Curious Bends  – healthy obesity, astrology as a science, energy subsidies and more

1. India’s poor risk their health to mine electronic waste

The UN estimated in 2012 that, for the first time, developing countries were producing more electronic waste than developed ones. In the same year, India imposed some regulations about how it is handled. Electronic waste, often comprising consumer electronics such as smartphones and laptops, contains valuable metals such as copper and gold as well as disease-causing substances like flame retardants and carcinogenic heavy metals. But India’s rules have fallen flat. Photographs of rural women and children processing the stuff are proof. (3 min read)

2. Civilian drones in Indian skies are winging it

For the price of a smartphone, you can get yourself a drone in the bigger markets of India’s metros, or online, and use it to deliver pizzas. On the other hand, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation seems inappropriately slow to catch up: “We are looking at regulations being developed in other countries for reference.” It seems India will continue its experiments with technologies markedly susceptible to abuse. (5 min read)

3. Can you be healthily obese?

Scientists have identified a protein that seems to mark a controversial distinction between healthy and unhealthy obese people. In a study, they found that obese people who had twice-as-high levels of heme oxygenase-1 displayed insulin resistance, the precursor of type-2 diabetes. However, even if the notion of “healthy” obesity prevails, that the healthily obese will be at a slight disadvantage compared to healthy, lean people won’t change. (4 min read)

+ The author, Priyanka Pulla, is a Bengaluru-based freelance journalist and Takshashila Institute scholar.

4. Some people think astrology is a science

It is no secret that India’s belief in astrology is too high for its own good. Based on past studies and his own work, a sociologist argues that the reason so many people believe that astrology is a science is because they also believe in “conformity and deference to higher authority of some kind”. Together with the thesis that people high on authoritarianism tend to pay blind allegiance to conventional beliefs, he finds that people who value obedience as a virtue are likelier to think astrology is scientific. (6 min read).

5. A dramatic decline in suicides in China thanks to urbanisation

Despite suggestions that Chinese authorities underreport numbers, the country’s rapidly ageing society has seen a rapid decline in the number of suicides among young rural women: a 90% drop in little more than a decade. Experts say it’s because of migration and the rise of an urban middle class. “Moving to the cities to work … has been the salvation of many rural young women, liberating them from parental pressures, bad marriages, overbearing mothers-in-law and other stresses of poor, rural life.” This is the exact opposite of what urbanisation has done to suicide numbers in the West. (5 min read)

Chart of the week

One of the factors that hampers Asia’s energy security is subsidies on the primary energy products—electricity, petroleum products, coal and natural gas. The chart below shows 15 Asian countries and the amount of post-tax subsidies on these products they spend as a percentage of their GDP. Almost all of them predominantly spend on petroleum products. The more developed among them—Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea—don’t subsidise electricity. India and China are heavy on coal. Click here for an interactive version with access to the data.

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