Curious Bends – expanding nuclear power, the Bombay Blood Group, doubting the tobacco-cancer link & more

Apr 15, 2015

1. India’s new forest laws are criminalising tribes’ once-normal livelihoods

“India has forest coverage of 23% and more than 200 million live in and around these forests and depend on them for their life, livelihood and cultural identity. But under the banner (some call it “guise”) of scientific management of forests, the intended objectives of our forest policies has been to “maximise profits” by sale of forest products and discouraging forest dwellers from “exploiting” forest resources. To do so, some trees like red sanders have been ‘nationalised’. This legal appropriation of forests has led to the ‘criminalisation’ of normal livelihood activities of forest-dependent people, making them ‘encroachers’.” (4 min read,

2. A large-scale expansion of nuclear power in India should include fuel-reprocessing, if only to minimise the amount of radioactive waste lying around

“Putting aside additional uranium resources that may be identified in the future, and also putting aside nuclear energy’s future growth rate, one must conclude that uranium-based fission energy cannot in any event last for more than a few centuries. This is not much time—when measured against the length of time that humankind is likely to exist. We, the authors, believe that the current generation bears a responsibility toward future generations not to deplete the world’s uranium resources. This means that uranium cannot be discarded as waste after only 1 percent of its energy is utilized—as happens today. Rather, reprocessing and recycling must be pursued so that 75 percent of uranium (if not more) is used to produce fission energy. Reprocessing and recycling have the potential, compared to the once-through use of uranium, to increase by a factor of at least 50 the amount of time during which humankind can derive fission energy from uranium resources.” (6 min read,

3. Why is a rare blood group more common in India than in Europe or the US?

“What took Swapna by surprise actually takes a lot of people by surprise. It’s because 1-in-17,000 people report something called the Bombay Blood Group. That’s one person in 17,000. Now imagine the Eden Gardens stadium filled with capacity with cricket fans. Five people in that stadium would have this blood group. And that’s how rare it is in India. In the United States and Europe, it’s even rarer. It’s one in a million, even if that. And that’s what we’re putting under the microscope today. The only difficult thing about living life with a Bombay Blood Group is getting a transfusion, if you need it. You cant just stroll into a bloodbank and ask for Bombay-type. It’s too rare.” (14 min listen,

+ This new podcast, The Intersection, is produced by the journalists Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian.

4. The Indian government is suspicious of the link between tobacco and cancer

“In a move denounced by India’s health activists, the Central government on Tuesday deferred its decision mandating that pictorial health warnings cover 85% of all tobacco packaging. The postponement comes a day before the rule was to come into effect and a day after puzzling remarks by Dilip Gandhi, the head of the parliamentary panel examining provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act. “All agree on the harmful effects of tobacco,” PTI reported Gandhi as saying. “But there is no Indian survey report to prove that tobacco consumption leads to cancer. All the studies are done abroad. Cancer does not happen only because of tobacco.”” (4 min read,

5. “You come to such a big hospital and expect it to be free?”

“Take the example of Selphili Kumar, a 25-year-old mother. In a government hospital in Ambikapur, she shivered alone on a dirty cot, waiting for the doctor to treat her two-day-old son, who had been sick and weak since birth. There was intense pressure in her abdomen and sudden chills racking her body, but all she could think about was money. Her husband, a labourer with a monthly income of about Rs3,500, had paid Rs1,000 to get to the hospital from her village of Kailashpur, Rs600 to order her post-cesarian medicine from the pharmacy (that the hospital claimed they didn’t have on hand), and Rs1,500 for her baby’s treatment. Wrapping her purple sweater tightly around her, her breaths short and shallow, Kumar worried that staying in the hospital longer would only rack up the bill further—a bill that, legally, shouldn’t have existed.” (14 min read,

Chart of the Week

“Archeological studies show that societies in the past were very violent indeed. The share of people killed by other people was often more 10%. Ethnographic evidence confirms that violence is very common in nonstate societies and drastically higher than in modern state societies. The historical record of homicide rates in Europe shows that modern levels of violence were only arrived at after a long decline. In these barcharts we compare rates of violence – rather than shares of violent deaths. Again, ethnographic studies show that violence in nonstate societies was much higher than in modern state societies.” (

Rate of violent deaths in nonstate and state societies; Max Roser. Credit:
Rate of violent deaths in nonstate and state societies; Max Roser. Credit:

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