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Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Why do women earn less than men?

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post (with excellent charts) that explores the question. He begins:

Sarah Kliff points today to a new study from Denmark on the gender wage gap. Danes are famously egalitarian, and labor force participation is nearly equal between men and women these days. However, Denmark still has a large gender wage gap—nearly as large as the United States, in fact. Why? Researchers Henrik Kleven, Camille Landais, and Jakob Egholt Søgaard conclude that it’s almost purely a childbearing penalty: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2018 at 11:13 am

Very good kimchi from Costco

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I just recently got this half-gallon (2 L) tub of kimchi, and I’ve been eating it for snacks: a low-calorie probiotic that’s quite tasty. The handle folds flat onto the lid, a nice touch. You can click the photo and read the ingredients. I did a Google on kimchi, and found this abstract of a paper:

Kimchi is a traditional Korean food manufactured by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Many bacteria are involved in the fermentation of kimchi, but LAB become dominant while the putrefactive bacteria are suppressed during salting of baechu cabbage and the fermentation. The addition of other subingredients and formation of fermentation byproducts of LAB promote the fermentation process of LAB to eventually lead to eradication of putrefactive- and pathogenic bacteria, and also increase the functionalities of kimchi. Accordingly, kimchi can be considered a vegetable probiotic food that contributes health benefits in a similar manner as yogurt as a dairy probiotic food. Further, the major ingredients of kimchi are cruciferous vegetables; and other healthy functional foods such as garlic, ginger, red pepper powder, and so on are added to kimchi as subingredients. As all of these ingredients undergo fermentation by LAB, kimchi is regarded as a source of LAB; and the fermentative byproducts from the functional ingredients significantly boost its functionality. Because kimchi is both tasty and highly functional, it is typically served with steamed rice at every Korean meal. Health functionality of kimchi, based upon our research and that of other, includes anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colorectal health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, fibrolytic effect, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion. In this review we describe the method of kimchi manufacture, fermentation, health functionalities of kimchi and the probiotic properties of its LAB.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 February 2018 at 11:05 am

Posted in Food, Health, Low carb, Science

Can Security Measures Really Stop School Shootings?

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Bryan Warnick, Benjamin A. Johnson, and Sam Rocha write in Scientific American:

The following essay is reprinted with permission from The Conversation, an online publication covering the latest research.The Conversation

When deadly school shootings like the one that took place on Valentine’s Day in Broward County, Florida occur, often they are followed by calls for more stringent security measures.

For instance, after the Jan. 23 case in which a 15-year-old student allegedly shot and killed two students and wounded 16 others at a small-town high school in Kentucky, some Kentucky lawmakers called for armed teachers and staff.

If anything, the response of the Kentucky lawmakers represents what has been called the “target-hardening” approach to school shootings. This approach attempts to fortify schools against gun violence through increased security measures. These measures may include metal detectors, lock-down policies, “run, hide, fight” training and surveillance cameras.

While some of these measures seem sensible, overall there is little empirical evidence that such security measures decrease the likelihood of school shootings. Surveillance cameras were powerless to stop the carnage in Columbine and school lock-down policies did not save the children at Sandy Hook.

As researchers who have collaboratively written about school shootings, we believe what is missing from the discussion is the idea of an educational response. Current policy responses do not address the fundamental question of why so many mass shootings take place in schools. To answer this question, we need to get to the heart of how students experience school and the meaning that schools have in American life.

An educational response is important because the “target hardening” approach might actually make things worse by changing students’ experience of schools in ways that suggest violence rather than prevent it.

How security measures can backfire

Filling schools with metal detectors, surveillance cameras, police officers and gun-wielding teachers tells students that schools are scary, dangerous and violent places – places where violence is expected to occur.

The “target hardening” approach also has the potential to change how teachers, students and administrators see one another. How teachers understand the children and youth they teach has important educational consequences. Are students budding citizens or future workers? Are they plants to nourish or clay to mold?

One of the most common recommendations for schools, for example, is that they should be engaged in threat assessment. Checklists are sometimes suggested to school personnel to determine when students should be considered as having the potential for harm. While such practices have their place, as a society we should be aware that these practices change how teachers think of students: not as budding learners, but potential shooters; not with the potential to grow and flourish, but with the potential to enact lethal harm.

Of course, society can think of students in different ways at different times. But the more teachers think of students as threats to be assessed, the less educators will think of students as individuals to nourish and cultivate.

As researchers, we have read the accounts of dozens of different school shootings, and we think educators, parents and others should begin to raise the following questions about schools.

Questions of status

To what extent does the school—through things like athletics, homecoming royalties, or dances and so forth—encourage what some political scientists have called the “status tournament of adolescence” that lurks behind the stories of many school shootings?

As one reads about such shootings, one often senses a feeling of social anxiety and betrayal on the part of perpetrator. Americans hold high expectations for schools as places of friendship and romance, yet too often students find alienation, humiliation and isolation. The frustration at these thwarted expectations at least sometimes seems to turn toward the school itself.

Force and control issues

To what extent does the force and coercion employed by many schools contribute to a “might makes right” mentality and associated violence?

It is true that bullying is part of some of the stories of school shooters. Students who are bullied or who are bullies themselves will quite naturally think of schools as places appropriate for violence. There is also sometimes a rage, however, against the day-to-day imposition of school discipline and punishment. Since schools are experienced as places of force and control, for some students, they also come to be seen as appropriate places for violence.

Identity and expression . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 February 2018 at 8:19 am

“Best healthcare in the world”: 500-pound man’s doctor says he’ll die without surgery. His insurer shrugs it off

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David Lazarus writes in the LA Times:

Norwalk resident Shawn Alvarado started packing on the pounds as a teenager, gradually becoming one of millions of Americans whose sedentary lifestyle made him a statistic in the country’s obesity epidemic.
By the age of 24, Alvarado weighed 300 pounds.

By the age of 31, he weighed 400 pounds.

Today he tips the scale at almost 500 pounds.

“I don’t know what to say,” Alvarado, now 53, told me. “I just stopped exercising. I got heavier and heavier.”

Still, you don’t get to weigh a quarter-ton by simply overeating. There are almost certainly other factors at work, both physiological and psychological.

Yet Alvarado’s insurer, Minnesota-based HealthPartners, refuses to see him as having an overall medical condition.

Twice, he said, his doctor sought insurance authorization for gastric bypass surgery to reduce his weight. And twice HealthPartners turned down coverage, deeming the roughly $20,000 operation a cosmetic procedure.

I could only wonder if Alvarado was getting a fair shake after California’s two main health insurance regulators, the Department of Managed Health Care and the Department of Insurance, announced investigations this week into Aetna, the country’s third-largest insurer.

A former Aetna medical director for Southern California admitted in a deposition for a lawsuit that he never consulted patients’ medical records before denying claims. He said he relied on the advice of nurses.

“If a health insurer is making decisions to deny coverage without a physician ever reviewing medical records, that is a significant concern and could be a violation of the law,” said state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones.

No one’s saying this is what happened with Alvarado. But the Aetna case raises questions about how seriously his insurer took concerns about the medical need for a gastric bypass — and the company’s responsibility for a policyholder’s well-being.

“To say this is a cosmetic surgery is unbelievable,” said Dr. Winfried Waider, Alvarado’s cardiologist. “His lifespan is going to be markedly shortened by this decision.”

He added: “They just don’t want to pay, that’s what this is.”

Catherine Scott, a HealthPartners spokeswoman, declined to comment. Although Alvarado was willing to have his case discussed, Scott cited the insurer’s contract with Alvarado’s employer, a moving company, for which he works as a dispatcher.

“We can’t discuss the particular details of this employer’s benefit design,” she said.

HealthPartners certainly isn’t the only insurer to reject coverage for cosmetic or elective surgery. This is a way most insurance firms keep rates down for policyholders.

But here’s the thing in Alvarado’s case: He was hospitalized last year to the tune of almost $100,000 for congestive heart failure. He said HealthPartners covered most of the cost.

His other obesity-related complications — including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and sleep apnea — ring up annual medical bills in the tens of thousands of dollars. They too are covered by HealthPartners.

Yet the company won’t cover a procedure recommended by Alvarado’s doctor as medically necessary, one that could lower ongoing costs for the firm and other ratepayers.

How can that possibly make sense?

From the insured’s perspective, it makes all the sense in the world to cover this thing,” said Tom Mayo, a medical ethicist at Southern Methodist University. “But insurers frequently wear blinders. If it’s not in the language of the policy, it’s not covered. Period.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2018 at 12:47 pm

The tonka-bean story

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Adina Solomon writes in Taste:

Tonka beans—an ingredient that people have used for centuries to add a vanilla-almond note to cakes, custards, ice creams, and even chicken—have been illegal since 1954 because they contain coumarin, a chemical compound found in cinnamon. Large doses (about 30 beans’ worth) can cause liver failure, but in most tonka-laced dishes, a person doesn’t consume more than one bean.

In spite of the fact that it’s illegal to import or sell tonka beans in the U.S., they can still be found in certain corners of the Internet and in a few specialty stores, and the legality hasn’t stopped chefs around the country from experimenting with them.

Recently, I ordered a pack of 50 beans on Amazon from a product page with zero reviews, which felt slightly illicit. The package arrived from Venezuela, and I opened the bag to smell the black, shriveled beans in the shape of elongated almonds. The aroma is a sweet cross between vanilla and almond, a satisfying smell that packs more strength than you would expect from a paper-clip-sized seed. My law-abiding husband seemed anxious. “You’re never going to use 50 of them, unless you want to kill somebody,” he said, unable to forget the coumarin.

Neither can people who cook with tonka beans traditionally. Felix Padilla lives in Trinidad and Tobago, just off the coast of Venezuela, and blogs at Trinidadian food website Simply Trini Cooking. He eats a maximum of one tonka bean per day.

“It’s not a fruit you could eat like mango,” he says. Padilla picks tonka beans from cumaru trees that grow near his home. In addition to eating them fresh, he says traditional Trinidadian cuisine uses dried tonka beans in sweet breads and chocolate. The U.S. receives only dried beans, which are . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2018 at 11:28 am

Posted in Food, Government, Health

Ready meals and cereals linked with rise in cancer

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Something that The Wife and I don’t have to worry about: cancer risk from factory food products. Chris Smyth writes in the Times:

Eating factory-made food including cornflakes, pizza and chocolate bars every day increases the risk of cancer by a quarter, the first study of its kind suggests.

Additives in ready meals, packaged snacks and shop-bought cakes may combine to trigger the disease, researchers warned last night.

Cancer caused by highly processed food would be over and above the harmful effects of the sugar and fat it contains, scientists fear.

The West’s increasing taste for packaged food on the go could fuel a further rise in cancer in the future, they say.

French researchers studied the diets of 105,000 people, of whom 2,228 developed cancer over an eight-year period. The quarter who ate the most “ultra-processed” food were 23 per cent more likely to get any type of cancer than the quarter who ate the least, researchers report in The BMJ.

Those in the top quarter obtained a third of their calories from such products, roughly equivalent to a man consuming a chocolate bar, a can of cola, a bowl of cornflakes and a quarter of a pizza daily.

A study revealed last week that half of the food bought in Britain is made in a factory.

Mathilde Touvier, of the Sorbonne Paris Cité Epidemiology and Statistics Research Centre, who led the study, said the cancer risk could be even greater in this country.

The French research cannot prove that the processing of food directly increases cancer risk and some experts said that the effect was more likely to be a result of the lack of vitamins in the kinds of foods that tend to be sold packaged, or the unhealthy lifestyles of those who tend to eat them.

However, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2018 at 8:29 am

Scientists studying psychoactive drugs accidentally proved the self is an illusion

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Ephrat Livni writes in Quartz:

Philosophers and mystics have long contemplated the disconcerting notion that the fixed self is an illusion. Neuroscientists now think they can prove it or, at least, help us glimpse this truth with some help from psilocybin, the psychoactive property in magic mushrooms.

Researchers around the world are exploring the drug’s transformative power to help people quit smoking; lower violent crime; treat depression, anxiety. and post-traumatic stress disorder; and trigger lasting spiritual epiphanies in psychologically healthy people, especially when coupled with meditation or contemplative training.

There are some limitations to psilocybin studies—they tend to be small, and rely on volunteers willing to take drugs and, thus, open to an alternate experience. But the research could have major implications in an age characterized by widespread anxiety. Psilocybin seems to offer some people a route to an alternate view of reality, in which they shed the limitations of their individual consciousness and embrace a sense of interconnectedness and universality. These trips aren’t temporary, but have transformative psychological effects. Even if we don’t all end up on mushrooms, the studies offer insights on how we might minimize suffering and interpersonal strife and gain a sense of peace.

Consider a study of 75 subjects, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last October. The study concluded that psilocybin leads to mystical experiences that can have long-term psychological benefits in conjunction with meditation training. The greater the drug dosage, the more potent the positive psychological effect was six months later. “Participants showed significant positive changes on longitudinal measures of interpersonal closeness, gratitude, life meaning/purpose, forgiveness, death transcendence, daily spiritual experiences, religious faith and coping,” the study concluded.

Meanwhile, in July, psychologist Richard Williams of John Hopkins University revealed an experiment involving clergy and psilocybin. Williams is enlisting priests, rabbis, and Zen Buddhist monks to take drugs, meditate, and “collect inner experiences.” (No Muslim or Hindu clerics agreed to participate.) The study will last a year, so no results are out yet. But Williams told The Guardian in July 2017 that so far, the clerics report feeling simultaneously more in touch with their own faith and greater appreciation for alternate paths. “In these transcendental states of consciousness, people … get to levels of consciousness that seem universal. So a good rabbi can encounter the Buddha within him,” Williams said.

To understand how mushrooms can change our worldviews, we must first explore how brains shape our sense of self.

The shared dream

Our awareness of existence—the ability to distinguish between the self and others—is created by the brain, neuroscientist Anil Seth explains in his TED talk, “Your brain hallucinates consciousness.” He says, “Right now, billions of neurons in your brain are working together to generate a conscious experience—and not just any conscious experience, your experience of the world around you and of yourself within it.”

Yet when you are unconscious, you continue to exist without perceiving your own presence. You cease to participate in reality but continue to live. When roused back into consciousness, you lack a narrative to explain the time away. The narrative of the story that seems to be your life is just a function of your brain’s mechanisms, not who you really are.

Still, the hallucination of consciousness is one we’re all having in tandem. When we agree about our hallucinations, we call it “reality,” according to Seth. In this agreed-upon reality, we are each separate individuals, whose stories begin with our births and end with our deaths.

But there are other ways to experience reality, which you may have already glimpsed, even if only fleetingly. Sometimes our consciousness shifts. The boundaries of the self seem to become less rigid and we commune with another person or thing, as can happen during drug-induced epiphanies, sure—but can also happen when people fall in love, meditate, go out in nature, or experience a great meeting of minds.

In The Book (pdf), philosopher Alan Watts writes that we aren’t individuals existing in lonely bodies. We’re a flowing segment in the continuous line of life. He and others—mystics, monkspoets (pdf), and philosophers from numerous traditions—argue that people are sad and hostile because we live with a false sense of separation from one another and the rest of the world. “This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences,” Watts wrote in The Book. “We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.”

Seeing the interconnectedness and timelessness of existence provides a grand scale. It helps put your problems in perspective. That’s why scientists are trying to find ways to trigger the epiphany Watts talks about. Drugs can help, especially since we think we now know how the brain generates the illusion of self.

Turning off default mode

Normal consciousness relies, at least in part, on the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), according to neuroscientist Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research in the brain sciences division of the Imperial College of London medical school. The DMN is a network of interacting brain regions that acts as a cognitive transit hub, integrating and assimilating information. As the name implies, it’s the usual system of organization for your mind. Carhart-Harris says the DMN “gives coherence to cognition” by connecting different regions of the brain, and is considered the “orchestrator of the self.”

Carhart-Harris and his colleagues found what seems to be an important function of the DMN inadvertently. While studying brain networksthey got curious about what changes might occur when people are under the effects of hallucinogens. In studies analyzing the effects of psilocybinon brain wave oscillation and blood flow, they found that when the DMN was inactive, an alternate network of consciousness seemed to arise.

When some study subjects tested psilocybin, they reported a strong sense of interconnectedness, as well as spiritual, magical, and supernatural feelings.

In the alternate mode, brains produced a different world that offered other sensations and realizations than in everyday life. In this mode, the self wasn’t the protagonist of the narrative. Meanwhile,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2018 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Religion, Science

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