August 15th, 2012
atomvincent

Two Girls, One Mind

In something of a follow-up to Monday’s post regarding linguistic conceptualization of the self, I turn to a 2011 feature from New York Times Magazine about conjoined twins Krista and Tatiana Hogan. Susan Dominus writes on the unique connection they share and the complicated nature of self as illuminated by two young girls whose minds are joined by a bridge that is effectively unknown to science.

Twins joined at the head — the medical term is craniopagus — are one in 2.5 million, of which only a fraction survive. The way the girls’ brains formed beneath the surface of their fused skulls, however, makes them beyond rare: their neural anatomy is unique, at least in the annals of recorded scientific literature. Their brain images reveal what looks like an attenuated line stretching between the two organs, a piece of anatomy their neurosurgeon, Douglas Cochrane of British Columbia Children’s Hospital, has called a thalamic bridge, because he believes it links the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is a kind of switchboard, a two-lobed organ that filters most sensory input and has long been thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness. Because the thalamus functions as a relay station, the girls’ doctors believe it is entirely possible that the sensory input that one girl receives could somehow cross that bridge into the brain of the other. One girl drinks, another girl feels it.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

August 9th, 2012
arvindsuguness
Super-sizing Medicine
Writing for The New Yorker, Atul Gawande argues that emulating the standardization of chain restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory can help fix our health care system:

“It is unbelievable to me that they would not manage this better,” Luz said. I asked him what he would do if he were the manager of a neurology unit or a cardiology clinic. “I don’t know anything about medicine,” he said. But when I pressed he thought for a moment, and said, “This is pretty obvious. I’m sure you already do it. But I’d study what the best people are doing, figure out how to standardize it, and then bring it to everyone to execute.”

This is not at all the normal way of doing things in medicine. (“You’re scaring me,” he said, when I told him.) But it’s exactly what the new health-care chains are now hoping to do on a mass scale. They want to create Cheesecake Factories for health care. The question is whether the medical counterparts to Mauricio at the broiler station—the clinicians in the operating rooms, in the medical offices, in the intensive-care units—will go along with the plan. Fixing a nice piece of steak is hardly of the same complexity as diagnosing the cause of an elderly patient’s loss of consciousness. Doctors and patients have not had a positive experience with outsiders second-guessing decisions. How will they feel about managers trying to tell them what the “best practices” are?

Read the full article here.
// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

Super-sizing Medicine

Writing for The New Yorker, Atul Gawande argues that emulating the standardization of chain restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory can help fix our health care system:

“It is unbelievable to me that they would not manage this better,” Luz said. I asked him what he would do if he were the manager of a neurology unit or a cardiology clinic. “I don’t know anything about medicine,” he said. But when I pressed he thought for a moment, and said, “This is pretty obvious. I’m sure you already do it. But I’d study what the best people are doing, figure out how to standardize it, and then bring it to everyone to execute.”

This is not at all the normal way of doing things in medicine. (“You’re scaring me,” he said, when I told him.) But it’s exactly what the new health-care chains are now hoping to do on a mass scale. They want to create Cheesecake Factories for health care. The question is whether the medical counterparts to Mauricio at the broiler station—the clinicians in the operating rooms, in the medical offices, in the intensive-care units—will go along with the plan. Fixing a nice piece of steak is hardly of the same complexity as diagnosing the cause of an elderly patient’s loss of consciousness. Doctors and patients have not had a positive experience with outsiders second-guessing decisions. How will they feel about managers trying to tell them what the “best practices” are?

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

August 6th, 2012
atomvincent

Dropping Acid

Writing for the Morning News, Tim Doody profiles Dr. James Fadiman,  investigates the back-and-forth history of government involvement with psychedelic drugs, and explores the broad benefits - both personal and societal - that could (and have) stemmed from the use of psychedelics.

Who knows, their latest findings may one day affirm some ancient hypotheses. If reality isn’t shaped with the psychically aware, self-organizing units that Giordano Bruno called monads in the sixteenth century, then perhaps it’s woven with Indra’s net, the jeweled nodes of which stretch into infinity, each one a reflection of all others. To entertain such ontologies is to re-contextualize one’s self as a marvelous conduit in a timeless whole, through which molecules and meaning flow, from nebulae to neurons and back again. If certain of these molecules connect with our serotonin receptors like a key in a pin tumbler, and open a door to extraordinary vistas, why shouldn’t we peek?

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 24th, 2012
arvindsuguness
Can Our Brains Become Immortal?
Writing for The Chronicle Review, Evan R. Goldstein explores the mapping of the human brain to create a “connectome” - the brain equivalent of our cellular genome - and whether it will allow us to preserve our brains and achieve immortality:

Among some connectomics scholars, there is a grand theory: We are our connectomes. Our unique selves—the way we think, act, feel—is etched into the wiring of our brains. Unlike genomes, which never change, connectomes are forever being molded and remolded by life experience. Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prominent proponent of the grand theory, describes the connectome as the place where “nature meets nurture.”
Hayworth takes this theory a few steps further. He looks at the growth of connectomics—especially advances in brain preservation, tissue imaging, and computer simulations of neural networks—and sees something else: a cure for death.
…
J. Anthony Movshon, of NYU, takes a dimmer view. More than 25 years after the C. elegans connectome was completed, he says, we have only a faint understanding of the worm’s nervous system. “We know it has sensory neurons that drive the muscles and tell the worm to move this way or that. And we’ve discovered that some chemicals cause one response and other chemicals cause the opposite response. Yet the same circuit carries both signals.” He scoffs, “How can the connectome explain that?”

Read the full article here.
// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

Can Our Brains Become Immortal?

Writing for The Chronicle Review, Evan R. Goldstein explores the mapping of the human brain to create a “connectome” - the brain equivalent of our cellular genome - and whether it will allow us to preserve our brains and achieve immortality:

Among some connectomics scholars, there is a grand theory: We are our connectomes. Our unique selves—the way we think, act, feel—is etched into the wiring of our brains. Unlike genomes, which never change, connectomes are forever being molded and remolded by life experience. Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a prominent proponent of the grand theory, describes the connectome as the place where “nature meets nurture.”

Hayworth takes this theory a few steps further. He looks at the growth of connectomics—especially advances in brain preservation, tissue imaging, and computer simulations of neural networks—and sees something else: a cure for death.

J. Anthony Movshon, of NYU, takes a dimmer view. More than 25 years after the C. elegans connectome was completed, he says, we have only a faint understanding of the worm’s nervous system. “We know it has sensory neurons that drive the muscles and tell the worm to move this way or that. And we’ve discovered that some chemicals cause one response and other chemicals cause the opposite response. Yet the same circuit carries both signals.” He scoffs, “How can the connectome explain that?”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 23rd, 2012
atomvincent

Adding Up to the End of the World

Bill McKibben writes for Rolling Stone on the staggering - and horrifying - realities of climate change as spelled out through three simple numbers.

But what all these climate numbers make painfully, usefully clear is that the planet does indeed have an enemy – one far more committed to action than governments or individuals. Given this hard math, we need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization. “Lots of companies do rotten things in the course of their business – pay terrible wages, make people work in sweatshops – and we pressure them to change those practices,” says veteran anti-corporate leader Naomi Klein, who is at work on a book about the climate crisis. “But these numbers make clear that with the fossil-fuel industry, wrecking the planet is their business model. It’s what they do.”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 18th, 2012
atomvincent

Rich People Are Assholes

Lisa Miller writes for New York Magazine on new research that suggests the more money you have, the likelier you are to be a jerk.

Earlier this year, Piff, who is 30, published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that made him semi-famous. Titled “Higher Social Class Predicts Increased Unethical Behavior,” it showed through quizzes, online games, questionnaires, in-lab manipulations, and field studies that living high on the socioeconomic ladder can, colloquially speaking, dehumanize people. It can make them less ethical, more selfish, more insular, and less compassionate than other people. It can make them more likely, as Piff demonstrated in one of his experiments, to take candy from a bowl of sweets designated for children. “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff says, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes them more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

July 16th, 2012
atomvincent

Overpopulation: The Dirtiest Word

In this 2010 piece for Mother Jones, Julia Whitty looks at the issues we face as global population swells over the next half century and why no one wants to talk about the problem.

In The Population Bomb, Ehrlich predicted inevitable mass starvation as early as the 1970s and 1980s—notably in India, which he claimed could not possibly attain food self-sufficiency. Instead, American agronomist Norman Borlaug’s “Green Revolution” brought dwarf wheat strains and chemical fertilizers to increase India’s crop yields 168 percent within a decade. This monumental achievement defused the bomb and earned Ehrlich the dismissive title of Malthusian: just one more in a line of pessimists forecasting phantom famines. Ever since, the subject has been largely taboo. Scientists from a variety of fields privately tell me the issue of overpopulation is simply too controversial—too inflamed with passions to get funded, too strong a magnet for ideologues. Those who’ve tackled it tell me of harassment, even physical threats, from a frightening fringe.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

May 31st, 2012
arvindsuguness
Science Journalism is Hard
As the RTNT contributor with the greatest focus on science, I have read far too many articles that opt for sensationalism over trying to inform. Of course, as Chase would tell you, this is true of the news media in general.
For our six month anniversary, I’ve put together some of my favorite science writing. Here are pieces that grapple with the immensity of the scientific endeavour: the ethical quandaries, the difficulty of progress, and the basic questions of well-being that lie at the root of our desire for knowledge.
1. The Limits of KnowledgeWhy knowing does not always lead to understanding.Jonah Lehrer, Wired Magazine, December 2011 
2. The Torture of Solitary ConfinementTens of thousands of inmates in the United States are subjected to long-term solitary confinement. Research into the lasting psychological effects of this treatment makes a good case that it amounts to torture.Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, March 2009 
3. Are We Biological Machines?The problem with the mechanistic understanding of biology familiar to students everywhere.Stephen L. Talbott, The New Atlantis, Fall 2010 
4. A Life Worth EndingIn an age where it seems as though medicine can prolong life indefinitely, a son grapples with letting his mother go.Michael Wolff, New York Magazine, May 2012 
5. Curing The Common ColdIn the near future anti-viral drugs could cure everyday illnesses. But should we use them?Carl Zimmer, Wired Magazine, March 2012
Have you read any great science writing lately? We’d love to hear from you.
-Arvind Suguness, Contributor
// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

Science Journalism is Hard

As the RTNT contributor with the greatest focus on science, I have read far too many articles that opt for sensationalism over trying to inform. Of course, as Chase would tell you, this is true of the news media in general.

For our six month anniversary, I’ve put together some of my favorite science writing. Here are pieces that grapple with the immensity of the scientific endeavour: the ethical quandaries, the difficulty of progress, and the basic questions of well-being that lie at the root of our desire for knowledge.

1. The Limits of Knowledge
Why knowing does not always lead to understanding.
Jonah Lehrer, Wired Magazine, December 2011 

2. The Torture of Solitary Confinement
Tens of thousands of inmates in the United States are subjected to long-term solitary confinement. Research into the lasting psychological effects of this treatment makes a good case that it amounts to torture.
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker, March 2009 

3. Are We Biological Machines?
The problem with the mechanistic understanding of biology familiar to students everywhere.
Stephen L. Talbott, The New Atlantis, Fall 2010 

4. A Life Worth Ending
In an age where it seems as though medicine can prolong life indefinitely, a son grapples with letting his mother go.
Michael Wolff, New York Magazine, May 2012 

5. Curing The Common Cold
In the near future anti-viral drugs could cure everyday illnesses. But should we use them?
Carl Zimmer, Wired Magazine, March 2012

Have you read any great science writing lately? We’d love to hear from you.

-Arvind Suguness, Contributor

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

May 15th, 2012
atomvincent

Child, Psychopath

Writing for The New York Times Magazine, Jennifer Kahn looks at a new road in child psychology, one that hopes to identify early signs of psychopathy in children. How do we discern whether unruly behavior is a sign of an innate disorder or simply the rash actions of a child? Can an early diagnosis of psychopathy actually lead to beneficial treatment, or is it simply a scarlet letter?

Currently, there is no standard test for psychopathy in children, but a growing number ofpsychologists believe that psychopathy, like autism, is a distinct neurological condition — one that can be identified in children as young as 5. Crucial to this diagnosis are callous-unemotional traits, which most researchers now believe distinguish “fledgling psychopaths” from children with ordinary conduct disorder, who are also impulsive and hard to control and exhibit hostile or violent behavior. According to some studies, roughly one-third of children with severe behavioral problems — like the aggressive disobedience that Michael displays — also test above normal on callous-unemotional traits. (Narcissism and impulsivity, which are part of the adult diagnostic criteria, are difficult to apply to children, who are narcissistic and impulsive by nature.)

In some children, C.U. traits manifest in obvious ways. Paul Frick, a psychologist at the University of New Orleans who has studied risk factors for psychopathy in children for two decades, described one boy who used a knife to cut off the tail of the family cat bit by bit, over a period of weeks. The boy was proud of the serial amputations, which his parents initially failed to notice. “When we talked about it, he was very straightforward,” Frick recalls. “He said: ‘I want to be a scientist, and I was experimenting. I wanted to see how the cat would react.’ ”

In another famous case, a 9-year-old boy named Jeffrey Bailey pushed a toddler into the deep end of a motel swimming pool in Florida. As the boy struggled and sank to the bottom, Bailey pulled up a chair to watch. Questioned by the police afterward, Bailey explained that he was curious to see someone drown. When he was taken into custody, he seemed untroubled by the prospect of jail but was pleased to be the center of attention.

In many children, though, the signs are subtler. Callous-unemotional children tend to be highly manipulative, Frick notes. They also lie frequently — not just to avoid punishment, as all children will, but for any reason, or none. “Most kids, if you catch them stealing a cookie from the jar before dinner, they’ll look guilty,” Frick says. “They want the cookie, but they also feel bad. Even kids with severe A.D.H.D.: they may have poor impulse control, but they still feel bad when they realize that their mom is mad at them.” Callous-unemotional children are unrepentant. “They don’t care if someone is mad at them,” Frick says. “They don’t care if they hurt someone’s feelings.” Like adult psychopaths, they can seem to lack humanity. “If they can get what they want without being cruel, that’s often easier,” Frick observes. “But at the end of the day, they’ll do whatever works best.”

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

May 10th, 2012
arvindsuguness
How The Atlantic Ocean Was Saved
Writing for The Washington Monthly, Alison Fairbrother tells the story of how an alliance of environmentalists, sport fishermen and scientists took on industrial fishers and saved the Atlantic Ocean:

Price is a lifelong striped bass fisherman with no formal training as a scientist. Yet he has spent the last four decades cutting open bass stomachs in a kind of renegade ecological study, charting the precipitous decline of the lowly menhaden. Price’s interest in the species is indirect; menhaden aren’t prized by anglers. But they are prized by striped bass. The little fish has historically been the striper’s most significant source of protein and calories. In fact, menhaden are a staple in the diets of dozens of marine predators in the Atlantic and its estuaries, from osprey to bluefish to dolphin to blue crab. In a host of undersea food chains, menhaden—also known as pogy and bunker—are a common denominator. They have been called the most important fish in the sea.
…
Harvested by the billions and then processed into various industrial products, menhaden are extruded into feed pellets that make up the staple food product for a booming global aquaculture market, diluted into oil for omega-3 health supplements, and sold in various meals and liquids to companies that make pet food, livestock feed, fertilizer, and cosmetics. We have all consumed menhaden one way or another. Pound for pound, more menhaden are pulled from the sea than any other fish species in the continental United States, and 80 percent of the menhaden netted from the Atlantic are the property of a single company.

Read the full article here.
// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

How The Atlantic Ocean Was Saved

Writing for The Washington Monthly, Alison Fairbrother tells the story of how an alliance of environmentalists, sport fishermen and scientists took on industrial fishers and saved the Atlantic Ocean:

Price is a lifelong striped bass fisherman with no formal training as a scientist. Yet he has spent the last four decades cutting open bass stomachs in a kind of renegade ecological study, charting the precipitous decline of the lowly menhaden. Price’s interest in the species is indirect; menhaden aren’t prized by anglers. But they are prized by striped bass. The little fish has historically been the striper’s most significant source of protein and calories. In fact, menhaden are a staple in the diets of dozens of marine predators in the Atlantic and its estuaries, from osprey to bluefish to dolphin to blue crab. In a host of undersea food chains, menhaden—also known as pogy and bunker—are a common denominator. They have been called the most important fish in the sea.

Harvested by the billions and then processed into various industrial products, menhaden are extruded into feed pellets that make up the staple food product for a booming global aquaculture market, diluted into oil for omega-3 health supplements, and sold in various meals and liquids to companies that make pet food, livestock feed, fertilizer, and cosmetics. We have all consumed menhaden one way or another. Pound for pound, more menhaden are pulled from the sea than any other fish species in the continental United States, and 80 percent of the menhaden netted from the Atlantic are the property of a single company.

Read the full article here.

// Follow Read This, Not That on Tumblr / Facebook / Twitter //

Loading tweets...

@rtntnews