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Size Counts

Sometimes, bigger really is better - at least in a service economy. According to a study of Chinese cities by economics professor Vernon Henderson and graduate student Chun-Chung Au, a city's ideal size depends on its industry. Manufacturing cities are more productive when they are small - with populations of 1.4-2.6 million workers - while service-based cities are most successful with populations of 2-4 million workers. Why? "The service sector is more face-to-face, it requires more workers," Henderson says. Surprisingly, Henderson and Au found that in general, Chinese cities are smaller than they should be. China's hukou, or residential registration system, prevents people from moving freely from rural areas to more urban centers, where more jobs are found. A draft of the study by Henderson and Au was published by the National Bureau of Economics Research.

 

There Goes the Neighborhood

It's a "race against time," says Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Mark Bertness. In a pair of back-to-back papers published in the December and February Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Bertness and his colleagues report that Narragansett Bay's salt marshes are shrinking as a result of higher tides and changes in the marshes' nitrogen composition. The studies blamed three factors: global warming, the use of fertilizers, and real-estate development in the region. "All the former diversity of these marshes - the plants, the insects, and the birds - is being squeezed out," Bertness says. Taken together, he says, the results of these two studies should "set off warning bells" among environmentalists that an important ecosystem - salt marshes are one of the most diverse systems on earth - is in serious peril. And as local marshes shrink, Bertness observed, he and his colleagues are facing an environmental challenge of their own. Studying ever-smaller marshes, they now find themselves treading closer and closer to private beach houses - whose owners don't necessarily welcome their new scientifically inclined neighbors.

 

You Can't Always Get What You Want

Patients facing end-of-life decisions aren't getting the medical care they ask for, according to a study by Joan Teno, associate director of Brown's Center for Gerontology and Health Care Research. For a study published in the March Journal of the American Geriatric Society, Teno and her colleagues interviewed 1,185 gravely ill people who had been hospitalized for about ten days. They found that although 60 percent asked for palliative care exclusively, only one-third were receiving what they asked for. Instead, Teno says, most patients were given life-extending treatments that prolonged their suffering and significantly increased their medical care costs. While many people, Teno says, "fear that they will receive more aggressive treatment than they want at the end of life," hers is the first study to confirm that their fear is justified.




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