Quotulatiousness

February 21, 2017

Medical Treatment in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, Health, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 20 Feb 2017

Some sources say that during the four years of World War 1, medicine and medical treatments advances more than during any other four year period in human history. The chances for a soldier to survive his injury were far greater in 1918 than in 1914.

February 17, 2017

Food texture

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Along with the actual flavour and aroma of food, the texture matters a great deal:

As eaters, we tend to downplay texture’s importance. A 2002 study in the Journal of Sensory Studies found that texture lagged behind taste and smell — and only occasionally beat out temperature — in terms of the perceived impact on flavor. But you only have to look at pasta to see how strongly texture impacts our perception of taste. We’ll eat macaroni and cheese in the form of spirals, shells, and noodles shaped like Spongebob Squarepants, but spaghetti mixed with florescent “cheese” powder seems anathema — it’s the texture that makes the difference.

For the longest time, food scientists downplayed texture’s importance as well. “When I was a student pursuing a degree in food science, I was taught that flavor was a combination of mainly taste and smell,” recalls Jeannine Delwiche, one of the authors of the 2002 study.

But how a food feels affects our enjoyment of the thing. There is, of course, the actual texture of the food, which scientists call rheology. Rheology focuses on consistency and flow. For example, it’s fairly evident that cotton candy has a different texture than plain sugar, even though sugar is its only ingredient. But the perception of a food’s rheology — what scientists call psychorheology — is another thing entirely. If you’ve ever wondered why sour candy always seems to come coated in rough sugar, the reason is simple: We perceive rougher foods as being more sour. Psychorheology is why we like gummy bears in solid but not liquid form, why we enjoy carbonated soda but balk at its flavor when it goes flat. It’s why we perceive gelato as creamier than ice cream — even though the latter has more fat.

Texture is an important indicator of a food’s fat content. If we can figure out how to trick our tongues into sensing more fat than is actually present in a food, we can increase satiation while decreasing a food’s calorie count. That’s why some researchers are finally turning their attention to these taste-making sensations.

February 14, 2017

Reconstructive and Plastic Surgery During World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Europe, Health, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 13 Feb 2017

Filmed at Romagne 14-18 museum: http://romagne14-18.com

Plastic and reconstructive surgery saw rapid development during World War 1. Modern medical care and better equipment increased the chances of survival for the soldiers. But these survivors were often disfigured or lost limbs as a result. To help them return to a somewhat normal life, reconstructive surgeons developed methods to restore their faces and aided them with prosthetics.

QotD: Explaining why men tend to be slobs, but women very much don’t

Filed under: History, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The central fact that controls the the preferences of both sexes is that bearing children is difficult and dangerous for women, but fertilizing a woman is almost trivially easy for a man. Furthermore, the female investment in childbearing is front-loaded (proportionally more of the risk is before and at birth) while the male investment is back-loaded (proportionately more of the risks and costs are incurred after birth).

Moderns living in a largely disease-free environment seldom realize how cruel and pressing these differences were over most of our species history. But before modern sanitation, death in childbirth was so common that men wealthy enough to afford it expected to have several wives during their lifetimes, losing many of them to childbed fever and other complications.

Also relevant is the extremely high rate of childhood death from infectious diseases and parasites that was characteristic of premodern societies. Disease resistance in humans is highly variable and generally increases with genetic mixing (the same reason a mongrel puppy or kitten is less likely to catch a disease than a purebreed). Thus, both men and women have instincts intended to maximize genetic variety in their offspring in order to maximize the chances that some will survive to reproductive age.

Our instincts evolved to cope with these patterns of life and death. The next piece we need to understand those instincts is what physical beauty means. Recent anthropology revealing strong cross-cultural patterns in the perception of pulchritude is helpful here.

In both sexes, the most important beauty indicators include symmetrical features and a good complexion (clear skin without blemishes, warts, etc.). It turns out these are indicators of resistance to infection and parasites, especially resistance in childhood and during adolescent growth. Good hair is also a health indicator.

In men, physical signs of strength, dexterity, and agility are also favored; this reflects the value female instinctive wiring puts on male specializations in burst exertion, hunting, and warfare. In women, signs of fertility and fitness to bear are favored (healthy and generous breasts, a certain range of hip-to-waist ratios).

Men fixate on physical beauty and youth because under primitive conditions it is a leading indicator of the ability to bear and suckle children. Through most of history, plain or ugly women were bad risks for the next round of infectious diseases — and their children, carrying their genes, were too.

The last piece of the puzzle is that men and women have asymmetrical information about the parentage of their children. A woman is seldom in doubt about which children are the issue of her womb; a man, by contrast, can never be as sure which are the fruit of his seed. Thus, genetic selfishness motivates the woman in a mated pair to sacrifice more for her children than it does the man. This is why women abandon their children far less often than men do.

While women do respond to male good looks, it’s not the agenda-topper for them that it is for men. To understand why this is, it helps to know that the optimal mating strategy for a woman begins with hooking a good provider, a man who will stick around to support the kids in spite of not being as sure that he’s their father as the woman is of being their mother. Where men look for fitness to bear children, women seek the capability and willingness to raise them.

Thus, robust health and infection resistance, while desirable in a potential husband, are not the be-all and end-all. Behavior traits indicating attachment, loyalty, nurturance, and kindness are more important than a tight six-pack. Men instinctively worry about these things less because they know women are more certain of parentage and thus more tightly bonded to their children. Fitness-to-raise also means that indicators of success and social status count for more in men. Men marry health and beauty, women marry security and good prospects.

There is, however, one important exception — one circumstance under which women are just as physical, beauty-oriented, and “shallow” in their mating preferences as men. That’s when they’re cheating.

Both sexes have a genetic-diversity incentive to screw around, but it manifests in different ways. Again, the reason is parentage uncertainty. For a man, diversity tactics are simple — boff as many hot babes as possible, accepting that you don’t know which of their kids are yours and counting on stronger maternal bonding to ensure they will have at least one devoted parent around. Because a woman can be more sure of who her offspring are, her most effective diversity tactic is different — get married to a good provider and then cheat on him.

Under those circumstances, she doesn’t have to value good character in a mating partner as much; hubby, who can’t tell the kids aren’t his, will supply that. Thus the relative value of handsomeness goes up when a woman is taking a lover on the sly. Marrying the lord and screwing the gardener is an old game, and from a genetic-selfishness point of view a very effective one.

Eric S. Raymond, “A Unified Theory of Male Slobbishness and Female Preening”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-01- 06.

February 13, 2017

“[M]ost of what journalists know about radioactivity came from watching Godzilla

Filed under: Japan, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Charlie Martin explains why the “news” out of Fukushima lately has been mostly unscientific hyperventilation and bloviation:

On February 8, Adam Housley of Fox News reported a story with a terrifying headline: “Radiation at Japan’s Fukushima Reactor Is Now at ‘Unimaginable’ Levels.” Let’s just pick up the most exciting paragraphs:

    The radiation levels at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant are now at “unimaginable” levels.

    [Housley] said the radiation levels — as high as 530 sieverts per hour — are now the highest they’ve been since 2011 when a tsunami hit the coastal reactor.

    “To put this in very simple terms. Four sieverts can kill a handful of people,” he explained.

The degree to which this story is misleading is amazing, but to explain it, we need a little bit of a tutorial.

The Touhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, along with all the other damage they caused, knocked out the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi (“plant #1”) and Daini (“plant #2”) reactors. Basically, the two reactors were hit with a 1000-year earthquake and a 1000-year tsunami, and the plants as built weren’t able to handle it.

Both reactors failed, and after a sequence of unfortunate events, melted down. I wrote quite a lot about it at the time; bearing in mind this was early in the story, my article from then has a lot of useful information.

[…]

So what have we learned today?

We learned that inside the reactor containment at Fukushima Daini, site of the post-tsunami reactor accident, it’s very very radioactive. How radioactive? We don’t know, because the dose rate has been reported in inappropriate units — Sieverts are only meaningful if someone is inside the reactor to get dosed.

Then we learned that the Fukushima accident is leaking 300 tons of radioactive water — but until we dig into primary sources, we didn’t learn the radioactive water is very nearly clean enough to be drinking water. So what effect does this have on the ocean, as Housley asks? None.

The third thing we learned — and I think probably the most important thing — is to never trust a journalist writing about anything involving radiation, the metric system, or any arithmetic more challenging than long division.

February 5, 2017

Smoking – Hearing Protection – Sanitation I OUT OF THE TRENCHES

Filed under: Europe, Health, History, Military — Tags: — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 4 Feb 2017

This week Indy talks about the smoking habits of the soldiers, how sanitation was organised in the trenches and how soldiers protected their ears during fighting.

QotD: Gaming the LEED certification for fun and profit

Some of my favorites include environmental building requirements tied to government contract approval. The LEED certification is such a joke. There are a ton of “real” categories, like motion detecting lights, solar / thermal filtering windows, CO2 neutral engineering. But if you can’t get enough of that, you can also squeeze in with points for “environmental education”. For instance, a display in the lobby discussing the three solar panels on the roof, or with a pretty diagram of the building’s heat pump system. You can end up getting a platinum LEED certification and still have the highest energy consumption density in the city of Chicago, as it turns out.

The proprietor of the Finem Respice blog, quoted by Warren Meyer, “Diesel Emissions Cheating, Regulation, and the Crony State”, Coyote Blog, 2017-01-14.

February 3, 2017

QotD: Obamacare, or something like it, was probably inevitable

Obamacare? Well, here’s the truth of the matter: America is addicted to medical care and demands that it be delivered in infinite quantity, in flawless quality, no matter the cost, as long as no one has to pay anything like full price, directly. Unfortunately, the cost does matter, and even if we were willing to devote infinite resources to medicine, we lack the human quality to provide what’s demanded. Short version: [Obama] had to do something; eventually we were going to bankrupt ourselves in the interests of keeping someone’s great-grandmama alive another day or so. I’m not sure what that something was, mind you, and I am pretty sure that Obamacare wasn’t it. But, be fair; he really had to try to do something. So will Donald Trump, and I don’t mean just repeal Obamacare. You may as well get used to the idea.

Tom Kratman, “Free at last! Free at last!”, EveryJoe, 2017-01-23.

February 2, 2017

Obesity and the adoption of a “western” diet

Filed under: Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Gary Taubes says the “case against sugar isn’t so easily dismissed”:

My concern in my essay and my books is a simple and regrettable fact: the epidemics worldwide of obesity and diabetes that occur whenever populations pass through a nutrition transition from a traditional diet and lifestyle, whatever that may be, to a western one. Something is causing that, and because obesity and diabetes, particularly type 2, are intimately linked to insulin resistance, we should be looking ultimately and desperately for the cause of insulin resistance. Geneticists would say we’re looking for the environmental trigger that reliably and often dramatically increases the prevalence of the obese and diabetic phenotype, regardless of the underlying human genotype. And because insulin resistance, obesity, and diabetes are all intimately linked to heart disease, that trigger is almost assuredly going to be a cause of coronary heart disease as well.

But in this country, nutrition and chronic disease research from the 1950s onward was obsessively focused on a very different question: the dietary cause of heart disease in the United States and Europe. When the researchers decided on the basis of exceedingly premature evidence that dietary fat was the culprit, that drove all public health debates and thinking ever after. Even hypotheses about the cause of obesity and diabetes had to be reconcilable with the belief that saturated fat caused heart disease. As such, the evidence implicating insulin resistance in the disorder (and so the carbohydrate content of the diet) was delayed by 30 years in its acceptance, as I discussed in Good Calories, Bad Calories. Its implications are still not accepted because they clash with what remains of the dogmatic belief that saturated fat causes heart disease. And this all happened because researchers were asking the wrong question (and they got the wrong answer even to that): “why CHD in America now,” rather than “why obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance in populations worldwide whenever they westernize?”

[…]

Now that we’re almost literally neck deep in obesity and diabetes, the right question is vitally important to answer. If the sugar hypothesis is wrong, it is critically important that it be refuted definitively. That can only happen on the strength of far, far stronger evidence than Dr. Guyenet provides in his somewhat flip and casual response. And if the sugar hypothesis is unambiguously refuted, whatever hypothesis steps up as the next prime suspect has to be very carefully considered. (i.e., not the simplistic notion that people eat too much and move too little). We need a hypothesis that holds the promise of explaining the epidemics everywhere.

In stopping an epidemic, nothing is more important than correctly identifying its cause. Where we are today with obesity and diabetes reminds me of where infectious disease specialists were through most of the 19th century, when they blamed malaria and other insect-born diseases on miasma, or the bad air that came out of swamps. That was mildly effective, in that it was an explanation for why the rich in any particular town preferred to build their homes on hills, high above the miasma and, incidentally, away from the swamps and lowlands and slums where the vectors of these diseases were breeding. But only by identifying the vectors and the actual disease agents do we help everyone avoid them and eradicate the diseases. Only by unambiguously identifying the cause can we effectively design treatments to cure it. The kinds of explanations that Dr. Guyenet and Freedhoff put forth – highly palatable foods or ultra-processed foods – are the nutritional equivalents of the miasma explanation. They sound good; they might help some people incidentally eat the correct diets or offer a description of why other people already do, but they’re not the proximate cause of these epidemics. And there is a proximate cause. We have to find it. I can guarantee it’s not saturated fat, regardless of the effect of that nutrient on heart disease risk. What is it?

January 29, 2017

QotD: Perverse incentives for journalists

Filed under: Health, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Unfortunately, the incentives of both academic journals and the media mean that dubious research often gets more widely known than more carefully done studies, precisely because the shoddy statistics and wild outliers suggest something new and interesting about the world. If I tell you that more than half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical problems, you will be alarmed and wish to know more. If I show you more carefully done research suggesting that it is a real but comparatively modest problem, you will just be wondering what time Game of Thrones is on.

Megan McArdle, “The Myth of the Medical Bankruptcy”, Bloomberg View, 2017-01-17.

January 28, 2017

The “fantasy of addiction”

Filed under: Books, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Peter Hitchens explains how he started an argument that “will probably still be going on when I die”.

I never meant to start an argument about addiction. I had carried my private doubts on the subject around in my head for years, in the “heresy” section where I keep my really risky thoughts. And I don’t recommend disagreeing in public with Hollywood royalty, either, which is how it happened. In such a clash, most people will think you are wrong and Hollywood is right, especially if your opponent is Chandler Bing, the beloved character from Friends. Of course, he wasn’t really Chandler Bing, just an actor called Matthew Perry — but an actor with an entourage so big it filled an entire elevator at the BBC’s new studios in central London where we quarreled.

Our debate wasn’t even supposed to be about addiction. I’d been asked onto the corporation’s grand but faded late-night current affairs show Newsnight to talk about drug courts, one of many stupid ideas suggested by the idea of addiction. I reckoned my main opponent would be the other guest, Baroness (Molly) Meacher, whose name sounds like something out of The Beggar’s Opera. While she looks like the sort of harmless, kindly housewife who knits next to you on the bus, she is in fact a campaigner for the wilder sorts of drug liberalization. If this Chandler Perry wanted to horn in, well and good. Who cared? Yet when I began to sense sarcasm mingled with unearned superiority oozing from the character from Friends, I decided to let my impatience show.

Hence my rash, irreversible plunge into an argument which has been going on ever since, consuming billions of electrons on social media, and which will probably still be going on when I die. I heard myself using the words “the fantasy of addiction.” There. I’d done it. Let the heavens fall.

Chandler Bing called me various names and was even more sarcastic than before. He is extremely good at sarcasm, even if he understands very little about the drug problem. I have never heard the words “your book” pronounced with such eloquent contempt. The final “k” seemed to contain two whole syllables. Is this a Canadian thing? He was referring to my modest volume on the topic The War We Never Fought, so energetically ignored by reviewers and booksellers that it is known among London publishers as The Book They Never Bought.

January 23, 2017

Five easy fixes to improve US federal health policies

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Scott Alexander finds, to his surprise, that two of the candidates for the post of FDA commissioner in the Trump administration are following his blog or social media profile. To mark that, he offers five easy-to-implement policy fixes that would make a difference:

1. Medical reciprocity with Europe and other First World countries […] Right now, Europe has a licensing agency about as strict as the FDA approving medications invented in Europe. Any pharma company that wants their medication approved in both the US and Europe has to spend a billion or so dollars getting it approved by the FDA, and then another billion or so dollars getting it approved by the Europeans. A lot of pharma companies don’t want to bother, with the end result that Europe has many good medications that America doesn’t, and vice versa. Just in my own field, amisulpride, one of the antipsychotics with the best safety/efficacy balance, has been used successfully in Europe for twenty years and is totally unavailable here despite a real need for better antipsychotic drugs. If the FDA agreed to approve any medication already approved by Europe (or to give it a very expedited review process), we could get an immediate windfall of dozens of drugs with unimpeachable records for almost no cost. Instead, in the real world, we’re cracking down on imported Canadian pharmaceuticals because the Canadians don’t have exactly our same FDA which means that for all we know they might be adding thalidomide to every pill or something. This is exactly the sort of silly anti-competitive cronyist practice that a principled intelligent libertarian could do away with.

2. Burdensome approval process for generic medications […] How come Martin Shkreli can hike the dose of an off-patent toxoplasma drug 5000%, and everyone just has to take it lying down even though the drug itself is so easy to produce that high school chemistry classes make it just to show they can? The reason is that every new company that makes a drug, even a widely-used generic drug that’s already been proven safe, has to go through a separate approval process that costs millions of dollars and takes two to three years – and which other companies in the market constantly try to sabotage through legal action. Shkreli can get away with his price hike because he knows that by the time the FDA gives anyone permission to compete with him, he’ll have made his fortune and moved on to his next nefarious scheme. If the FDA allowed reputable pharmaceutical companies in good standing to produce whatever generic drugs they wanted, the same as every other company is allowed to make whatever products they want, scandals like Daraprim and EpiPens would be a thing of the past, and the price of many medications could decrease by an order of magnitude. […]

3. Stop having that thing allowing companies to “steal” popular and effective drugs that have been in the public domain for years, claim them as their private property, shut down all competitors, and jack up the price 10x just by bringing them up to date with modern FDA bureaucracy.

4. Stop having that thing where drug companies can legally bribe other companies not to compete with them. I like this one because it sounds anti-libertarian (we’re imposing a new regulation on what companies can do!) but I think it’s exactly the sort of thing that the crony capitalists would never touch but which principled intelligent libertarians like O’Neill and Srinivasan might be open to, in order to bring more actors into the marketplace.

5. Stop thwarting consumer diagnostic products and genetic tests […] Srinivasan comes from the genetic testing world himself, so he’s likely to be extra sympathetic to this.

January 13, 2017

Jonathan Haidt on the rise of the “microaggression” concept

Filed under: Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

He is commenting on an article in Perspectives on Psychological Science (PDF):

The microaggression program teaches students the exact opposite of ancient wisdom. Microaggression training is — by definition — instruction in how to detect ever-smaller specks in your neighbor’s eye. Microaggression training tells students that “life itself is exactly what you think it is — you have a direct pipeline to reality, and the person who offended you does not, so go with your feelings.” Of course, the ancients could be wrong on these points, but the empirical evidence for the importance of appraisal and the ubiquity of bias and hypocrisy is overwhelming (I review it in chapters 2 and 4 of The Happiness Hypothesis). As Lilienfeld shows, the empirical evidence supporting the utility and validity of the microaggression concept is minimal at best.

I think the section of Lilienfeld’s article that should most make us recoil from the microaggression program is the section on personality traits, particularly negative emotionality and the tendency to perceive oneself as a victim. These are traits — correlated with depression and anxiety disorders — that some students bring with them from high school to college. Students who score high on these traits perceive more microaggressions in ambiguous circumstances. These traits therefore bring misery and anger to the students themselves, and these negative emotions and the conflicts they engender are likely to radiate outward through the students’ social networks (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). How should colleges (and other institutions) respond to the presence of high scorers in their midst? Should they offer them cognitive behavioral therapy or moral validation? Should they hand them a copy of The Dhammapada or a microaggression training manual?

It’s bad enough to make the most fragile and anxious students quicker to take offense and more self-certain and self-righteous. But what would happen if you took a whole campus of diverse students, who arrive from all over the world with very different values and habits, and you train all of them to react with pain and anger to ever-smaller specks that they learn to see in each other’s eyes?

And what would happen if the rise of the microaggression concept coincided with the rise of social media, so that students can file charges against each other — and against their professors — within minutes of any perceived offense? The predictable result of welcoming the microaggression program to campus is turmoil, distrust, and anger. It is the end of the open environment we prize in the academy, where students feel free to speak up and challenge each other, their professors, and orthodox ideas. On a campus that polices microaggressions, everyone walks on eggshells.

H/T to David Thompson for the link.

That demon sugar

Filed under: Books, Health, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Last week, Ronald Bailey reviewed a new book on whether the rise in obesity in western society can be blamed on our collective sweet-tooth: The Case Against Sugar, by Gary Taubes.

Less than 1 percent of Americans — 1.6 million people — were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1958. As of 2014, that figure had risen to 9.3 percent, or 29.1 million. If current trends continue, the figure could rise to more than 33 percent by 2050. Something has clearly gone wrong with American health.

The rising rate of diabetes is associated with the rising prevalence of obesity. Since the early 1960s, the percent of Americans who are obese — that is, whose body mass index is greater than 30 — has increased from 13 percent to 35.7 percent today. (Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight, meaning their BMIs are over 25.) Roughly put, the prevailing theory is that rising fatness causes rising diabetes.

But what if both are caused by something else? That is the intriguing and ultimately persuasive argument that Gary Taubes, author Why We Get Fat (2011) and cofounder of the Nutrition Science Initiative, makes in his new book, The Case Against Sugar.

For Taubes, sugar — be it sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup — is “the principal cause of the chronic diseases that are most likely to kill us, or at least accelerate our demise,” explains Taubes at the outset. “If this were a criminal case, The Case Against Sugar would be the argument for the prosecution.” In making his case, Taubes explores the “claim that sugar is uniquely toxic — perhaps having prematurely killed more people than cigarettes or ‘all wars combined,’ as [diabetes epidemiologist] Kelly West put it.”

Taubes surveys the admittedly sparse research on sugar’s psychoactive effects. For example, researchers have found that eating sugar stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is also released when consuming nicotine, cocaine, heroin, or alcohol. Researchers are still debating the question of whether or not sugar is, in some sense, addictive.

Interestingly, in my most recent discussion with a doctor earlier this week, he specifically said that the dietary information we’ve been depending on for generations is incorrect and that we should avoid excess sugar in our diet rather than fat (keeping in mind total calorie count, of course).

January 12, 2017

QotD: Scientific feuds

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, Science — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

To the outside world the sheer nastiness of scientific feuds often comes as something of a surprise; politics, by contrast, is a relatively polite affair.

Matt Ridley, Genome: The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters, 1999.

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