Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Self-reflexive metapost on why we’re here (on-line)

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Interesting. In my meme-oriented view, the internet would be an emergent phenomenon of memes, drawing in more and speeding up their evolution. And, of course, the most successful of those memes would (by definition) capture the attention of the greatest number of people. That’s quite a fertile environment for meme evolution—and of course it’s attractive by (more or less) necessity/definition: the most successful memes are the most attractive, so the Internet, which allows more or less free evolution, would quickly (in human terms) evolve to a high level of addictiveness.

Or maybe not. But it’s clear that the entire Internet is a creation built of memes. That’s what the whole thing is—nothing but memes (in the Richard Dawkins sense). And it’s clear that the Internet (i.e., the memes that comprise it) is evolving rapidly—just look at the Internet’s underlying technology as one group of its memes and see the rapid advance there—and that’s mainly, I would think, because the environment is uncontrolled. That is, it’s not a medium where the big content makers totally predominate: we are all on-line, and networks have developed that quickly draw the attention of the Internet denizens  to things of greater interest (thus the origins of its addictive nature). Those networks are all the various link-exchange sites of whatever level—even news stories now include many hyperlinks. So this network of connections surfaces things more quickly, thus allowing more rapid memetic evolution.

It all sort of hangs together, doesn’t it? What we’re seeing and a part of (and a part of us if I’m right that one’s identity is constructed from memes) is a meme Cambrian Explosion.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2014 at 2:16 pm

Interesting as a take on Israel

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That parents can transmit their own trauma to their offspring. Article here. If true, one can see both some potential contributors to Israel’s use of arms and occupation, and also how this generation’s conflicts will similarly shape the Palestinians, who pretty clearly on the suffering side of this war, in loss of family members as a rough metric. Their next generation will show the trauma.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2014 at 1:34 pm

Why it’s hard to change someone’s political outlook: It’s baked in

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Extremely interesting post by Kevin Drum. It’s interesting to me because it illustrates how the underlying biology can play a role in the success/failure of certain memes: memes that resonate with one outlook shrivel in other. So to some extent, there’s a competition among memes.

UPDATE: It was late when I wrote that: there’s always competition among memes. What I meant was that the competition among memes leads to competition among the meme hosts (humans): conservatives and progressives compete via memes, but those memes are selected to some extent by the underlying biology.

The post at the link is also interesting in providing an explanation for why most civilians who carry firearms are conservatives.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Politics, Science

Wired to fail?

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I was reading this very interesting New Yorker article by Elizabeth Kolbert, and you may also find it of interest. She raises some interesting points.

Agriculture was invented several times, and it seems likely that it was born of necessity, notoriously the very mother of invention. The reason it was a pressing matter is that the large animals that had served as prey were getting scarce on the ground. See this interesting brief article for a modern example of overhunting (and overfishing). Similarly, when humans entered the Western Hemisphere, quite a few animals (the mastodon, for example) went extinct. Human hunting, particularly after the invention of projectile weapons, was highly effective, and prey became harder to find.

So we got agriculture, and with it (as described in the article) a litany of ills: diabetes, tooth rot, and infectious diseases, among others. Kolbert writes:

According to a study of human remains from China and Japan, the height of the average person declined by more than three inches during the millennia in which rice cultivation intensified. According to another study, of bones from Mesoamerica, women’s heights dropped by three inches and men’s by two inches as farming spread. A recent survey of more than twenty studies on this subject, published in the journal Economics and Human Biology, found that the adoption of agriculture “was observed to decrease stature in populations from across the entire globe,” including in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and South America.

Early farmers were not just shorter than hunter-gatherers; they were also more sickly. They had worse teeth—one analysis from the Near East suggests that the incidence of cavities jumped sixfold as people started relying on grain—and they suffered from increased rates of anemia and infectious disease. Many now familiar infections—measles, for instance—require high population densities to persist; thus, it wasn’t until people established towns and cities that such “crowd epidemic diseases” could flourish. And, by living in close proximity to their equally crowded farm animals, early agriculturalists helped to bring into being a whole set of diseases that jumped from livestock to people.

“The adoption of agriculture,” Diamond notes in his most recent book, “The World Until Yesterday,” provided “ideal conditions for the rapid transmission of microbes.” According to Daniel E. Lieberman, a professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard and the author of “The Story of the Human Body,” “farming ushered in an era of epidemics, including tuberculosis, leprosy, syphilis, plague, smallpox and influenza.”

So that was a bad development (in terms of health, though not human culture: denser populations create a better environment for memes to arise and evolve rapidly. Kolbert points out, “Anatomically modern humans have, after all, been around for about two hundred thousand years. The genus Homo goes back another two million years or so. On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture that’s the fad.”

And yet humans cannot really eat as hunter-gatherers. First, our food animals and food crops are substantially different from their wild ancestors that were food for hunter-gatherers—to the point that modern corn/maize cannot grow without cultivation. Second, the human population, already far too large to survive with intensive agriculture globally, continues to grow rapidly, putting ever more strain on natural resources. Kolbert notes:

The last time most of humanity followed, by necessity, a paleo diet, there were maybe five million people on the planet. Yet already they were having a big impact; it’s been theorized that one of the impetuses for the development of agriculture was that large, easy-to-kill prey were becoming harder to find. As grain-growing spread, it produced what’s been called the “first population explosion.” Farmers can wean their children at a much younger age than hunter-gatherers can—they have foods like porridge to feed them—and thus can produce new ones more quickly. As a result, the sicklier agriculturists were able to outbreed the more robust hunter-gatherers. More farmers then needed even more land, which further reduced the resources available to foragers.

Whether or not agriculture was the “worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the choice, once made, was made for good. With a global population of seven billion people, heading rapidly toward eight billion, there’s certainly no turning back now (even if paleo does, in fact, prevent zits). Pound for pound, beef production demands at least ten times as much water as wheat production, and, calorie for calorie, it demands almost twenty times as much energy. Livestock are major sources of greenhouse-gas emissions, not just because of the fuel it takes to raise them but also because they do things like belch out methane and produce lots of shit, which in turn produces lots of nitrous oxide. One analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that, in terms of emissions, eating a pound of beef is the equivalent of driving forty-five miles. (Grass-fed beef—recommended by many primal enthusiasts—may produce lower emissions than corn-fed, but the evidence on this is shaky.) Eating a pound of whole wheat, by contrast, is like driving less than a mile. All of which is to say that, from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s “Let them eat steak” approach is a disaster.

Gary Taubes, in his excellent book Why We Get Fat And What to Do About It, notes:

Carbohydrate-restricted diets typically (if not, perhaps, ideally) replace the carbohydrates in the diet with large or at least larger portions of animal products—beginning with eggs for breakfast and moving to meat, fish, or fowl for lunch and dinner. The implications of that are proper to debate. Isn’t our dependence on animal products already bad for the environment, and won’t it just get worse? Isn’t livestock production a major contributor to global warming, water shortages, and pollution? When thinking about a healthy diet, shouldn’t we think about what’s good for the planet as well as what’s good for us? Do we have a right to kill animals for our food or put them to work for us in producing it? Isn’t the only morally and ethically defensible lifestyle a vegetarian one or even a vegan one?

These are all important questions that need to be addressed, as individuals and as a society. But they have no place in the scientific and medical discussion of why we get fat. And that’s what I am setting out to explore here—just as Hilde Bruch did more than seventy years ago. Why are we fat? Why are our children fat? What can we do about it?

So we seem to face a dilemma: the best diet for humans grows increasingly unsustainable. But even worse, humanity seems to be increasingly unsustainable. Our affect on the environment has been devastating (even apart from the Big Kahuna, global warming), and we despoil our natural resources faster than they can be replaced—not that we are devoting much effort to replacing them.

I think the human race is simply not wired for long-term success (in evolutionary terms). It looks increasingly as though human civilization is going to be short-lived blip—perhaps 20,000 years at the outside, more likely 15,000 (of which 10,000 are already used up).

Probably I’m wrong, but the overall long-term trends look quite bearish.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2014 at 9:02 am

Can meditation slow aging?

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Maybe so. From an interesting article by Jo Marchant in Pacific Standard:

. . . The paper triggered an explosion of research. Researchers have since linked perceived stress to shorter telomeres in healthy women as well as in Alzheimer’s caregivers, victims of domestic abuse and early life trauma, and people with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. “Ten years on, there’s no question in my mind that the environment has some consequence on telomere length,” says Mary Armanios, a clinician and geneticist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine who studies telomere disorders.

There is also progress toward a mechanism. Lab studies show that the stress hormone cortisol reduces the activity of telomerase, while oxidative stress and inflammation—the physiological fallout of psychological stress—appear to erode telomeres directly.

This seems to have devastating consequences for our health. Age-related conditions from osteoarthritis, diabetes, and obesity to heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and stroke have all been linked to short telomeres.

The big question for researchers now is whether telomeres are simply a harmless marker of age-related damage (like grey hair, say) or themselves play a role in causing the health problems that plague us as we age. People with genetic mutations affecting the enzyme telomerase, who have much shorter telomeres than normal, suffer from accelerated-aging syndromes and their organs progressively fail. But Armanios questions whether the smaller reductions in telomere length caused by stress are relevant for health, especially as telomere lengths are so variable in the first place.

Blackburn, however, says she is increasingly convinced that the effects of stress do matter. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 5:29 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Food shortages showing up in fishing, and the follow-on effects are bad

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Michelle Nijhuis writes in the New Yorker:

In 1998, a young American biologist named Justin Brashares, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, went to Ghana to research antelope behavior. But, as he hiked the West African forests and savannahs, he didn’t see many antelope. He also didn’t see many hippos, leopards, duikers, or lions. What he did see were large, aggressive troops of olive baboons. They had recently begun to raid maize crops and steal chickens, causing such serious and persistent damage that many Ghanaians were keeping their young children out of school to help guard family farms.

How had baboons gained influence over the education of Ghanaian children? In search of an answer, Brashares dug into the fantastically detailed records of wildlife populations and hunting activity that Ghana has kept since its days as a British colony. He found that as populations of large mammal species had declined in the country’s national parks over the decades, baboon populations had expanded into the newly predator-free habitat. Hunting intensified by human population growth was one reason for the over-all declines, but the mammal numbers didn’t follow a straight line toward extinction: they rose, then fell, then rose again.

Brashares asked Ghanaian farmers about the pattern. “Oh, it’s the fish,” he remembers them saying dismissively. Poor fishing on the Atlantic coast, they told Brashares, drove more people into the forest to hunt for bushmeat. More hunting meant fewer large mammals, more olive baboons—and, eventually, more kids kept home from school. Brashares’ analysis of data collected by researchers from his lab and elsewhere showed that, in 2009, sixty-five per cent of school-age children in sixty-four baboon-affected villages were withdrawn from school for at least one month, and many for much longer than that.

This causal chain from the health of ocean fisheries to educational success was so straightforward that Brashares initially didn’t believe it. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, but these uninformed people aren’t aware of some bigger dynamic,’ ” Brashares told me. “Of course, they were right all along.” With the Ghanaian park data and extensive surveys of twelve Ghanaian markets over several years, Brashares and his colleagues eventually showed that when fish populations were low, fish prices were high, and bushmeat hunting increased, a relationship that was especially strong near the coast. Other researchers documented similar patterns elsewhere in Africa and in South America, further proving what Ghanaian farmers already knew: wildlife declines aren’t only a result of social ills but also a cause.

Brashares and his students have since looked more closely at the global social effects of fish and wildlife declines. In a review article published today in the journal Science, and in a talk at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula, Montana, last week, Brashares detailed examples: declining fish populations off the coast of southern Thailand are forcing Thai fishing fleets to work harder for the same catch, and the resulting desperation for labor has triggered an epidemic of indentured servitude and child slavery. (The United Nations estimates that ten to fifteen per cent of the global fisheries workforce now suffers some form of enslavement.) Over the past decade, more than a hundred “fishing militias” have formed in Thailand, and clashes over local fishing rights have killed an estimated three thousand nine hundred people. In surveys of Kenyan households conducted by Kathryn Fiorella, a graduate student who works with Brashares, a large proportion of women reported exchanging sex for fish because, they said, fish had become too scarce and expensive to secure otherwise. (More than half the women who had exchanged sex for fish were H.I.V.-positive.) In West Africa, where Brashares began his work, child labor and child slavery are increasing as both fishing and bushmeat hunting become more difficult.

These linkages are rarely discussed in academic circles, or even in the popular press. Not long after Brashares published his work on fisheries and bushmeat trends in Ghana, Science published a high-profile article on the decline of global fisheries; the same week, the Times published a story on forced child labor in the fishing industry, drawing on research and analysis by UNICEF and the International Labor Organization. Science made no mention of forced labor, and the Times made no mention of fisheries’ declines. “The science side is very focused on natural-resource trends and not really thinking about social consequences, while the policy side is looking at Somali pirates or elephant ivory, and totally disconnected from the root causes,” Brashares said.

Meanwhile, non-specialists—from Ghanaian farmers to English-speaking magazine readers—may well be surprised to learn that the people charged with solving such problems aren’t making what seem like patently obvious connections.

Academic institutions reward specialization, and specialists are invariably at risk of missing the larger problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 3:43 pm

Another thing that helps one psychological state: A walk in the park

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Tom Jacobs reports at Pacific Standard:

Plenty of research has suggested immersing yourself in nature has significant mental and physical health benefits. But can it also make you a better person? New research from France suggests it just might.

In two experiments, pedestrians who had just strolled through a beautiful park were more likely to come to the aid or a stranger who had just dropped a glove. Writing in the journal Environment and Behavior, Nicolas Guéguen and Jordy Stefan of the University of Bretagne-Sud refer to this as “green altruism.”

Their first experiment featured

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 11:30 am

Another reason for traditional wet-shaving’s appeal: By requiring more effort it provides a sense of control

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And a sense of control is exactly what people crave when the general situation, globally, nationally, and locally, feels out of control (cf. the three earlier posts on law enforcement, which was once a source of a sense of control). Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard:

As a proposed advertising slogan, “Requires Effort” wouldn’t pass muster with Don Draper. But surprising new research finds that, under certain circumstances, people are in fact drawn to products that demand some work.

Such items become more desirable when people feel a lack of control over their lives, according to Keisha Cutright of the University of Pennsylvania and Adriana Samper of Arizona State University. These “high-effort products,” they write, enable frustrated individuals to recapture a sense of personal power.

“Beyond seeking products that merely symbolize a given trait,” Cutright and Samper write in the Journal of Consumer Research, “consumers sometimes prefer products that give them an opportunity to actually demonstrate that they possess a trait.”

The researchers describe five studies that provide evidence for their thesis. In the first, . . .

Continue reading.

Feeling that one lacks control in his or her life puts one at serious risk for depression—or, as Martin Seligman termed it in his studies, “learned helplessness.” (His book Learned Optimism is quite interesting—inexpensive secondhand copies at the link.)

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 9:24 am

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

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I feel better and better about my LCHF diet. Read this article in Pacific Standard by John Upton:

Colorectal cancer is a scourge of modern times, killing 50,000 Americans every year. It’s responsible for a heavier death toll than any other cancer besides lung cancer and, when it comes to women, breast cancer.

And new research, which was published last week in Cell, has provided insights into the dangerous link between colorectal cancers and modern diets heavy in wheat, rice, and other complex carbohydrates—diets that became possible with the advent of agriculture.

University of Toronto scientists led research that suggests a common type of gut-dwelling bacteria breaks down carbs into certain metabolites that can lead to cancer. These metabolites appear to cause cells that line the colon to divide and proliferate rapidly, forming polyps. These polyps, which can grow into a cancer, are the abnormal growths that your doctor is probing for when they subject you to a colonoscopy.

The scientists found that they could protect specially bred mice from the cancers in two ways. In some mice, they used targeted antibiotics to kill off the clostridia bacteria that convert carbs into the metabolite butyrate. In other mice, they reduced the amount of carbs in their diets.

“We know it depends on bacteria, and we know it depends on carbs,” says Alberto Martin, an associate immunology professor at the University of Toronto and one of the authors of the study. “This is the part of the study that’s still not solid, but we think that butyrate is somehow fueling the hyperproliferation of colon epithelial cells.” Other metabolites of carbohydrates might also be involved, he says. “It would be naïve to think it’s only butyrate.”

The phyla of bacteria . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 3:16 pm

The language impulse

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In looking through the book The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture, by  Frank Wilson, Iwas struck by this passage:

Earlier in this chapter, I quoted Harlan Lang’s explanation of the phrase “the arbitrariness of sign.’ . . .

While I was in San Diego in 1973 I ran into Ursula Bellugi, a psycholinguist whom I had met before. She took me to her lab, where there were some deaf people signing. While I watched, she translated into English what they were saying. It took me some time to absorb what she had shown me; Ursula explained that sign language is not a code on English—she said, “It seems to be a language. There are rules for making up words and rules for making sentences out of the words, but the rules have to do with space and shape—it’s an entirely different way of doing language.”

I was really stunned. It was like being told there’s another ocean that you had never heard of. After a few days of looking into it and digesting it, I began to realize that this meant that language was not about speaking and hearing, which had always been my assumption. It meant that the brain had the capacity for language, and if you can’t put it out through the mouth, you put it out through the hands.

This was a revelatory moment of the kind that does not often come so accidentally to people in Lane’s circumstances. When Bellugi showed him her deaf signers and shared her opinion that sign, as they demonstrated it, had to be a real language, it meant the language generator in the brain must be indifferent to the form and medium through which its messages are transmitted. Are we using Fed Ex? UPS? Who cares? It’s just a messenger service! Nobody knew or even imagined that this might be the case until 1960, when William Stokoe first proposed that sign language had a grammatical structure in the visual-spatial mode comparable to that of spoken language.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2014 at 8:57 am

Posted in Books, Science

The EPA Dithers While a Popular Pesticide Threatens Ecosystems

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A somewhat depressing article in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott.

He cites many studies, but the EPA so far has shown little or no interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 9:19 am

Reinveting the cooking pan

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Extraordinarily cool. Article here. Video below.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 July 2014 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Recipes, Science

Roundup-ready GMO corn causes serious health damage

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Perhaps GMO foods are not so benign after all—particularly if the genetic modification was to allow the food crop to survive being sprayed and coated with highly toxic herbicides, such as Roundup. Oliver Tickell reports in The Ecologist:

A scientific study that identified serious health impacts on rats fed on ‘Roundup ready’ GMO maize has been republished following its controversial retraction under strong commercial pressure. Now regulators must respond and review GMO and agro-chemical licenses, and licensing procedures.

A highly controversial paper by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues has been republished after a stringent peer review process.

The chronic toxicity study examines the health impacts on rats of eating a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto’s NK603 glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.

The original study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012, found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU.

However it was retracted by the editor-in-chief of the Journal in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumours and mortality in most treatment groups.

Criticisms addressed in the new version

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication.

The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The republished study is accompanied by . . .

Continue reading.

Monsanto will fight this to the bitter end. Monsanto really doesn’t care whether the foods are damaging to the body; Monsanto is striving purely to make sure profits grow.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2014 at 9:12 pm

Interruptions kill writing

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There’s a lot to be said for sitting at a table alone in a room that’s free of distractions, and writing in pencil on pads of paper. Certainly better than writing on a computer, because interruptions kill writing, and self-interruptions (to check email, to glance at the headlines, and perhaps click on a few stories—it’s now a full-fledged derailment of one’s train of thought.

It seems to me that prior to putting thoughts into words, there is first a mostly unconscious process of gathering allusions and associations and letting the idea take form in a sort of web or nest of our other notions/ideas/knowledge, testing the developing idea for fit and comfort. That is,when we write we are putting into words an ideational entity that is the outcome of a process of concept formation, and I think it’s at this stage that the interruptions are killers. You’re trying to “gather your thoughts”—leaning back in the chair with the pencil poised as you sort of get a grip on the outlines of the thought, and then you lean forward and start writing.

Breaking up that in-gathering to create the concept means starting anew, which means finding your way back to the place where you started.

And of course, computers abound with interrupters. That’s what they are, in fact.

And by all means read this article on how computers and tablets and e-readers have changed the way that we read. And the way we read is a skill—if you don’t practice reading books, it becomes harder to read book. In reading books I can get so immersed in the book that when I stop, it takes me a beat or two to realize where I am, to re-orient myself from the world of the book, a world that seemed somehow real enough to daze me a bit upon departing it.

Those things don’t happen with on-screen reading, for reasons the article explains.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:38 pm

The case for decriminalizing heroin, cocaine, and all other drugs

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German Lopez makes a strong case at It is really unclear why we don’t try experimenting with wholesale legalization, regulation, taxation, and treatment.

America’s war on drugs has, by several measures, failed to live up to its goals.

Over the past couple of decades, illicit drug use has not decreased in a significant way. At the same time, the war on drugs has fallen short of its key economic goal: to make drugs more expensive, and therefore make them less accessible to drug users.

Even the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to agree with this point. In a release detailing the Obama administration’s new anti-drug strategy, Michael Botticelli, acting director of ONDCP, wrote, “This Strategy … rejects the notion that we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of the nation’s drug problem.”

The White House’s strategy, to be sure, doesn’t completely do away with incarceration and law enforcement in the fight against drugs, but the statement acknowledges that the last 40 years of the war on drugs have not produced the desired results.

Given the failures of the war on drugs and the spread of marijuana legalization, many drug policy experts are now thinking about what’s next. What should happen with other illicit drugs, such as heroin and cocaine, if the war on drugs isn’t working? Should illicit drugs even be considered illegal in the first place?

I reached out to three drug policy experts for answers. They agreed that the criminalization of drugs has clearly failed, but where drug policy should go next remains a matter of debate.

There’s one point of agreement: the war on drugs is a failure

No matter their academic background or political leanings, there seems to be a consensus among many drug policy experts that the criminalization of drugs hasn’t worked. This is the one point of agreement among Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert at UCLA; Jeffrey Miron, an economist at Harvard University and the libertarian Cato Institute; and Isaac Campos, a drug historian at the University of Cincinnati.

The war on drugs goes after drug producers and dealers in an attempt to cut drugs at the source — before they reach the user. The idea is to cut down the supply, so drugs are more expensive and, therefore, less affordable and accessible for a drug user. [And, OTOH, with more money at stake and to be made, you have created a lucrative opportunity for miscreants who don't shirk from breaking the law. It seems counter-productive---and, in fact, it is, as the article demonstrates. - LG]

One way to check whether this strategy has succeeded is by looking at whether the price of drugs has gone up during prohibition. According to the most recent report from the White House’s ONDCP, that’s not the case. The prices of cocaine, crack, and heroin plummeted then stabilized in the past few decades, and meth’s price has remained largely stable since the 1980s. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2014 at 3:13 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Law, Politics, Science

A drug that restores neuroplasticity, so one can learn as readily as does a child

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Very interesting article by Cody Delistraty in Pacific Standard. From the article:

Gervain, the principle researcher behind a study entitled “Valproate Reopens Critical-Period Learning of Absolute Pitch,” found that, with low doses of Valproate—a drug typically used to combat bipolar disorder and epilepsy—the brain’s neuroplasticity could be expanded, thereby reopening the “critical periods” of learning, which lets the subject learn as if she were a child.

For the study, Gervain and her research team created a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled test, during which 24 adult men received either a placebo or a small, safe dose of Valproate. After 15 days, all participants watched instructional videos on how to identify the six musical pitch classes in the 12-tone Western musical system. They were then asked to identify the pitch of 18 discreet piano notes. In order to assure accuracy, two weeks later, after the drug had worn off, the opposite treatment was given to each participant (those who initially received Valproate then received a placebo; those who initially received a placebo received Valproate), and they were again asked to identify the pitch classes.

In both tests, those who took the Valproate scored “much higher” in pitch identification accuracy, the implication being that it is possible to learn a complex skill like pitch identification—something usually obtained only in childhood—simply by taking a pill.

The article elsewhere comments on the learning of languages, and notes:

“The brain’s ability to absorb increases as we know more languages,” Loraine Obler, a professor of linguistics at the City University of New York, told the New York Times. “Having a second language at a young age helps you learn a third, even if they’re unrelated.” In fact, even hearing the sounds from different languages at a young age has been proven to be useful in the acquisition of foreign languages later in life.

Note how learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third. This has been tested repeatedly, using Esperanto as the second language (because it’s easily learned) and then teaching the actual target language (German, for example), whose learning is facilitated by having learned Esperanto. (People with a year of Esperanto and two years of German know more German and speak it more fluently than those who simply studied three years of German.) This phenomenon is discussed at length in this Wikipedia article. Given the ease of learning or teaching Esperanto, I’m surprised this approach is not more often used.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2014 at 9:02 am

I always thought Meyer-Briggs was about on par with Tarot

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And it is. That, or the Ouija board (how thatt works).

Written by LeisureGuy

15 July 2014 at 5:40 pm

Posted in Daily life, Games, Science

When expectations shape experience

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Very interesting article on what all influences our taste of wines.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2014 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Drinks, Food, Science

“Human consciousness may be just a simple on-off switch in the brain”

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Very interesting finding. If I understand it correctly, consciousness resides in the function that integrates the nerve impulses from all our sensors so that we get the cross-connections (that-sound-goes-with-that-image sort of thing—different modes of perception linked—but obviously much more complex, since the input stream is effectively continuous from all those nerves. Some doubtless are handled locally—reflex actions, for example—and those apparently continue with some degradation of performance even when the integrative function is taken offline. It sounds sort of as thoough sensory integration/ consciousness is the OS. If it goes offline, everything stops working together so well until it’s rebooted and becomes operational again.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2014 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Why organic food is more healthful

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Sarah Gray writes in Salon:

Could there be a clear difference between organic and non-organic food? An international study, due out next week, in the journal British Journal of Nutrition, presents evidence that there is, indeed, a discernible difference.

Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University, led the team of researchers. Their conclusion states that organic food may have more antioxidant compounds present and lower levels of pesticides — four times lower than non-organic — and toxic metals like cadmium .

Leifert told the Guardian that the differences in antioxidant levels were “substantially higher.” They were apparently ranging between 19% and 69% higher in organic food. This study, according to the Guardian, is the first to show an actual difference between organic and non-organic food.

The debate of whether organic is healthier, is still far from over, as this is only one study. If anything it opens up new questions, and will lead to new exploration on the topic.

And of course not all are convinced, including Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition at King’s College London. He said the study does show some difference but has some questions. “But the question is are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant?” he asked, “I am not convinced.” He also believes the article is misleading due to a reference to antioxidants as key nutrients.

The Independent also reports questions amongst the nutrition community, including Professor Richared Mithen of the Institute of Food Research. “The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity’, and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health,” Mithen explained.

The results, according to the Guardian are ” based on an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world – more than ever before – which examine differences between organic and conventional fruit, vegetables and cereals.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 9:17 pm


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