Archive for the ‘Science’ Category
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
Another reason for traditional wet-shaving’s appeal: By requiring more effort it provides a sense of control
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, . . .
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.)
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 . . .
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
German Lopez makes a strong case at Vox.com. 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. . .
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.
Very interesting article on what all influences our taste of wines.
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.
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.” . . .
Well, one thing happens: people aren’t made to suffer so much for smoking pot, going to prison less often and for shorter sentences. I imagine they would see that as a big win, and so would I. Tom Jacobs writes in Pacific Standard:
As Washington becomes the second American state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, and Washington, D.C., moves toward decriminalization of the drug, critics worry that these changes in the law will alter people’s behavior. As pot becomes less stigmatized, they argue, more people will be tempted to start lighting up.
California Governor Jerry Brown put these concerns in the form of a (presumably) rhetorical question this past spring, asking: “How many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”
Recently published research from the U.K. suggests the governor can chill. It finds the 2004 “declassification” of marijuana in that nation, in which penalties for possession were drastically reduced, apparently had very little effect on people’s behavior.
“Our findings suggest essentially no increases in either cannabis consumption, consumption of other drugs, crime, and other forms of risky behavior,” writes economist Nils Braakmann of Newcastle University and his co-author, Simon Jones. Their research is published in the August issue of the journal Social Science and Medicine.
In 2004, cannabis was declassified from a Class B to a Class C drug in the U.K. This “led to a large reduction in the potential punishment for cannabis possession,” lowering the maximum penalty from five years to two, and also reducing fines. . .
Really: we’re spending billions of dollars every year to enforce laws against something for which the usage would change not at all if we simply made it legal, started taxing it, and close down our paramilitary/military/law-enforcement money-pit. That’s what we spending all that money for—and ruining all those lives, including deaths of law-enforcement officers as well as criminals and innocent bystanders (e.g., shot to death in a SWAT team serving a summons through no-knock entry with flash-bang grenades, only to discover that they (the SWAT team) were at the wrong house, and that actually happens—repeatedly). That is, we incur those losses in order to make zero change in behavior.
Is there something wrong with this picture?
Now that is reporting that should (but probably won’t) change people’s views to better coincide with reality. But many will continue to cling to old beliefs. Evidence schmedivence.
Imported foods, mostly—I hope. Ari LeVaux has the story at AlterNet:
Heavy metal pollution makes no distinction between how crops are grown. Irrespective of whether farming practices are organic or conventional practices are used, if the likes of cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel and mercury are in the soil, water or air they can contaminate food and poison the people who consume it. With enough exposure, heavy metals can build up in the body, causing chronic problems in the skin, intestine, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and brain. Some heavy metals occur naturally in soil, but rarely at toxic levels, while human activities like mining, manufacturing and the use of synthetic materials like paint, and even some agricultural chemicals, can release heavy metals into the air and water, and from there they find their way to the soil. And once in the soil, heavy metals are virtually impossible to remove.
China acknowledged last April that a staggering one-fifth of its arable land is seriously polluted with heavy metals, thanks to decades of aggressive industrial development. China’s Environmental Protection Ministry looked at data sampled between 2006 and 2013 and described the situation as “not optimistic.” The most commonly found heavy metals were cadmium, nickel and arsenic. The revelation came after months of speculation about the report, which at one point was not going to be released as the results were considered to be a “State Secret.”
Cadmium, one of the metals found in high concentrations in Chinese soil, is one of the most toxic heavy metal pollutants. It moves through soil layers with ease, and is taken up by a variety of plants, including leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals and grains. Last year it was discovered that nearly half of the rice for sale in the southern China city of Guangzhou was tainted with cadmium, which caused a major uproar.
Nickel and arsenic, the other two pollutants found in greatest amounts, aren’t so great either.
In the U.S., arsenic in apple juice has been on the popular radar since September 2011, when Mehmet Oz reported high arsenic levels in multiple samples of apple juice that were independently tested for his television show. More than half of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China.
Oz was taken to the woodshed for being alarmist by a number of experts and authorities, including the FDA, which disputed the results with its own data. ABC News’ senior health medical editor, Richard Besser, called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible,” comparing it to yelling fire in a crowded theater.
A few weeks later, FDA admitted it had withheld many test results which did, in fact, support Oz’s claim. Besser apologized to Oz on national television, and soon after the FDA collected about 90 retail samples of apple juice for a new round of analysis. According to FDA documents now available, the levels reported by Oz are in fact consistent with those detected by the agency in samples from China and Turkey.
Last year the agency set a limit, also known as an “action level,” on arsenic in juice, at 10 parts per billion, the same level that’s enforced in drinking water. Currently, FDA has import alerts set for four firms, two each in China and Turkey. The products of these companies, while regularly tested for arsenic because of previous violations of the action level, continue to be imported.
While China is not the only polluted region from which we import food, with a combination of aggressive industrial development and legendarily lax enforcement, it’s become a poster child for scary food imports. But any region with rapid industrial development and suspect environmental regulations could be a candidate for producing food contaminated with heavy metals.
While we don’t import a huge amount of food from China overall, we do consume large amounts of certain things in addition to apple juice, like garlic and farmed seafood—including 80 percent of the tilapia we eat. Much of China’s surface water, including water used for aquaculture, is polluted, not only with industrial toxins but also with agricultural fertilizers, which fuel the growth of algae. Algae can accumulate heavy metals, as will the fish that eat it. . .
In Brazil: the payoff from the experiment will, I bet, greatly exceed its cost. I hope they’re tracking things like sick days, public health expense, average hospital duration, etc. The outcomes will be interesting.
Tom Jacobs has an interesting article in Pacific Standard:
If you’re approaching retirement, you’ll be facing some difficult issues, even if your finances are in order. Fundamental concerns inevitably arise, including “What shall I do with my time?” and “How can I continue to feel strong and capable?”
New research from Germany suggests an advantageous answer to both of those questions could be to start making art.
A research team led by neurologist Anne Bolwerk reports “the production of visual art improves effective interaction” between certain regions of the brain.
What’s more, this improvement in brain function—found in a small group of new retirees who took a class in which they created paintings and drawings—was matched by self-reports of strengthened psychological resilience. . .
“Our results have important implications for preventative and therapeutic interventions,” the researchers write in the online journal PLoS One. . .
It sounds as though the benefits would be valuable even before retirement.
Coral Davenport has a very interesting article in the NY Times:
In November 2010, three combatants gathered in a sleek office here to build a carbon emissions policy that they hoped to sell to the Obama administration.
One was a lawyer who had been wielding the Clean Air Act since his days at the University of California, Berkeley. Another had turned to practicing environmental law and writing federal regulations to curb pollution after spending a summer on a pristine island off Nova Scotia. The third, a climate scientist who is a fixture on Capitol Hill, became an environmentalist because of postcollege backpacking trips in the Rockies.
The three were as seasoned and well connected as Washington’s best-paid lobbyists because of their decades of experience and the relationships they formed in the capital.
Over the next two years the lawyers, David Doniger and David Hawkins, and the scientist, Daniel Lashof, worked with a team of experts to write a 110-page proposal, widely viewed as innovative and audacious, that was aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. On June 2, President Obama proposed a new Environmental Protection Agency rule to curb power plant emissions that used as its blueprint the work of the three men and their team.
It was a remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the longtime home of Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins and, until recently, of Mr. Lashof. The organization has a reach that extends from the big donors of Wall Street to the elite of Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford are on its board) to the far corners of the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins once worked.
The group’s leaders understand the art of influence: In successfully drafting a climate plan that heavily influenced the president’s proposal, the organization followed the strategy used by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry, to write an energy policy for Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush administration.
“The N.R.D.C. proposal has its fingerprints throughout this, for sure,” said Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, a Washington nonprofit, describing how the council’s work influenced the proposed 650-page environmental regulation.
Representatives of the coal industry agreed. “N.R.D.C. is crafting regulatory policy for the E.P.A. that is designed to advance their agenda at the cost of American businesses and people who will pay the price through much higher electricity rates,” wrote Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group. Scott Segal, who lobbies for the coal industry with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, said in an email that the council’s experts “have unprecedented access to this E.P.A. and are able to project influence down to the details of regulatory proposals and creative legal theories.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was so certain of the council’s sway that it used the group’s proposal as the basis for its economic analysis of what it expected in the E.P.A. rule, before the rule’s actual release. “It is no surprise that N.R.D.C. has a great deal of influence on E.P.A. and the White House,” Matthew LeTourneau, a chamber spokesman, wrote in an email.
Continue reading. Also note the comments and links to related coverage.
One important point inexplicably omitted from the story is the result of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis. Here’s Krugman’s comment on their analysis—and it found that the cost of combatting climate change is remarkably low.
See also this column.
Interesting finding, reported at ThinkProgress by Judd Legum:
It’s the rallying cry for opponents of same-sex marriage: “Every child deserves a mom or a dad.” But a major new study finds that kids raised by same-sex couples actually do a bit better “than the general population on measures of general health and family cohesion.”
The study, conducted in Australia by University of Melbourne researchers “surveyed 315 same-sex parents and 500 children.” The children in the study scored about six percent higher than Australian kids in the general population. The advantages held up “when controlling for a number sociodemographic factors such as parent education and household income.” The study was the largest of its kind in the world.
The lead researcher, Dr. Simon Crouch, noted that in same-sex couples parents have to “take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes.” According to Crouch, this leads to a “more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and well being.”
The findings were in line with “existing international research undertaken with smaller sample sizes.”
Family Voice Australia, a group that opposes same-sex marriage, said the study should be discounted because it does not consider “what happens when the child reaches adulthood.”
In the United States, opponents of same-sex marriage routinely claim that children raised by same-sex couple fare worse. The most commonly cited study, conducted by sociologist Mark Regnerus, did not actually study children raised by same-sex couples. Indeed, “most of the subjects in the study grew up in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, long before marriage equality was available or adoption rights were codified in many states”. Instead, Regnerus studied children raised in “failed heterosexual unions” where one parent had a “romantic relationship with someone of the same sex.” It has been condemned by the American Sociological Association. Other frequently cited studies have similar methodological problems.