at creating a climate of instability in this sister nation.

Cuba, profoundly familiar with all these tales, having endured them itself for over 50 years, reiterates its firmest support to the Bolivarian Revolution and the legitimate government led by President Nicolas Maduro.

We join the Argentine Republic in its claim to the Malvinas, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas. We support the South American nation and it’s President Cristina Fernández, who faces attacks from hedge funds and the decisions of venal courts, in violation of the sovereignty of this country.

We reaffirm our solidarity with the people and government of Ecuador, led by Rafael Correa, in support of their demand for compensation for environmental damage caused by transnational Chevron in Ecuador’s Amazon. As we have said before, the Community will be incomplete as long as Puerto Rico is absent. Its colonial situation is unacceptable, and it’s Latin American and Caribbean character leaves no room for doubt.

In the Colombian peace process, the agreements reached by the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army in the conversations taking place in Havana are significant. Never before have they advanced so much in the direction of achieving peace.

Cuba, in its capacity as guarantor and venue of these talks, will continue providing the necessary facilities and contributing as much as possible to an end to the conflict, and the construction of a just and lasting peace in the sister nation of Colombia. We resolutely support, as we have done to date, the just demands of Caribbean countries for reparations for the damages caused by slavery and colonialism, as well as resolutely opposing the decision to deprive them of vital financial resources on the basis of technocratic pretexts characterizing them as middle-income countries. We recognize the excellent developments achieved in the CELAC-China Forum and regional links with the BRICS group.

We reiterate our concern regarding the enormous and growing military expenditures imposed on the world by the United States and NATO, such as the attempt to extend their aggressive presence to the borders of Russia, with which we have historic, fraternal and mutually beneficial relations. We energetically oppose the imposition of unilateral and unjust sanctions on this nation. The growing aggression of the NATO military doctrine and the development of unconventional warfare – which have already had devastating consequences and grave results – threaten peace and international security.
For Cuba, the principal of the sovereign equality of all states and peoples’ right to self-determination is inalienable.

The United Nations General Assembly must use its faculties to safeguard international peace and security, given the Security Council’s double standards, excesses and omissions.

Full membership must be offered to Palestine without further delay, to which the people and government of Cuba convey their solidarity.

The Security Council’s veto, which ensures that Israel’s crimes go unpunished, must end. Africa, where our roots also lie, does not need advice or interference, but the transfer of financial resources, technology and fair trade. We will forever defend the legitimate interests of the nations with which we struggle, should to shoulder, against colonialism and apartheid, and with which we maintain relations of fraternity and cooperation.

We always remember their unwavering solidarity and support. Cuba’s voice will tirelessly defend just causes and the interests of Southern countries and will remain faithful to their objectives and common positions, in the knowledge that homeland is humanity.

The foreign policy of the Cuban Revolution will remain faithful to its principles.

Esteemed colleagues:

Last December 17, saw the return to the homeland of Cuban anti-terrorists, Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino and Antonio Guerrero, who together with Fernando González and René González are a source of pride and an example of conviction.

The President of the United States acknowledged the failure of the nation’s policy toward Cuba, implemented for over 50 years; the country’s complete isolation as a result; the damages which the blockade has caused to our people; and has ordered a review of the obviously unjustifiable inclusion of the island on the list of state sponsors of international terrorism. Also on that day, he announced the decision to reestablish U.S. diplomatic relations with our government.

These changes are the result of almost a century and a half of heroic struggle and loyalty to principles of the Cuban people. They were also made possible thanks to the new era our region is experiencing, and to the firm, valiant demands made by the governments and peoples of CELAC.

These changes vindicate Our America, which worked in close collaboration, in the United Nations and all other spheres, to achieve this objective. Preceded by the Alba Summit in Cumana, Venezuela, the discussions held in the 2009 Summit of the Americas in Puerto España, Trinidad and Tobago, led President Obama, and at that time recently elected, to propose a new beginning with Cuba. In Cartagena, Colombia, in 2012, a strong debate took place in which the blockade was unanimously and categorically rejected, compelling an important U.S. leader to describe the occasion as the great failure of Cartagena, or disaster – was the exact phrase – and during which Cuba’s exclusion from these events was debated.

Ecuador, in protest, had decided not to participate. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia stated that they would not attend another summit without the presence of Cuba, a sentiment which received support from Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

The Caribbean Community assumed a similar stance. Mexico and the remaining nations also agreed. Panamanian President, Juan Carlos Varela, before his inauguration, resolutely announced that he would invite Cuba, with full rights and equality of conditions, to the Seventh Summit of the Americas, and that is what he did.

Cuba immediately confirmed that it would attend. This demonstrates Marti’s precision when he wrote “One just principle from the depths of a cave is more powerful than an army.” (Applause) To all those present, I express Cuba’s most profound gratitude. To the 188 states which voted against the blockade in the United Nations; to those who made a similar demand at the General Assembly and international summits and conferences; and to all the popular movements, political forces, parliaments and personalities who tirelessly worked to achieve this objective, on behalf of Cuba, I sincerely thank you. To the people of the United States who expressed growing opposition to the hostile policy and the blockade, imposed for over five decades, I also convey our appreciation and friendly sentiments.

These outcomes show that governments with profound differences can find a solution to their problems, through respectful dialogue and exchanges on the basis of sovereign equality and reciprocity, for the benefit of their respective nations.

As I have repeatedly stated, Cuba and the United States must learn the art of civilized co-existence, based on respect for the differences which exist between both governments and cooperation on issues of common interest, which contribute to solving the challenges we are facing in the hemisphere and the world. However, it must not be supposed that, in order to achieve this, Cuba would renounce its ideals of independence and social justice, or abandon a single one of our principles, nor cede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.

We will not invite, or accept any attempt to advise or exert pressure in regards in our internal affairs. We have earned this sovereign right through great sacrifices and at the price of great risks.

Could diplomatic relations be restored without resuming the financial services of the Cuban Interests Section and its Consular Office in Washington, denied as a consequence of the financial blockade? How can diplomatic relations be restored without removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of international terrorism? What will be the future conduct of U.S. diplomats in Havana, in regards to observing the diplomatic and consular norms established by International Conventions?

This is what our delegation has said to the State Department during the bilateral talks held last week, and more meetings are required to address these issues.

We have shared with the President of the United States our willingness to advance toward normalization of bilateral relations, once diplomatic relations are reestablished, which would imply the adopting of measures by both parties to improve the climate between the two countries, to resolve other pending problems, and move forward on cooperation.

The current situation discreetly opens an opportunity for the hemisphere to encounter new, superior ways to cooperate, which would serve the two Americas. This would allow pressing problems to be resolved, and open new paths.

The text of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace constitutes an indispensable foundation for this, including the recognition that every state has the inalienable right to choose its own political, economic, social, cultural system, without interference of any kind on the part of another state, which constitutes an undeniable principle of international law, The principal problem has not been resolved.

The economic, commercial and financial blockade, which causes great human and economic damage and violates international law, must end.

I remember the memorandum written by Undersecretary Mallory, in April of 1960, which, given the lack of an effective political opposition [in Cuba], proposed the objective of creating hunger, desperation and suffering to provoke the overthrow of the revolutionary government. Now, everything seems to indicate that the objective is to create an artificial political opposition though economic, political and communications means.

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations is the beginning of a process which can progress toward normalization of bilateral relations, but this will not be possible as long as the blockade exists, or as long as the territory illegally occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base is not returned (Applause), or radio and television broadcasts which violate international norms continue, or just compensation is not provided our people for the human and economic damage they have suffered.

It would not be ethical, just, or acceptable that something was requested of Cuba in return.

If these problems are not resolved, this diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States makes no sense.

Neither can it be expected that Cuba would agree to negotiate aspects mentioned with respect to our absolutely sovereign, internal affairs. Progress was made in these recent negotiations because we treated each other respectfully, as equals.

To continue advancing, this is how it must be. We have carefully followed the U.S. President’s announcement of some executive decisions to modify certain aspects of the blockade’s application. The measures announced are very limited.

Prohibitions on credit and the use of the dollar in international financial transactions remain in place; individual travel by U.S. citizens is hampered under the system of licenses for so-called people-to-people exchanges; these are conditioned by subversive goals; and maritime travel is not allowed.

Prohibitions remain on the acquisition in other markets of equipment and technology with more than 10% U.S. components, and on imports by the United States of goods containing Cuban raw materials, among many, many others. President Barack Obama could decisively use his broad executive powers to substantially modify the application of the blockade, that which is in his hands, even without a decision by Congress.

He could permit, in other sectors of the economy, all that he has authorized in the area of telecommunications, with evident objectives of political influence in Cuba.

His decision to hold a discussion with Congress on eliminating the blockade is significant. U.S. government spokespeople have been very clear in specifying that they are now changing their methods, but not their policy objectives, and insist on continuing to intervene in our internal affairs, which we are not going to accept. Our U.S. counterparts should not plan on developing relations with Cuban society as if there were no sovereign government in Cuba.

No one should dream that the new policy announced means acceptance of the existence of a socialist revolution 90 miles from Florida.

They want so-called civil society to be present at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, and this is what Cuba has always said. We have protested what has occurred at the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle, at the Summits of the Americas in Miami and Quebec, at the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, and whenever the G-7 or International Monetary Fund meet, when civil society is placed behind steel fences, faces brutal police repression, or is confined to locations dozens of kilometers from the events.

Of course Cuban civil society will attend, and I hope there are no restrictions on our country’s non-governmental organizations, which obviously have no interest, or any status within the OAS, but are recognized by the UN.

I hope to be able to see in Panama the popular movements and non-governmental organizations which advocate for nuclear disarmament, for the environment, against neoliberalism, the Occupy Wall Street and the indignados of this region, university and high school students, farmers, trade unions, communities of original peoples, organizations which oppose the contamination caused by fracking, those defending the rights of immigrants and denouncing torture and extrajudicial executions, police brutality, racist practices, those who demand equal pay for women for equal work, those demanding compensation for damage caused by transnational corporations.

Nevertheless, the announcements made December 17 have generated world recognition, and President Obama has received very broad support within his own country. Some forces in the United States will try to abort this process which is beginning.

They are the same enemies of a just relationship between the United States and Latin America and the Caribbean, those who disrupt bilateral relations with many countries in our region with that nation, those who always blackmail and pressure.

We know that ending the blockade will be a long, difficult process, which will require the support, the mobilization and resolute action of all persons of good will in the United States and the world; approval on the part of the United Nations General Assembly, during its next session, of the resolution calling for its elimination; and in particular, concerted action by Our America.

Esteemed heads of state and government, Dear friends, We congratulate Costa Rica, President Solís and his government for the work done at the helm of CELAC. We welcome and offer our full support to Ecuador and President Correa, who will lead the Community in 2015. Many thanks.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

1717. Skull Fossil Offers New Clues on Human Journey From Africa

By John Noble Wilfred, The New York Times, January 28, 2015
Anthropologists discovered a 55,000-year-old skull fossil in the Manot Cave in western Galilee in 2008, and it was subjected to years of analysis. Photo: Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Anthropologists exploring a cave in Israel have uncovered a rare 55,000-year-old skull fossil that they say has a story to tell of a reverberating transition in human evolution, at a point when and where some early humans were moving out of Africa and apparently interbreeding with Neanderthals.

The story is of when the Levant was a corridor for anatomically modern humans who were expanding out of Africa and then across Eurasia, replacing all other forms of early human-related species. Given the scarcity of human fossils from that time, scholars say, these ancestors of present-day non-African populations had remained largely enigmatic.
From the new fossil find, which could be closely related to the first modern humans to colonize Stone Age Europe, it appears that these people already had physical traits a bit different from the Africans they were leaving behind and many other human inhabitants along the corridor.

Could this support recent genetic evidence that modern Homo sapiens and their Neanderthal cousins interbred, perhaps in the Middle East and most likely between 65,000 and 47,000 years ago? The discovery team urged caution on the interbreeding issue, but noted anatomical features of the cranium suggesting that some human-Neanderthal mixture had presumably occurred before any encounters in Europe and Asia.

The discovery in Manot Cave in western Galilee, made in 2008 and subjected to years of rigorous analysis, was reported on Wednesday in the journal Nature by an international team of researchers led by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University. They said this was “the first fossil evidence from the critical period when genetic and archaeological models predict that African modern humans successfully migrated out of Africa and colonized Eurasia.”

The researchers further concluded that the Manot specimen “provides important clues about the morphology of modern humans in close chronological proximity to a probable interbreeding event with Neanderthals.” They also noted that the shape of the cranium established this as a fully modern human at a time when warmer and wetter conditions were favorable for human migration out of Africa.

In other words, Dr. Hershkovitz said in an interview, the Manot cranium “is the missing connection between African and European populations.”

Scientists not involved with the research team praised the “fascinating new fossil” and the cautious interpretation of its broader implications in understanding the early migrations into Eurasia. “This fossil fits previous predictions,” said Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, “which is a nice rarity in our field.”

Dr. Delson, also a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History, added, “As always, we want more fossils to document variations in and details about this presumed fossil population.”

In an email, Dr. Delson praised the journal authors “for hitting the mark with their analyses and interpretations, reaching all the possible conclusions one could think of: The partial skull combines a basically modern human form with a few features also found in Neanderthals.” In addition, he pointed out, the analysis “supports the similarity of its shapes” to those of modern Africans and early modern humans from Europe, such as the Cro-Magnons.

The partial skull, designated Manot 1, is of a fairly small adult individual, its sex undetermined. The distinctive bunlike shape at the base of the skull resembles modern African and European skulls but differs from other anatomically modern humans from the Levant, and is thus a strong clue that these were among the first humans to settle Europe, scientists said.

Dr. Delson agreed that the evidence “makes it possible that this individual is (or is descended from) a ‘hybrid’ between modern humans and Neanderthals, but as the authors note, such a conclusion cannot be reached from a single fossil, especially as hybrids between species of modern primates usually have some genetically related anatomical oddities.”

One concern is that the fossil skull is fairly small, with a somewhat lower braincase capacity than in modern humans. With only one specimen, it is hard to know whether this is normal for the general population, scientists said. And Dr. Delson said it would be interesting to test for DNA in the skull to support its possible hybrid status in a time of overlapping modern human-Neanderthal populations when early humans were making their way, as he phrased it, to “that small zoological backwater of Eurasia known as Europe.”

Excavations at Manot Cave are expected to continue through at least 2020, searching deeper for more fossils and artifacts from the migrating people. Israel, Dr. Hershkovitz said, “is like a Swiss cheese, lots of caves everywhere.”

Several caves in the vicinity of Manot were occupied for long times by Neanderthals between 65,000 and 50,000 years ago. In this respect, Dr. Hershkovitz said, Manot is an excellent place to search for possible hybrids, but they may be difficult to recognize from surface features. “Only DNA study will solve the problem,” he said.

1716. Biofuels Are Ineffective Way of Fighting Global Warming, Report Says

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, January 28, 2015
As much as 30 percent to 40 percent of the American corn crop is being turned into fuel for cars each year, displacing about 6 percent of the nation’s demand for gasoline.

Western governments have made a wrong turn in energy policy by supporting the large-scale conversion of plants into fuel and should reconsider that strategy, according to a new report from a prominent environmental think tank.

Turning plant matter into liquid fuel or electricity is so inefficient that the approach is unlikely ever to supply a substantial fraction of global energy demand, the report found. It added that continuing to pursue this strategy — which has already led to billions of dollars of investment — is likely to use up vast tracts of fertile land that could be devoted to helping feed the world’s growing population.

Some types of biofuels do make environmental sense, the report found, particularly those made from wastes like sawdust, tree trimmings and cornstalks. But their potential is limited, and these fuels should probably be used in airplanes, for which there is no alternative power source that could reduce emissions.

“I would say that many of the claims for biofuels have been dramatically exaggerated,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, a global research organization based in Washington that is publishing the report. “There are other, more effective routes to get to a low-carbon world.”

The report follows several years of rising concern among scientists about biofuel policies in the United States and Europe, and is the strongest call yet by the World Resources Institute, known for nonpartisan analysis of environmental issues, to urge governments to reconsider those policies.

The report, which was made available to The New York Times in advance of its Thursday morning release, cites numerous examples of what it describes as misguided approaches to fighting global warming.

For instance, under mandates adopted by Congress during the George W. Bush administration and supported by the Obama administration, as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of the American corn crop is being turned into fuel for cars each year, displacing about 6 percent of the nation’s demand for gasoline.

Several studies have found that the policy has helped drive up global food prices, has worsened some types of air pollution and has done relatively little to reduce overall emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas primarily responsible for global warming.

In Europe, burning wood pellets to displace coal has become a fundamental strategy in the power industry, driven by extensive subsidies and mandates, particularly in the United Kingdom. Millions of tons of pellets are being produced in the United States and shipped to Europe.

The American industry supplying that market says that it uses only waste wood or trees that would be cut down anyway when overgrown forests are thinned, and that it pays close attention to issues of sustainability.

“We believe in mitigating climate change,” said M. Seth Ginther, executive director of the U.S. Industrial Pellet Association.

But some environmental groups have grown dubious of that assertion and argue that the continued growth of the wood-pellet industry is putting natural forests at risk. They are pressuring the European Union to reconsider its approach.

Some of the biofuel policies in the West go back a decade or longer, adopted on the basis of claims in the scientific literature that turning plant material into fuel would help lower emissions of carbon dioxide.

The basic theory was that, while burning such fuel does emit the gas, it would then be removed quickly from the atmosphere as plants grew and replaced those that had been used to produce the fuel.

That was considered a more sustainable approach than the burning of fossil fuels, which pulls carbon from deep underground and injects it into the atmosphere, trapping extra heat above the earth’s surface.

Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton and primary author of the new report, said that more recent science had challenged some of the assumptions underpinning many of the pro-biofuel policies.

He said such policies had often failed to consider the opportunity cost of using land to produce plants for biofuel, for instance.

If forests or grasses were grown in their place, that would pull carbon dioxide out of the air, storing it in tree trunks and soils and offsetting emissions more effectively than biofuels would do, he said.

That land will also be needed to help meet a global appetite for food that is expected to rise 70 percent or so by 2050, he said.

“We’ve only got one planet, with only so much land,” Mr. Searchinger said. “If you use land for one purpose, you can’t use it for another.”

Mr. Searchinger added that he was concerned by recent policy statements from the Obama administration that he said might open the door to extensive burning of wood pellets in the United States in the name of fighting global warming, similar to what has happened in Europe.

But Liz Purchia, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, said the policy in question was not final, and would be submitted for review to a scientific advisory panel appointed by the agency.

Jason Hill, who studies bioenergy at the University of Minnesota, was not involved in the World Resources Institute report, but reviewed it at the request of The Times. He endorsed some of its conclusions, particularly the idea that turning food crops into fuel makes little sense.

“It’s true that our first-generation biofuels have not lived up to their promise,” Dr. Hill said. “We’ve found they do not offer the environmental benefits they were purported to have, and they have a substantial negative impact on the food system.”

However, Dr. Hill was more bullish than Mr. Searchinger on the potential for newer types of biofuels made from crops planted specifically for that purpose.

Their potential environmental and economic benefits are not yet clear, and governments would be acting prematurely if they were to abandon research on them, Dr. Hill said, though he also doubted that they could ever supply any large fraction of global fuel demand.

Many of the pro-biofuel policies adopted by Western governments date to a period when other types of renewable energy were viewed as prohibitively expensive. But costs for wind and solar power have plummeted over the past decade, and the new report points out that for a given amount of land, solar panels are at least 50 times more efficient than biofuels at capturing the energy of sunlight in a useful form.