Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Research (page 2 / 2)

Can your genes help create ‘designer’ diets?

Can your genes help create ‘designer’ diets? →

Scientists at the University of Miami are doing an interesting research project. I've wonder about this a lot recently, as I monitor what I eat and how my weight changes (especially compared the reports of others).

“I believe if we look at people at the molecular level we can improve their health,” says Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the UM Medical School. The studies question long-held beliefs about food selection and weight loss. For example, could 1,000 calories of turkey cause more weight gain in some people than 1,000 calories of cashews? If so, could a person lose weight through food selection without cutting total calories?

And could a person’s genes pre-determine whether he or she will benefit from a particular type of exercise – or perhaps be at greater risk of injury from it?

UM researchers are looking into it. “We can’t say this is 100 percent correct,” Daunert says. “This is our hypothesis. This is brand-new science.”

This entry was tagged. Food Research

Drug Slims Down Obese Monkeys by Killing Fat Cells

Drug Slims Down Obese Monkeys by Killing Fat Cells →

In a study that provides provocative support for a new approach to treating obesity, a drug that kills a particular type of fat cell by choking off its blood supply was shown to cause significant weight loss in obese monkeys.

After four weeks of treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, obese monkeys given daily injections of the drug, called adipotide, lost an average of 11% of their body weight. They also had substantial reductions in waist circumference and body-mass index and, importantly, striking improvement in the ability to respond to insulin, researchers said. The drug didn't have any effect on weight when given to lean monkeys.

Results of the study, published online Wednesday by the journal Science Translational Medicine, confirmed a 2004 report from the same research team showing marked weight loss in mice treated with the agent.

My first reaction was: "I want to take this drug". My second reaction was "I should invest in this drug. Everyone is going to want to take it."

Sugar, and candy, do not make kids hyper

Sugar, and candy, do not make kids hyper →

In my favorite of these studies, children were divided into two groups. All of them were given a sugar-free beverage to drink. But half the parents were told that their child had just had a drink with sugar. Then, all of the parents were told to grade their children’s behavior. Not surprisingly, the parents of children who thought their children had drunk a ton of sugar rated their children as significantly more hyperactive. This myth is entirely in parents’ heads. We see it because we believe it.

This entry was tagged. Research

High Fat Foods Don’t Appear to Cause High Cholesterol

As I think about losing weight (which I do (think about, that is) from time to time), I’m always interested in what kind of a diet would be most effective. I’m most convinced by what I’ve read about low-carb, high protein, high fat diets. But, inevitably, the first objection I’ll hear is that a diet high in eggs and cheese is a diet that will lead to high cholesterol and heart problems.

Stephen Guyenet recently reviewed the literature. He found that there is very little evidence that diets high in saturated fats give you high cholesterol.

The earliest and perhaps most interesting study I found was published in the British Medical Journal in 1963 and is titled "Diet and Plasma Cholesterol in 99 Bank Men" (4). Investigators asked volunteers to weigh all food consumed at home for 1-2 weeks, and describe in detail all food consumed away from home. Compliance was good. This dietary accounting method was much more thorough than in most observational studies today**. Animal fat intake ranged from 55 to 173 grams per day, and blood cholesterol ranged from 154 to 324 mg/dL, yet there was no relationship whatsoever between the two. I'm looking at a graph of animal fat intake vs. blood cholesterol as I write this, and it looks like someone shot it with a shotgun at 50 yards. They twisted the data every which way, but were never able to squeeze even a hint of an association out of it.

Overall, the literature does not offer much support for the idea that long term saturated fat intake has a significant effect on the concentration of blood cholesterol. If it's a factor at all, it must be rather weak, which is consistent with what has been observed in multiple non-human species (13).

I found another interesting analysis, published last January in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrion. In it, the authors did a meta-analysis of lots of other studies. They also concluded that there is very little relationship between the fat in your diet and the fat (cholestrol) in your blood.

BACKGROUND: A reduction in dietary saturated fat has generally been thought to improve cardiovascular health.

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this meta-analysis was to summarize the evidence related to the association of dietary saturated fat with risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, and cardiovascular disease (CVD; CHD inclusive of stroke) in prospective epidemiologic studies.

DESIGN: Twenty-one studies identified by searching MEDLINE and EMBASE databases and secondary referencing qualified for inclusion in this study. A random-effects model was used to derive composite relative risk estimates for CHD, stroke, and CVD.

RESULTS: During 5-23 y of follow-up of 347,747 subjects, 11,006 developed CHD or stroke. Intake of saturated fat was not associated with an increased risk of CHD, stroke, or CVD. The pooled relative risk estimates that compared extreme quantiles of saturated fat intake were 1.07 (95% CI: 0.96, 1.19; P = 0.22) for CHD, 0.81 (95% CI: 0.62, 1.05; P = 0.11) for stroke, and 1.00 (95% CI: 0.89, 1.11; P = 0.95) for CVD. Consideration of age, sex, and study quality did not change the results.

CONCLUSIONS: A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD. More data are needed to elucidate whether CVD risks are likely to be influenced by the specific nutrients used to replace saturated fat.

This entry was tagged. Foods Research

Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic? →

An interesting overview of the importance of introverts, the ways in which our society is marginalizing introverts (possibly even describing introversion as a mental disease). We introverts should probably think about this article carefully, to ponder its ramifications. I doubt the extroverts will even see it though.

Once you know about sitters and rovers, you see them everywhere, especially among young children. Drop in on your local Mommy and Me music class: there are the sitters, intently watching the action from their mothers’ laps, while the rovers march around the room banging their drums and shaking their maracas.

Relaxed and exploratory, the rovers have fun, make friends and will take risks, both rewarding and dangerous ones, as they grow. According to Daniel Nettle, a Newcastle University evolutionary psychologist, extroverts are more likely than introverts to be hospitalized as a result of an injury, have affairs (men) and change relationships (women). One study of bus drivers even found that accidents are more likely to occur when extroverts are at the wheel.

In contrast, sitter children are careful and astute, and tend to learn by observing instead of by acting. They notice scary things more than other children do, but they also notice more things in general. Studies dating all the way back to the 1960’s by the psychologists Jerome Kagan and Ellen Siegelman found that cautious, solitary children playing matching games spent more time considering all the alternatives than impulsive children did, actually using more eye movements to make decisions. Recent studies by a group of scientists at Stony Brook University and at Chinese universities using functional M.R.I. technology echoed this research, finding that adults with sitter-like temperaments looked longer at pairs of photos with subtle differences and showed more activity in brain regions that make associations between the photos and other stored information in the brain.

This entry was tagged. Research

Where Drugs Come From: The Numbers

Derek Lowe has a very interesting post on Where Drugs Come From:

We can now answer the question: "Where do new drugs come from?". Well, we can answer it for the period from 1998 on, at any rate. A new paper in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery takes on all 252 drugs approved by the FDA from then through 2007, and traces each of them back to their origins. What's more, each drug is evaluated by how much unmet medical need it was addressed to and how scientifically innovative it was. Clearly, there's going to be room for some argument in any study of this sort, but I'm very glad to have it, nonetheless. Credit where credit's due: who's been discovering the most drugs, and who's been discovering the best ones?

Spoiler: Overall 58% of all new drugs come from the pharmaceutical companies. BUT, 53% of all drugs for unmet needs came from either biotech companies or universities and 56% of all truly novel drugs came from either biotech companies or universities.

My conclusion: all 3 sources are important parts of the drug innovation system and we shouldn't bash or diminish the importance of any of the 3 sources.

Obamacare delenda est

The Myth of the Gender Gap, in Pay

Carrie Lukas wrote about the class-action lawsuit against Wal-Mart at The Corner on National Review Online. In her post, she provided a great summary of why the median woman earns less than the median man. Hint: it's not rampant sexism.

Women and men tend to gravitate toward different industries and even different specialties within fields. Women leave the workforce more frequently than men do and take more time off while working, and even full-time working women spend about half an hour less in the office each day than their male co-workers. These differences add up, and even liberal groups like the American Association of University Women admit that controlling for personal choices eliminates up to three-quarters of the wage gap.

It’s hard to control for all of the factors that affect earnings. In his book, Why Men Earn More, Warren Farrell looks at many factors, and notes trends that make identifying discrimination difficult. For example, women often are promoted more quickly than men. As a result, women executives often have less experience than their male counterparts and therefore are paid less. Dr. Farrell uses the example of TV news directors. Some claimed discrimination because female news directors were paid about 27 percent less than their male counterparts. Yet the data also showed that the average female news director had less than six years of experience in news, while the average man had more than 14. In this instance, who exactly is being discriminated against?

Other studies have found that women are less likely to negotiate their starting salaries or ask for raises and promotions, which may contribute to them earning less than men on average. That could be a result of socialization, natural instincts, and even the presumption that women who try to negotiate their salaries will be perceived as less attractive candidates (which studies have also found to be true).

Statistics also cannot capture the different goals that men and women have when negotiating employment contracts. While many men might focus exclusively on maximizing pay, many women focus on flexible work schedules or schedules that work with their children’s school calendars.

This entry was tagged. Research Women

Education Before Public Schools

Did you know that before British and U.S. governments created public schools, parents still placed a high value on education? That children got a better education each passing year? That schools were cheaper? That 95% of teenagers were literate? That teenagers were more literate without public schools than they are now, with them? Truth.

I recently discovered a fascinating article on The Spread of Education Before Compulsion: Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century from the Freeman.

A few, choice, excerpts. First, the experience in Britain.

Contrary to popular belief, the supply of schooling in Britain between 1800 and 1840 was relatively substantial prior to any government intervention, although it depended almost completely on private funds. At this time, moreover, the largest contributors to education revenues were working parents and the second largest was the Church. Of course, there was less education per child than today, just as there was less of everything else, because the national income was so much smaller. I have calculated, nevertheless, that the percentage of the net national income spent on day-schooling of children of all ages in England in 1833 was approximately 1 percent. By 1920, when schooling had become "free" and compulsory by special statute, the proportion had fallen to 0.7 percent.

The evidence also shows that working parents were purchasing increasing amounts of education for their children as their incomes were rising from 1818 onwards, and this, to repeat, at a time before education was "free" and compulsory by statute. Compulsion came in 1880, and state schooling did not become free until 1891.

... It is not surprising that with such evidence of literacy growth of young people, the levels had become even more substantial by 1870. On my calculations for 1880, when national compulsion was enacted, over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate. This should be compared to the fact that over a century later 40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit to difficulties with writing and spelling.

Second, the experience in the U.S.

Sheldon Richman quotes data showing that from 1650 to 1795, American male literacy climbed from 60 to 90 percent. Between 1800 and 1840 literacy in the North rose from 75 percent to between 91 and 97 percent. In the South the rate grew from about 55 percent to 81 percent. Richman also quotes evidence indicating that literacy in Massachusetts was 98 percent on the eve of legislated compulsion and is about 91 percent today.

Finally, Carl F. Kaestle observes: "The best generalization possible is that New York, like other American towns of the Revolutionary period, had a high literacy rate relative to other places in the world, and that literacy did not depend primarily upon the schools."

And, the conclusion.

If, on the other hand, the term "universal" is intended more loosely to mean something like, "most," "nearly everybody," or "over 90 percent," then we lack firm evidence to show that education was not already universal prior to intervention. The eventual establishment, meanwhile, of laws to provide a schooling that was both compulsory and free, was accompanied by major increases in costs. These included not only unprecedented expenses of growing bureaucracy but also the substantial costs of reduced liberty of families eventually caught in a choice-restricted monopoly system serving the interests not of the demanders but of the rent-seeking suppliers. Both sides of the Atlantic, meanwhile, shared this same fate.

We educated our children before we had universal, "free", public schools. We educated our children before the rise of strong national and state teachers' unions. We could have it again.

What Color Were Dinosaurs?

Picture of a colored dinosaur

This is just incredibly cool.

Dr. Prum and his colleagues took advantage of the fact that feathers contain pigment-loaded sacs called melanosomes. In 2009, they demonstrated that melanosomes survived for millions of years in fossil bird feathers. The shape and arrangement of melanosomes help produce the color of feathers, so the scientists were able to get clues about the color of fossil feathers from their melanosomes alone.

[...] Working with paleontologists at the Beijing Museum of Natural History and Peking University, the researchers began to study a 150-million-year-old species called Anchiornis huxleyi. The chicken-sized theropod was festooned with long feathers on its arms and legs.

The researchers removed 29 chips, each the size of a poppy seed, from across the dinosaur’s body. Mr. Vinther put the chips under a microscope and discovered melanosomes.

To figure out the colors of Anchiornis feathers, Mr. Vinther and his colleagues turned to Matthew Shawkey, a University of Akron biologist who has made detailed studies of melanosome patterns in living birds. Dr. Shawkey can accurately predict the color of feathers from melanosomes alone. The scientists used the same method to decipher Anchiornis’s color pattern.

Your pets are killing Mother Earth

It turns out that my two-car lifestyle with no pets is just as "sustainable" as the no-car plus pets lifestyle. Cool.

From The Dominion Post of New Zealand:

The eco-pawprint of a pet dog is twice that of a 4.6-litre Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year, researchers have found.

Victoria University professors Brenda and Robert Vale, architects who specialise in sustainable living, say pet owners should swap cats and dogs for creatures they can eat, such as chickens or rabbits, in their provocative new book Time to Eat the Dog: The real guide to sustainable living.

(FPOD* -- By: Mark Steyn via The Corner on National Review Online.)

This entry was tagged. Research

Organic food is just the same only more expensive

Organic food is no healthier, study finds | Science | Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - Organic food has no nutritional or health benefits over ordinary food, according to a major study published Wednesday.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said consumers were paying higher prices for organic food because of its perceived health benefits, creating a global organic market worth an estimated $48 billion in 2007.

A systematic review of 162 scientific papers published in the scientific literature over the last 50 years, however, found there was no significant difference.

"A small number of differences in nutrient content were found to exist between organically and conventionally produced foodstuffs, but these are unlikely to be of any public health relevance," said Alan Dangour, one of the report's authors.

"Our review indicates that there is currently no evidence to support the selection of organically over conventionally produced foods on the basis of nutritional superiority."

I'm shocked, shocked, to find that out. I'm also laughing at the superior diets of everyone who paid for more for their organic food than I did for my silicon food.

This entry was tagged. Research

Responsibility Lowers Healthcare Costs

Last week I said that "my health insurance reform plan would involve shifting healthcare spending from large premiums and all-inclusive health "insurance" plans to small premiums and plans that only offer catastrophic insurance coverage. Patients would have more money left in their pocket, to allow them to pay more money out of pocket".

Two days ago, while driving to work, I saw a gentlemen standing by the side of the road holding a sign. It proclaimed "Doctors support affordable healthcare for all". Great! I'm glad to hear it. We need more people on board with affordable healthcare.

But affordable healthcare isn't always what you think it is. Paradoxically, charging people more -- paid directly, out of their own pocket -- can actually lead to people paying less. And this isn't just pie-in-the-sky ivory tower theory. The savings effects of higher out of pocket costs are real.

The paper contends that, contrary to recently recommended policy changes by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that exclude incentives through copay or co-insurance for chronically ill beneficiaries and high-value medications that target chronic conditions, the effectiveness of such incentives in driving business-based results is documented: At Caterpillar, for example, generic statins for cholesterol management were moved to a $0 co-pay; brand-name statins, to $35 per month or no benefit paid, depending on the dose. The plan, which covers 90,000 people, saw increased medication compliance, contributing to a $750,000 per month savings to the company and $175,000 savings per month to employees.

"These barriers to the implementation of incentives actually reduce their impact and have the potential to reduce any measurable progress," the report says of the CMS recommendations.

At Caterpillar, patients were given a financial incentive: the cheaper drugs cost them less and the expensive drugs cost them more. Normally, these price differences are hidden behind a one-size fits all copay which is supported by the monthly premiums. Normally, the cost of individual healthcare treatments is obfuscated by the overcall cast of the healthcare "plan".

Caterpillar brought some of those costs out into the light -- and reduced them. Obama and the Democrats have been discussing healthcare "reform" for the pat several months. They're desperately looking for a way to "bend the cost curve" and hold down the cost of healthcare. I think Caterpillar found a way. It's simple: charge patients more and they'll pay less.

I hope everyone who supports "affordable healthcare for all" will support my plan.

The D.C. Choice Program Saved Money

Spreading Freedom and Saving Money: The Fiscal Impact of the D.C. Voucher Program

In August 2004 the first ever federally funded school voucher program began in Washington, D.C. Eligible students could attend a private school of their choice in the District of Columbia. Each participant received up to $7,500 for school tuition, fees, and transportation. In addition, the D.C. Public School System (DCPS) and D.C. charter school system each received $13 million in federal grants to improve their programs.

This study examines the fiscal impact of the voucher program on DCPS and the District of Columbia. The program is currently funded by the federal government and creates a net inflow of funds to both the District and DCPS. This study also examines the fiscal impact of the program under several proposed changes to the law. Those scenarios include funding the program locally, making it universally available to all D.C. public school students, and expanding capacity by including regional private schools.

Our findings include the following:

  • The current program saves the city nearly $8 million, mostly because it is federally funded and includes a federal grant to public schools.
  • If federal grant subsidies were withdrawn and the program were locally funded, the city would still save $258,402 due to the greater efficiency of school choice.
  • A locally funded universal program would maximize the economic benefits of school choice, saving $3 million.
  • The process by which both DCPS and its schools are funded is not conducive to efficiency or excellence. The voucher program currently allows the central administration to retain an even higher share of overall funding than it did previously, leaving the management of reduced expenditures predominately at the school level. A universal school choice program could help to put a larger share of resources into the hands of schools.

Full Text (PDF, 763 KB)

The Inscrutable Woman

When it comes to assessing the romantic playing field -- who might be interested in whom -- men and women were shown to be equally good at gauging men's interest during an Indiana University study involving speed dating -- and equally bad at judging women's interest.

"The hardest-to-read women were being misperceived at a much higher rate than the hardest-to-read men. Those women were being flirtatious, but it turned out they weren't interested at all," said lead author Skyler Place, a doctoral student in IU's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences working with cognitive science Professor Peter Todd. "Nobody could really read what these deceptive females were doing, including other women."

-- from Newswise Social and Behavioral Sciences News | Observers of First Dates Can Predict Outcome

Huh. So guys who complain of being led on aren't just making it up.

This entry was tagged. Dating Research Women

Your Children Are Safe Online

The Internet is not, in fact, a seething mass of sex criminals just waiting to attack unsuspecting children. Anyone who's spent any amount of time online knows that, but now we finally have proof. Report Finds Online Threats to Children Overblown - NYTimes.com

The task force, led by the Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. looked at scientific data on sexual predation on the Internet and found that children and teenagers are very unlikely to be propositioned by adults online. In the cases that do exist, the report said, teenagers are typically willing participants and are at risk in other ways (with poor home environments, depression or substance abuse, for example).

The report criticized previous findings that one in five or one in seven minors are sexually propositioned online, saying that in a strong majority of those situations, a child's peers are responsible for the proposition, which typically amounts to an act of harassment or teasing.

In what social networks may view as something of an exoneration after years of pressure from law enforcement, the report said that sites like MySpace and Facebook "do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation" and that "posting personally identifying information does not appear to increase risk in and of itself."

This entry was tagged. Research

32 Weeks ... And Growing

Why Every Week of Pregnancy Counts - WSJ.com:

A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in October calculated that for each week a baby stayed in the womb between 32 and 39 weeks, there is a 23% decrease in problems such as respiratory distress, jaundice, seizures, temperature instability and brain hemorrhages.

A study of nearly 15,000 children in the Journal of Pediatrics in July found that those born between 32 and 36 weeks had lower reading and math scores in first grade than babies who went to full term. New research also suggests that late preterm infants are at higher risk for mild cognitive and behavioral problems and may have lower I.Q.s than those who go full term.

What's more, experts warn that a fetus's estimated age may be off by as much as two weeks either way, meaning that a baby thought to be 36 weeks along might be only 34.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the March of Dimes are now urging obstetricians not to deliver babies before 39 weeks unless there is a medical reason to do so.

This entry was tagged. Research

Stop Stretching!

Everything you know about stretching is probably wrong. So say many sports researchers.

When Duane Knudson, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, Chico, looks around campus at athletes warming up before practice, he sees one dangerous mistake after another. "They're stretching, touching their toes. . . . " He sighs. "It's discouraging."

If you're like most of us, you were taught the importance of warm-up exercises back in grade school, and you've likely continued with pretty much the same routine ever since. Science, however, has moved on. Researchers now believe that some of the more entrenched elements of many athletes' warm-up regimens are not only a waste of time but actually bad for you. The old presumption that holding a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds -- known as static stretching -- primes muscles for a workout is dead wrong. It actually weakens them. In a recent study conducted at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, athletes generated less force from their leg muscles after static stretching than they did after not stretching at all. Other studies have found that this stretching decreases muscle strength by as much as 30 percent. Also, stretching one leg's muscles can reduce strength in the other leg as well, probably because the central nervous system rebels against the movements.

This entry was tagged. Research

Things that Might Interest Only Me

Diet and Fat: A Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus - New York Times

In 1988, the surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, proclaimed ice cream to a be public-health menace right up there with cigarettes. Alluding to his office's famous 1964 report on the perils of smoking, Dr. Koop announced that the American diet was a problem of "comparable" magnitude, chiefly because of the high-fat foods that were causing coronary heart disease and other deadly ailments.

That was a ludicrous statement, as Gary Taubes demonstrates in his new book meticulously debunking diet myths, "Good Calories, Bad Calories" (Knopf, 2007).

It may seem bizarre that a surgeon general could go so wrong. After all, wasn't it his job to express the scientific consensus? But that was the problem. Dr. Koop was expressing the consensus. He, like the architects of the federal "food pyramid" telling Americans what to eat, went wrong by listening to everyone else. He was caught in what social scientists call a cascade.

Because of this effect, groups are surprisingly prone to reach mistaken conclusions even when most of the people started out knowing better, according to the economists Sushil Bikhchandani, David Hirshleifer and Ivo Welch. If, say, 60 percent of a group's members have been given information pointing them to the right answer (while the rest have information pointing to the wrong answer), there is still about a one-in-three chance that the group will cascade to a mistaken consensus.

In the Battle Against Cancer, Researchers Find Hope in a Toxic Wasteland - New York Times

Death sits on the east side of this city, a 40-billion-gallon pit filled with corrosive water the color of a scab. On the opposite side sits the small laboratory of Don and Andrea Stierle, whose stacks of plastic Petri dishes are smeared with organisms pulled from the pit. Early tests indicate that some of those organisms may help produce the next generation of cancer drugs.

For decades, scientists assumed that nothing could live in the Berkeley Pit, a hole 1,780 feet deep and a mile and a half wide that was one of the world's largest copper mines until 1982, when the Atlantic Richfield Company suspended work there. The pit filled with water that turned as acidic as vinegar, laced with high concentrations of arsenic, aluminum, cadmium and zinc.

Today it is one of the harshest environments in the country. When residents speak of the pit, they often recall the day in 1995 when hundreds of geese landed on the water and promptly died.

But the pit itself is far from dead. Over the last decade, Mr. Stierle said, the couple have found 142 organisms living in it and have "isolated 80 chemical compounds that exist nowhere else."

Panel Sees Problems in Ethanol Production - New York Times

Greater cultivation of crops to produce ethanol could harm water quality and leave some regions of the country with water shortages, a panel of experts is reporting. And corn, the most widely grown fuel crop in the United States, might cause more damage per unit of energy than other plants, especially switchgrass and native grasses, the panel said.

The report noted that additional use of fertilizers and pesticides could pollute water supplies and contribute to the overgrowth of aquatic plant life that produces "dead zones" like those in the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.

Book now for the flight to nowhere - Times Online

An Indian entrepreneur has given a new twist to the concept of low-cost airlines. The passengers boarding his Airbus 300 in Delhi do not expect to go anywhere because it never takes off.

In a country where 99% of the population have never experienced air travel, the "virtual journeys" of Bahadur Chand Gupta, a retired Indian Airlines engineer, have proved a roaring success.

"Some of my passengers have crossed the country to get on this plane," says Gupta, who charges about £2 each for passengers taking the "journey".

The Odyssey Years - New York Times

People who were born before 1964 tend to define adulthood by certain accomplishments -- moving away from home, becoming financially independent, getting married and starting a family.

In 1960, roughly 70 percent of 30-year-olds had achieved these things. By 2000, fewer than 40 percent of 30-year-olds had done the same.

Overlawyered: Welcome to West Virginia: Joe Meadows v. Go-Mart

Joe Meadows was drunk. Very drunk. 0.296 percent blood-alcohol content drunk, 12 or 13 beers worth. Fortunately, he didn't drive in that state. Unfortunately, he chose to sleep it off by resting under a parked 18-wheel truck. More unfortunately, the driver, Doug Rader, who didn't check to see whether there might be drunks lying under his truck at 1:40 a.m., ran over Meadows. Rader had EMT training, and was able to save Meadows's life, but Meadows lost a leg, and sued both the truck company and the store that owned the parking lot. A Kanawha County jury decided that Meadows was only a third responsible for his injury, which means he "only" gets two thirds of the three million dollars they awarded.

What is Orthodoxy? (Part 1, Part 2)

What is the "orthodoxy" in our "humble orthodoxy" anyway? What do we mean when we say "orthodoxy?" "What must we agree upon? What are the basics, what are the essentials?"

Now this is a dangerous question. And we have to proceed very carefully here, because if you take this wrong, this question can sound a little like the teenager in the youth group asking, "How far can I go? What's the least I have to believe and still be considered a Christian? What can I get away with?" Friends, that is not the spirit in which I'm posing this question. You want to pursue truth in every single matter about which God has revealed Himself in His word. If He's gone to the trouble of revealing Himself, you should care as a Christian, you should want to understand it, so that you can know more about who this God is that you're worshiping.

Part of what we need for doctrinal discernment is to understand what must be agreed upon and how serious errors are. Because you know not all errors are created equal--they're not all the same. We need to understand the significance of the doctrine that is in question.

... So God, the Bible, the gospel.

Those are the things that we must agree upon to have meaningful cooperation as Christians. True Christian fellowship cannot be had with someone who disagrees with us on these matters. These are the essential of the essentials.

Finally, for Adam, Pastor John Piper's view of Ayn Rand's philosophy. Several years ago, after I read Adam's copy of Atlas Shrugged, I disagreed with her view of altruism. But I couldn't put my feelings into words. Now I find that John Piper has.

Atlas Shrugged Fifty Years Later :: Desiring God

My Ayn Rand craze was in the late seventies when I was a professor of Biblical Studies at Bethel College. I read most of what she wrote both fiction and non-fiction. I was attracted and repulsed. I admired and cried. I was blown away with powerful statements of what I believed, and angered that she shut herself up in what Jonathan Edwards called the infinite provincialism of atheism. Her brand of hedonism was so close to my Christian Hedonism and yet so far--like a satellite that comes close to the gravitational pull of truth and then flings off into the darkness of outer space.

Sentences like these made me want to scream. No. No. No. Altruism (treating someone better than he deserves) does not have to involve "betraying your values" or "sacrificing a greater value to a lesser one." In other words, I agreed with her that we should never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one. But I disagreed that mercy (returning good for evil) always involved doing that.

Why Reading is Good for You

It turns out that I don't read too much. In reading, I'm strengthening my brain and preparing it for old age. So say researchers in the July 31 edition of Neurology. Mental Abilities: Good Readers Better Able to Retain Brain Skills - New York Times

It is not surprising that when doctors examined people who had worked at a lead smelter for years, they found no lack of neurological problems associated with lead

But not every worker was affected equally, a new study says, especially when it came to those who were good readers. While those workers had the same sorts of motor skill losses as their colleagues, they had retained much more of their thinking skills.

People who are good readers, generally a sign of better education, have been found in earlier studies to have better health. The presumption has been that this is because they can take better care of themselves or afford better food, housing and medical care.

But writing in the July 31 issue of Neurology, researchers said that in this case some smelter employees were protected not as a direct result of their reading but an indirect one. The years of reading, the study said, may have helped their brains develop more of what doctors call cognitive reserve.

After all of the reading I've done, my cognitive reserve must be through the roof. Not that I plan to stop building my reserve anytime soon. After all, who knows how much I'll need later?

This entry was tagged. Good News Research

Why People Smoke

The University of Pittsburgh, my alma mater, released an interesting report today. Apparently, smokers aren't just addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes. Smoking creates a link between the pleasurable environment a person is in and the cigarette that they are smoking.

The smoker puffing away in the corner might be hooked on more than just nicotine. A 15-year study by University of Pittsburgh researchers suggests that nicotine also enhances the pleasure smokers get from their surroundings when they smoke and creates a psychological link between that amplified satisfaction and cigarettes.

Without discounting nicotine as a powerful primary reinforcer, Donny said, the Pitt research proposes that nicotine also amplifies the satisfaction smokers get from their environment, from the smell of cigarette smoke to drinking in a favorite bar. This second action of nicotine is known as a reinforcement enhancing effect. Smokers associate the heightened enjoyment with cigarettes and continue smoking to recapture that sensation.

"If people were just after nicotine," Caggiula asked, "why don't they get addicted to it in other ways such as drinking it or shooting it into their arm? But people don't do those things-they smoke cigarettes. There has to be something else at work here other than just an easy way to get nicotine. We're not saying that focusing on the physical addiction to nicotine is worthless, but it's incomplete."


This entry was tagged. Research Smoking