May 15th, 2013

Find Friends and Find Them Quickly

Because loneliness might be lethal:

Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn’t know that germs spread them, we’ve known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven’t been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

April 4th, 2013

Coffee: The Elixir of Life

Behold. (Via Jacob Levy. And yes, sleeping more and having less stress in one’s life would also be helpful.)

April 3rd, 2013

I’ve Never Scared Myself While Writing an Article Before

But I guess there is a first time for everything:

Thomas Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control, warns “nightmare bacteria” with a “fatality rate as high as 50 percent” and a high resistance to antibiotics could soon become a public health crisis. A coordinated international effort to prevent that outcome is imperative.

He was referring to carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, commonly referred to as CREs, which are normally found in human intestines. As discussed by this primer issued by the CDC, these bacteria have been known to spread outside the intestines and cause infections—something that usually happens in nursing homes intensive care units, and rehabilitation centers, and usually affects elderly patients and/or those with compromised immune systems. Many of these patients are receiving care that includes having their skin breached with IVs, ports and catheters, which help in the spread of CREs.

CRE infections can be life-threatening, and as indicated by their name, cannot be treated even with carbapenem, which is a class of antibiotics that is used only when other antibiotics have failed, and which must be administered in hospitals, oftentimes intravenously. Even worse, Frieden points out, there is a way for CREs to spread their resistance to antibiotics to other bacteria, which may mean that a host of infections once considered easily curable might require hospitalization and intensive treatments to avoid patient deaths.

Frieden and the CDC tell us that we have “a limited window of opportunity” to do something about CREs. While CREs are currently confined to hospital and other care settings in the United States, the worry is that they may spread to the general population. If that happens, we will be in trouble, as CREs can be very hard to detect. Additionally, as the Wired story I linked to in this paragraph points out, we have to worry not just about CREs, but also other carbapenem-resistant bacteria that are not Enterobacteriaceae. The story references this finding on carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, which over the past fourteen years has become eight times less susceptible to carbapenem treatments. These superbugs, along with CREs, can pose a severe risk to the general population.

Read it all … if you are feeling brave, that is.

April 3rd, 2013

Aren’t Scientists-in-Chief Supposed to Be More in Touch with Reality?

Discussing a new initiative to map the human brain, thus possibly discovering how to cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the president dubbed himself "Scientist-in-Chief." I like Barack Obama’s brain-mapping initiative well enough; it costs $100 million, which is cheap for government work and which could save us a lot of money down the road if it actually leads to advances in curing neurological diseases. At the same time, I can’t help but think that an actual “Scientist-in-Chief” wouldn’t be willing to suggest that vaccines cause autism.

But maybe that’s just me.

Additionally, I would have to think that a “Scientist-in-Chief” would actually care about facts, but again, I am let down; this time by the president’s insistence that 40% of gun sales lack background checks. Glenn Kessler points out that the claim just isn’t true:

There are two key problems with the president’s use of this statistic: The numbers are about two decades old, yet he acts as if they are fresh, and he refers to “purchases” or “sales” when in fact the original report concerned “gun acquisitions” and “transactions.”  Those are much broader categories of data.

As we noted before, the White House said the figure comes from a 1997 Institute of Justice report, written by Philip Cook of Duke University and Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago.

 This study was based on data collected from a survey in 1994, the same year that the Brady Act requirements for background checks came into effect. In fact, the questions concerned purchases in 1993 and 1994, and the Brady Act went into effect in early 1994 — meaning that some, if not many, of the guns were bought in a pre-Brady environment.

Digging deeper, we found that the survey sample was just 251 people. (The survey was done by telephone, using a random-digit-dial method, with a response rate of 50 percent.) With this sample size, the 95 percent confidence interval will be plus or minus six percentage points.

Moreover, when asked whether the respondent bought from a licensed firearms dealer, the possible answers included “probably was/think so” and “probably not,” leaving open the possibility the purchaser was mistaken. (The “probably not” answers were counted as “no.”)

When all of the “yes” and “probably was” answers were added together, that left 35.7 percent of respondents indicating they did not receive the gun from a licensed firearms dealer. Rounding up gets you to 40 percent, although as we noted before, the survey sample is so small it could also be rounded down to 30 percent.

Moreover, when gifts, inheritances and prizes are added in, then the number shrinks to 26.4 percent. (The survey showed that nearly 23.8 percent of the people surveyed obtained their gun either as a gift or inherited it, and about half of them believed a licensed firearms dealer was the source.)

Cook and Ludwig, in a lengthier 1996 study of the data for the Police Foundation, acknowledged the ambiguity in the answers but gave their best estimate as a range of 30 to 40 percent for transactions in the “off-the-books” secondary market. (The shorter 1997 study cited by the White House does not give a range but instead says “approximately 60 percent of gun acquisitions” involved a licensed dealer.)

Meanwhile, note the phrasing in the original report — “acquisitions” and “transactions,” which included trades, gifts and the like. But Obama spoke of “gun purchases,” and his tweet referred to “gun sales.”

Better “Scientists-in-Chief,” please.

March 9th, 2013

Bloomberg. Again.

America’s most officious meddler mayor is back:

Now listen up, if you can.

Mayor Bloomberg — who has already cracked down on smoking, junk food, trans fats, salt and super-sized drinks — is embarking on a new crusade: preventing New Yorkers from going deaf.

Hizzoner’s health officials are planning a social-media campaign to warn young people about the risk of losing their hearing from listening to music at high volume on personal MP3 players, The Post has learned.

“With public and private support, a public-education campaign is being developed to raise awareness about safe use of personal music players … and risks of loud and long listening,” said Nancy Clark, the city Health Department’s assistant commissioner of environmental-disease prevention.

The campaign, which will cost $250,000, is being financed through a grant received from the Fund for Public Health, the Health Department’s fund-raising arm.

Of course, it’s plenty dumb to listen to extra loud music and podcasts, and risk losing one’s hearing as a consequence. But why must the mayor of New York once again play Metropolitan/National Nanny regarding the issue?

Bloomberg is weird in other ways as well, He seems to believe that homeless shelters in New York city are being overrun by rich people looking for a roof over their heads. Because of course, if you park your private jet in New York, the first thing you think of is not your favorite room at the Waldorf. No, the first thing you think of is securing your preferred spot at the homeless shelter of your choice.

To be fair to Bloomberg, he does have his virtues. For example, he accepts that government has no right whatsoever to force you to exercise.

At least, he accepts that for the moment.


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