Friday, January 26, 2018

Book Review: Carl Sagan's The Demon-Hunted World

Overall a good book that all should read. It is a quest to bring constructive critical review (science) back into more widespread use.

Sagan spends too much time on debunking alien abductions and UFOs perhaps suggesting that this now 21-year old book is showing a little bit of its age. That said there are truisms throughout the book that have and will stand the test of time.

In the intervening 21 years, a lot of positive change has happened. The challenge for science that social pressures on kids not to be "nerds" has, for the most part, transitioned as nerds became geeks, and as such have gained notoriety and respect (as their prospects for earnings have grown).

Perhaps most haunting in our time was the foresight on what the lack of a scientific education might mean to our democracy. In reading the last two chapters (24. Science and Witchcraft & 25. Real Patriots Ask Questions) you cannot help but see happening before us now the very situations and consequences that he described as potentially happening.

Where I wish the book would have gone more in depth is the subject of Ch 17, The Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder. The focus of this chapter is a reminder to the critically inclined that we can be too quick to judge, to box potentials and alternatives out, and to set people off of exploration by consciously or unconsciously using very human social tools and desires to establish, maintain, and grow social status and provide ourselves with a degree of personal legitimacy and certainty. These are essentially the battlegrounds and weapons of the Great Culture War that we now find ourselves in and an area that the tools of science need not pick a side. There are no such things as "alternative facts" and this howler should be seen for what it is - an admission of lies. But our capacity to aim for our tribe to dominate also means that we use these tools sometimes not for the advancement of science but to squelch debate, to control the dialogue, and to gain advantage. The tools of science should not be seen to take sides in the culture war but should be seen as a means to negotiate the peace. We scientists have a responsibility to know this and to engage, in some cases, with a more open mind. Put another way, as the Zen master Suzuki Roshi put it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” We need to use our scientific creed to keep open those seemingly unlikely avenues because foundational (paradigm) shifts do happen. But only when we choose to allow our beliefs to be challenged and to explore the possibilities with empathy, comradery and "the beginner's mind".

Monday, November 27, 2017

Shoulder pain: a randomised trial shows that "subacromial decompression" surgery may be no more effective than placebo.

Arthroscopic subacromial decompression for subacromial shoulder pain (CSAW): a multicentre, pragmatic, parallel group, placebo-controlled, three-group, randomised surgical trial

Beard, David JAhrens, Philip et al.
The Lancet



Arthroscopic sub-acromial decompression (decompressing the sub-acromial space by removing bone spurs and soft tissue arthroscopically) is a common surgery for subacromial shoulder pain, but its effectiveness is uncertain. We did a study to assess its effectiveness and to investigate the mechanism for surgical decompression.


Surgical groups had better outcomes for shoulder pain and function compared with no treatment but this difference was not clinically important. Additionally, surgical decompression appeared to offer no extra benefit over arthroscopy only. The difference between the surgical groups and no treatment might be the result of, for instance, a placebo effect or postoperative physiotherapy. The findings question the value of this operation for these indications, and this should be communicated to patients during the shared treatment decision-making process.

More at The Lancet

Friday, March 10, 2017

Raw milk cheese linked to two listeria deaths in Northeast US

Two people have died and four more have fallen ill following an outbreak of listeria linked to recalled cheese in several eastern US states.
Officials say it was probably caused by a soft raw milk cheese called Ouleout from Vulto Creamery in New York state.
The cheese was stocked by a Whole Foods shop in Fairfield, Connecticut, and may also have been available in specialised cheese shops.
The creamery recalled several soft cheeses on Tuesday.
Six cases of listeria have been recorded in Connecticut and Vermont, where the deaths occurred, as well as in New York and Florida.

More at the BBC News article

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Scientists Say the Clock of Aging May Be Reversible

Scientists Say the Clock of Aging May Be Reversible 

Impaired muscle repair in mice, left, compared with improved muscle regeneration seen after reprogramming. CreditThe Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Scientists reveal that they have used a technique, now 10-years old, that had been shown to reset cells to stem cell state to rejuvenate aged cells. Original research using this technique had led to disastrous consequences with some test animals dying due to cells loosing their identity (stem cells can become any cell in the body) and others due to cancer (cancer is essentially rapid, runaway cell growth). 

Since those disastrous tests scientists have realized that cells don't use the full suite of steps in becoming stems cells but rather use a subset to prime cells for regrowth (and rejuvenation) without loosing their identity.  

See opening paragraphs below and follow the link for the entire story.

At the Salk Institute in La Jolla, Calif., scientists are trying to get time to run backward.

Biological time, that is. In the first attempt to reverse aging by reprogramming the genome, they have rejuvenated the organs of mice and lengthened their life spans by 30 percent. ...

More at

Monday, January 2, 2017

How to Become a ‘Superager’

How to Become a ‘Superager’

For people who have mentally age well, their brains show thicker regions in specific areas relative to those suffering from classic aging signs. But - drop notions of this being the outer regions of the brain which are classically presented as the region of higher function. This "triune brain" frame is incorrect and has been for awhile within brain research. Rather, it is in the more inner regions where the brain works to bridge the analytical with the emotional that are shown to be enhanced. In the end the researchers do not know what it is that leads to this outcome but nonetheless they have recommendations. They state that people should work those regions of the brain through strenuous work. Be that analytical, physical or emotional work. The researchers say pushing oneself into those areas that are challenging and difficult (to a point) are what leads to benefit. In other words - don't take the easy path. (Is this our underlying puritan meme coming out? Or an actual benefit... ?)

From the New York Times by LISA FELDMAN BARRETT DEC. 31, 2016
Think about the people in your life who are 65 or older. Some of them are experiencing the usual mental difficulties of old age, like forgetfulness or a dwindling attention span. Yet others somehow manage to remain mentally sharp. My father-in-law, a retired doctor, is 83 and he still edits books and runs several medical websites.

Why do some older people remain mentally nimble while others decline? “Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25-year-olds. My colleagues and I at Massachusetts General Hospital recently studied superagers to understand what made them tick.


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Taking Fish Oil During Pregnancy Is Found to Lower Child’s Asthma Risk


Taking Fish Oil During Pregnancy Is Found to Lower Child’s Asthma Risk

Women who took fish oil during the last three months of pregnancy significantly lowered the risk that their children would develop asthma, a study in Denmark has found.
Among children whose mothers took fish-oil capsules, 16.9 percent had asthma by age 3, compared with 23.7 percent whose mothers were given placebos. The difference, nearly 7 percentage points, translates to a risk reduction of about 31 percent.
But in the study released on Wednesday, the researchers say they are not ready to recommend that pregnant women routinely take fish oil. Although the study found no adverse effects in the mothers or babies, the doses were high, 2.4 grams per day — 15 to 20 times what most Americans consume from foods.
More at the New York Times

Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to reset a FitBit Charge

For those that may wish to pass on a FitBit Charge or for those of you who have purchased a used one only to not be able to connect it to your FitBit app - here are the instructions you need to reset it such that the app will discover it.
How to reset a FitBit Charge