The Sparkses simply got lucky

July 24th, 2017

While out for a walk with his family in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 9-year-old Jude Sparks tripped over something unusual:

It looked like a massive jaw, and Jude’s younger brother Hunter thought it belonged to a cow skull. His parents, Michelle and Kyle Sparks, thought it resembled the remains of an elephant. So they took a picture of the object to investigate further.

Jude Sparks with Stegomastodon Jaw

“When we went home, we were trying to research,” Ms. Sparks said. “It didn’t match perfectly with elephants, so then we said, O.K., I guess it was something else.”

They sent an email to a biology professor at nearby New Mexico State University, Peter Houde. He recognized the find almost immediately: These were the remains of a long-extinct Stegomastodon, and Jude had tripped over its fossilized tusk.

Dr. Houde said he gets calls and emails about potential finds from time to time — often, they amount to nothing much. But this time, it was different.

“This is really very unusual to find,” he said, explaining that prehistoric remains are so fragile that they typically disintegrate shortly after erosion exposes them to the elements. The Sparkses simply got lucky by visiting the site shortly after strong rains had exposed the fossil.

When Dr. Houde and the Sparks family visited the remains one day after Jude’s discovery, they made sure to bury them again. After months of arranging a team, getting money and securing a permit, the skull was finally excavated in May.

The creature it belonged to lived at least 1.2 million years ago, Dr. Houde estimated.

Construction Time Again was an open rebellion to Jacques Derrida’s openly nihilistic and destructive deconstructionism

July 24th, 2017

Richard Wolstencroft examines Depeche Mode as an Alt-Right band:

The new CD is rather good, by the way, a true return to form after their last less-than-stellar Delta Machine effort. And—surprise, surprise—it’s filled to the brim with political and Alt-Rightish-type messages, memes, misanthropy, and mischief.

But first a little history and a somewhat outrageous statement: I think Depeche Mode are the Rolling Stones or Beatles of the 80s.

[...]

Now apropos the accusations of right-wing or fashy politics. First let’s consider the historical milieu from which they emerged—the New Romantic, New wave and Electro Revolution. In the late 70s/early 80s, fashy right-wing signalling was surprisingly common. It was even very hip to do so. Bands like Joy Division, Kraftwerk, NON, Death In June, Current 93, and Throbbing Gristle, to name just a few, openly embraced fascist and right-wing aesthetics—probably taking after Bowie and his Thin White Duke period. And the lyrics in many songs and publicity shots reflected the same.

Even more commercial bands like Ultravox, Human League, Gary Numan, Japan, Devo, Furniture, Visage, and Talk Talk embraced some fashy style imagery, as well as conservative ideas and lyrics. It was sort of a New Romantic and New Wave counter revolution against the destructive anarchy of punk and it’s aftermath. Funnily enough John Lydon recently said he backed Brexit and thought Trump was punk, so even he has come around and you can some early signs of this in his Flowers of Romance and PiL projects. “I could be Right, I could be wrong”—from Rise, etc.

[...]

After Ian Curtis of Joy Division, an open admirer of fascism, topped himself, the band looked across the channel to Portugal and Salazar’s regime and to Indonesia’s fashy Suharto to choose their new name, New Order. They went on to achieve global success, dominance, and importance, much like the subject of this essay, Depeche Mode.

The members of Mode all emerged from this fashy signalling New Romantic and avant grade electronic milieu. The band’s first album, mainly written by the synth pop guru and genius Vince Clarke of later Yazoo (Yaz in the U.S) and Erasure fame, launched the band with their first album Speak and Spell.

Politics was not so present on the first album, but was more reflected the band’s name a reference to Fast Fashion and New Romance—a pre-Bret-Easton-Ellis type notion that celebrated the decadent 80s love of surface, fast living, young love, good looks, and high times. But, as soon as Vince Clarke left the band and Martin Gore took over the songwriting slot, they began signalling political ideas of both the Left and Right.

This Left and Right synthesis was both progressive and forward-looking for the era, and really added to the band’s power level, intellectual weight, longevity, and the ability of their work to sound as relevant today as ever. Some may laugh at that, but there were recent articles in NME and elsewhere reporting the “findings” of some university boffins that Depeche Mode has the most intelligent lyrics of any band ever.

A Broken Frame, their second LP, featured a Neo-Realist folk type cover, reminiscent of both Nazi art and the Communist “Realism” that was favoured by the Stalin and subsequently China and North Korea. The follow up Construction Time Again was an open rebellion to Jacques Derrida’s openly nihilistic and destructive deconstructionism that was all the rage in the 80s intellectual scene. It also featured a fascistic cover of an Aryan man smashing down a hammer. From that image alone the Alt-Right could have been born. Again, the Left and Right symbolism were being mixed together.

So, “construction time again” it was with Mode, and many of our generation who despised deconstruction and relativist bullshit!

Mode went forward with leaps and bounds after Vince Clarke left, having smash hits like People are People and releasing dark, subversive dance masterpieces with an S&M flavour, like Master and Servant. That song gives off a Nazi vibe that wouldn’t be out of place on The Night Porter.

The album Music for the Masses featured a kind of overarching, fashy motif of a loudspeaker in the wilderness on the cover and an anthem and theme song on the record, Pimpf, given visual expression with the help of the wonderful Anton Corbijn.

This was quite openly the most fascist reference in their whole oeuvre. Pimpf was named after a Nazi Youth Movement, and at this time Martin Gore began making his most fashy statements in the media about politics. There is a side story here I might share.

Gore, the rumour goes, was getting into fascist aesthetics, fashion, and ideas from the mid to late 80s until the early 90s, until he discovered his real father was of mixed race, or something along those lines. Then he went silent on the issue. But he still continued to signal these ideas in his art, albeit in a slightly more diffused and subterranean way. But he was also signalling some left-wing Socialist ideas. With him, it seems, there’s always been a kind of dialectic at play.

They listen at chipmunk speed

July 23rd, 2017

The Wall Street Journal notes that “podcast nuts” find the time to listen to so much material by listening at chipmunk speed — which is a cute phrase, but one that doesn’t make sense in the digital age, since we can now speed up audio without shifting the pitch, too:

A fourfold speedup sounds entirely sane to Max Deutsch, 24, who says he has speed-listened to 69 audiobooks this year. The faster the speed, he found, the more engaged he was. “That’s when I asked myself: I wonder how fast I could actually listen?”

The San Francisco tech-product manager, unable to find apps with speeds over 3x, created Rightspeed, a $2.99 app that accelerates podcasts in nearly unnoticeable 0.1x increments every two minutes. A one-hour podcast that begins at 2x, ends at 5x and takes 17 minutes.

“It’s sort of like the Roger Bannister, four-minute-mile effect,” Mr. Deutsch says. “Until you’re told it’s possible for a human to listen at this speed, you just decide you can’t.”

My first thought was, “no thank you,” but then I accidentally set my podcast app to 1.5x and found it entirely listenable — but definitely not relaxing or pleasant.

Even books running hundreds of thousands of words reach your browser in a second or two

July 23rd, 2017

Ron Unz has made 150 million words of books available through a new system that promises to be fast and responsive:

I’d think that the vast majority of all the serious writing ever produced exists in the form of books, yet currently there does not seem any fully satisfactory means of reading this huge accumulation of content material on the Internet.

Most of those books currently available are provided in PDF-type format, but this is inconvenient for sustained reading, especially on small-screen devices such as smartphones, and particular parts of PDFs also cannot easily be referenced elsewhere or shared. Meanwhile, closed-design Kindle-type books may not be externally linked, nor is their content generally visible to Google and other search engines. The pure HTML-type books found at Project Gutenberg and other websites either occupy inconveniently large webpages or must be split between numerous separate ones, representing chapters or sections.

Therefore, since the beginning of this year, I have been working on a project to produce a new software system aimed at avoiding these difficulties by presenting even very long books in the form of single HTML webpages, but with the individual chapters or sections hidden by default for reading convenience, but available for display at the click of a mouse. The underlying software technology represented an extension of what I had already developed for the UNZ.com website. As a consequence of my design architecture, the system is extremely fast and responsive, with even books running hundreds of thousands of words reaching your browser in just a second or two, and all subsequent operations usually being almost instantaneous. And unlike books displayed in PDF-type formats, the system should function quite well on smartphones and other mobile devices.

Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness

July 22nd, 2017

Arthur C. Brooks’ advice for young people heading out into the world is to be prudent — because prudence means something more than what we’ve been led to believe:

When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition. The connotation of prudence as caution, or aversion to risk, is a modern invention. “Prudence” comes from the Latin “prudentia,” meaning sagacity or expertise. The earliest English uses from the 14th century had little to do with fearfulness or habitual reluctance. Rather, it signified righteous decision making that is rooted in acuity and practical wisdom. Mr. Pieper argued that we have bastardized this classical concept. We have refashioned prudence into an excuse for cowardice, hiding behind the language of virtue to avoid what he calls “the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.” The correct definition, Mr. Pieper argued, is the willingness to do the right thing, even if that involves fear and risk. In other words, to be rash is only one breach of true prudence. It is also a breach to be timid. So which offense is more common today? [...] Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness. On average, we say “no” too much when faced with an opportunity or dilemma.

The math students dropped out because they could not understand anything

July 22nd, 2017

June Huh took a path less taken to the peak of the math world:

Huh was born in 1983 in California, where his parents were attending graduate school. They moved back to Seoul, South Korea, when he was two. There, his father taught statistics and his mother became one of the first professors of Russian literature in South Korea since the onset of the Cold War.

After that bad math test in elementary school, Huh says he adopted a defensive attitude toward the subject: He didn’t think he was good at math, so he decided to regard it as a barren pursuit of one logically necessary statement piled atop another. As a teenager he took to poetry instead, viewing it as a realm of true creative expression. “I knew I was smart, but I couldn’t demonstrate that with my grades, so I started to write poetry,” Huh said.

Huh wrote many poems and a couple of novellas, mostly about his own experiences as a teenager. None were ever published. By the time he enrolled at Seoul National University in 2002, he had concluded that he couldn’t make a living as a poet, so he decided to become a science journalist instead. He majored in astronomy and physics, in perhaps an unconscious nod to his latent analytic abilities.

When Huh was 24 and in his last year of college, the famed Japanese mathematician Heisuke Hironaka came to Seoul National as a visiting professor. Hironaka was in his mid-70s at the time and was a full-fledged celebrity in Japan and South Korea. He’d won the Fields Medal in 1970 and later wrote a best-selling memoir called The Joy of Learning, which a generation of Korean and Japanese parents had given their kids in the hope of nurturing the next great mathematician. At Seoul National, he taught a yearlong lecture course in a broad area of mathematics called algebraic geometry. Huh attended, thinking Hironaka might become his first subject as a journalist.

Initially Huh was among more than 100 students, including many math majors, but within a few weeks enrollment had dwindled to a handful. Huh imagines other students quit because they found Hironaka’s lectures incomprehensible. He says he persisted because he had different expectations about what he might get out of the course.

“The math students dropped out because they could not understand anything. Of course, I didn’t understand anything either, but non-math students have a different standard of what it means to understand something,” Huh said. “I did understand some of the simple examples he showed in classes, and that was good enough for me.”

After class Huh would make a point of talking to Hironaka, and the two soon began having lunch together. Hironaka remembers Huh’s initiative. “I didn’t reject students, but I didn’t always look for students, and he was just coming to me,” Hironaka recalled.

Huh tried to use these lunches to ask Hironaka questions about himself, but the conversation kept coming back to math. When it did, Huh tried not to give away how little he knew. “Somehow I was very good at pretending to understand what he was saying,” Huh said. Indeed, Hironaka doesn’t remember ever being aware of his would-be pupil’s lack of formal training. “It’s not anything I have a strong memory of. He was quite impressive to me,” he said.

As the lunchtime conversations continued, their relationship grew. Huh graduated, and Hironaka stayed on at Seoul National for two more years. During that period, Huh began working on a master’s degree in mathematics, mainly under Hironaka’s direction. The two were almost always together. Hironaka would make occasional trips back home to Japan and Huh would go with him, carrying his bag through airports and even staying with Hironaka and his wife in their Kyoto apartment.

[...]

Meanwhile, Hironaka continued to tutor Huh, working from concrete examples that Huh could understand rather than introducing him directly to general theories that might have been more than Huh could grasp. In particular, Hironaka taught Huh the nuances of singularity theory, the field where Hironaka had achieved his most famous results. Hironaka had also been trying for decades to find a proof of a major open problem — what’s called the resolution of singularities in characteristic p. “It was a lifetime project for him, and that was principally what we talked about,” Huh said. “Apparently he wanted me to continue this work.”

In 2009, at Hironaka’s urging, Huh applied to a dozen or so graduate schools in the U.S. His qualifications were slight: He hadn’t majored in math, he’d taken few graduate-level classes, and his performance in those classes had been unspectacular. His case for admission rested largely on a recommendation from Hironaka. Most admissions committees were unimpressed. Huh got rejected at every school but one, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he enrolled in the fall of 2009.

At Illinois, Huh began the work that would ultimately lead him to a proof of the Rota conjecture.

World War II films aren’t about World War II

July 21st, 2017

Many World War II films reveal at least as much about the times in which they are made as they do about the conflict itself:

“It’s possible that 20 years from now we’ll look back at ‘Dunkirk’ and say, ‘That movie was so 2017,’ and everyone will know exactly what that means,” said film historian Mark Harris, author of “Five Came Back,” a book about Hollywood and World War II that was also the subject of a recent Netflix documentary.

Around the beginning of the war, films served a practical purpose, rallying American solidarity behind the conflict. In 1940, Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent” featured a reporter calling for action with guns and battleships in a scene of a radio broadcast: “It’s as if the lights were out everywhere except in America,” he says. Chaplin, who directed and played the lead speaking role in 1940’s “The Great Dictator” about an Adolf Hitler-like figure, delivers a final speech directly into the camera that includes the line: “Let us fight to free the world.”

During the war, filmmakers churned out movies in close to real time, going from script to screen in as few as six months, said Mr. Harris.

“Films made about World War II during the war are special because we don’t know we’re going to win,” said Thomas Doherty, a professor of American studies at Brandeis University who wrote “Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II.” “I’m always surprised when I look at World War II movies made during the war just how stern the lessons are. The guy you really like is often killed in the film.”

Soon, the anxieties of the atomic age begin to surface. “In Harm’s Way,” a 1965 film starring John Wayne as a naval officer in the Pacific after Pearl Harbor, ends with a shot of the ocean that morphs into what looks like a mushroom cloud. Mixed feelings around the Vietnam War enter the picture with movies like 1967’s “The Dirty Dozen,” a subversive take on conflict told through the story of death-row convicts on a mission to kill Nazis.

Veterans of World War II and Vietnam and civilian Baby Boomers might have taken different messages from 1970’s “Patton,” at once a portrait of a victorious general and a man driven by ego and ambition. Douglas Cunningham, co-editor of “A Wiley Companion to the War Film” and a teacher of film history at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, recalled a scene where Patton slaps the helmet of a soldier suffering from shellshock. “By 1970, you would have had plenty of folks returning from Vietnam traumatized in ways that would have been familiar to some members of that audience,” he said.

In time the Holocaust became a central part of the screen version of World War II, with movies like 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice,” about an Auschwitz survivor, and Spielberg’s 1993 drama “Schindler’s List.”

Movies have furthered an idea that the Holocaust was known to most American soldiers during the war. A scene hinting at that connection occurs in Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” when a Jewish soldier holds up the Star of David on his dog tag and repeats the German word for Jews—“Juden”—to captured enemy soldiers. “This is the way America sees World War II now—that it was all about the Holocaust and the Holocaust was the governing point,” said Robert Burgoyne, professor of film studies at the University of St Andrews and author of two books on U.S. history as told through the movies. “The Holocaust was not known to American culture generally. It is simply a kind of rewriting of World War II according to the contemporary generation’s perspective.”

In 1998, “Saving Private Ryan” presented the war to a new generation, starting with its harrowing opening of Allied troops storming Omaha Beach on D-Day. “In terms of stoking interest in World War II, these are the most important 20 minutes in cinema history,” said Rob Citino, senior historian at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Experts’ brains transform data into action

July 21st, 2017

Neuroscientists Jason Sherwin and Jordan Muraskin are studying what happens inside the brain of a baseball player trying to hit a pitch:

Sherwin and Muraskin think they’ve identified a pattern of brain activation in professional hitters. One key area is the fusiform gyrus, a small spot at the bottom of the brain that is crucial for object recognition. For baseball players, this region is much more active during hitting. Recent data also suggests that in experts the fusiform gyrus may be more connected to the motor cortex, which controls movement. Sajda says this has important implications because the increased connection could indicate that experts’ brains are more efficient at transforming data about the pitch into movement.

The expert hitters also tend to use their frontal cortex — a part of the brain that is generally in charge of deliberate decision-making — less than nonexperts do when hitting. (When we decide to order a baked potato rather than french fries, it’s a good bet that our frontal cortex is deeply involved. However, this part of the brain tends to make decisions more slowly and meticulously; it is not adept at split-second choices.)

This diminished frontal participation is crucial, they say. “Players seem to make the decision in their motor cortex rather than their frontal cortex,” Sajda says. “Their brains recognize and act on pitches more efficiently.”

Another key area that appears to be more energized among expert hitters is the supplementary motor area (SMA), a small region at the top of the brain. It is involved in the coordination of sequences of preplanned movements such as hitting. In expert hitters, this area is especially active as the pitcher winds up and as the pitch approaches the plate. In essence, the researchers say, experts are better at preparing to swing.

Muraskin thinks that the SMA plays a key role in helping hitters choose when not to swing. Many good hitters — the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy is known for this — have a preternatural ability to wait for the “right” pitch, the pitch they can hit. In other words, they excel at inhibiting their swing. “When you choose not to swing, that’s a choice,” Muraskin says. “It is a learned expertise.”

One in five Americans are prescribed opioids

July 20th, 2017

More than one in five people were prescribed an opioid painkiller at least once in 2015 — at least among those insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield:

The report, which covers 30 million people with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance in 2015, supports what experts have been saying: much, if not most, of the opioid overdose epidemic is being driven by medical professionals who are prescribing the drugs too freely.

“Twenty-one percent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) commercially insured members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015,” the report says. “Data also show BCBS members with an opioid use disorder diagnosis spiked 493 percent over a seven year period.”

The report excludes people with cancer or terminal illnesses. What it found fits in with similar surveys of people with Medicare, Medicaid or other government health insurance, said Dr. Trent Haywood, chief medical officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCSBA).

Grass pyramids cut noise pollution

July 20th, 2017

Airport noise travels far in a flat country like the Netherlands:

The tricky thing about dampening airport noise is that the noise is a very low frequency with a very long wavelength, around 36 feet, so a simple barricade will do little to stop the drone. But in 2008, airport staff noticed that noise levels were reduced every fall by an unsuspecting phenomenon: plowed fields. After examining the scene, they discovered that the ridges and furrows of the field were spaced in a way that they partially silenced the hum.

So, the firm H+N+S Landscape Architects teamed up with artist Paul De Kort to produce a series of 150 artificial pyramids of grass, each 6 feet tall and 36 feet apart (the approximate wavelength of airport hubbub). This ingenious method, based on the groundbreaking work of acoustician Ernst Chladni, has effectively reduced noise pollution in the region by half.

Buitenschot Land Art Park

To the amusement of the people in the area, the 80-acre swath of ridges adds entertainment to utility. Paths for pedestrians and bicycles slice between the grass ridges, and De Kort has even incorporated works of art into the park, including “Listening Ear,” a dish with a gap in the middle that amplifies sound, and “Chladni-Pond,” a diamond-shaped pond where park guests can power a wave mechanism with their feet.

I may be screwing this person over

July 19th, 2017

A recent Freakonomics podcast looks at civic-minded Harvard physician Richard Clarke Cabot’s long-running Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, which matched troubled boys with mentors — versus a matched control group who received no mentoring:

They found a null effect. They found there were no differences between the treatment and control boys on offending.

When computers came on the scene and they could analyze the data in finer detail, they made an interesting discovery:

On all seven measures — we’re talking, how long did you live? Were you a criminal? Were you mentally healthy, physically healthy, alcoholic, satisfied with your job; satisfied with your marriage? On all seven measures, the treatment group did statistically, significantly worse off than the control group.

The lesson:

And that’s one of the important things people who are engaged in social interventions really don’t spend much time thinking, “I may be screwing this person over.” They are self-conscious about, “Maybe this won’t work, but I’ve got to try!”

You can get away with as little as one minute of effort

July 19th, 2017

Scientists out of McMaster University recently conducted research on the shortest interval training ever:

To see just how little you can get away with when it comes to interval training for health purposes, the researchers brought in 25 less-than-in-shape young men (future studies will focus on women). They tested their levels of aerobic fitness and their ability to use insulin in the right way to control blood sugar, and biopsied their muscles to see how well they functioned on a cellular level.

Then they split them into a control group, a moderate-intensity-exercise group, and a sprint interval training (SIT) group.

The control group did nothing differently at all.

The moderate-intensity group did a typical I’m-at-the-gym routine of a two-minute warm-up, 45 minutes on the stationary bike, and a three-minute cool down, three times a week.

The SIT group did the shortest interval training ever recorded thus far by science. Participants warmed up for two minutes on a stationary bike, then sprinted full-out for 20 seconds, then rode for two minutes very slowly. They repeated this twice (for a total of three sets). The whole workout took 10 minutes, with only one minute being high-intensity.

All of the groups kept at it for 12 weeks, or about twice as long as most previous studies.

The results?

The control group, as expected, had no change in results.

The two other groups enjoyed results that were basically identical to each other’s. In both, scientists found a 20 percent increase in cardiovascular endurance, good improvements in insulin resistance, and significant increases in the cells responsible for energy production and oxygen in the muscles (thanks, biopsies).

That is remarkable. By the end, the moderate-intensity group had ridden for 27 hours, while the SIT group had ridden for 6 total hours, just 36 minutes of which was arduous.

This means one group spent about 10 total minutes on each workout, while the other spent 50 minutes. The SIT group got the same benefits in a fifth of the time.

The games get increasingly difficult as the player’s heart rate increases

July 18th, 2017

Boston Children’s Hospital researchers have developed videogames for children who need to learn how to control their emotions better:

The videogames track a child’s heart rate, displayed on the screen. The games get increasingly difficult as the player’s heart rate increases. To be able to resume playing without extra obstacles the child has to calm themselves down and reduce their heart rate.

[...]

The impact of the games was tested in two studies.

In a pilot study, they first tested the game in a psychiatric inpatient unit with children with anger management issues, said Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, director of the developmental neuropsychiatry clinic at Boston Children’s. They found improvements in just five days and published the results in 2012 in a study in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry.

“A lot of these kids we are seeing are not interested in psychotherapy and talking,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Heydrich, who is head of the scientific advisory board of Mighteor, and said he has a small amount of equity in the company. “But they will work really hard to get good at a videogame.”

In a subsequent outpatient study the researchers randomized 20 youth to 10 cognitive behavior therapy sessions and videogame therapy that required them to control their heart rate, and 20 youth to CBT with the same videogame but not linked to heart rates. All the adolescents had anger or aggression problems, said Dr. Gonzalez-Heydrich, who was senior author of the study.

Therapists interviewed the children’s primary caregiver before and two weeks after their last therapy session. They found the children’s ratings on aggression and opposition were reduced much more in the group that played the game with the built-in biofeedback. The ratings for anger went down about the same in both groups. The findings were presented at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry conference in 2015. The study is currently under review for publication.

Think you drink a lot?

July 18th, 2017

Think you drink a lot? This chart will tell you:

These figures come from Philip J. Cook’s Paying the Tab, an economically-minded examination of the costs and benefits of alcohol control in the U.S. Specifically, they’re calculations made using the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) data.

Drinks per Capita by Decile

“One consequence is that the heaviest drinkers are of greatly disproportionate importance to the sales and profitability of the alcoholic-beverage industry,” he writes writes. “If the top decile somehow could be induced to curb their consumption level to that of the next lower group (the ninth decile), then total ethanol sales would fall by 60 percent.”

(Hat tip to P.D. Mangan.)

Trevor Butterworth considers this data journalism gone wrong:

If we look at the section where he arrives at this calculation, and go to the footnote, we find that he used data from 2001-2002 from NESARC, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which had a representative sample of 43,093 adults over the age of 18. But following this footnote, we find that Cook corrected these data for under-reporting by multiplying the number of drinks each respondent claimed they had drunk by 1.97 in order to comport with the previous year’s sales data for alcohol in the US. Why? It turns out that alcohol sales in the US in 2000 were double what NESARC’s respondents — a nationally representative sample, remember — claimed to have drunk.

While the mills of US dietary research rely on the great National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to digest our diets and come up with numbers, we know, thanks to the recent work of Edward Archer, that recall-based survey data are highly unreliable: we misremember what we ate, we misjudge by how much; we lie. Were we to live on what we tell academics we eat, life for almost two thirds of Americans would be biologically implausible.

But Cook, who is trying to show that distribution is uneven, ends up trying to solve an apparent recall problem by creating an aggregate multiplier to plug the sales data gap. And the problem is that this requires us to believe that every drinker misremembered by a factor of almost two. This might not much of a stretch for moderate drinkers; but did everyone who drank, say, four or eight drinks per week systematically forget that they actually had eight or sixteen? That seems like a stretch.

In the early stages of Alzheimer’s glycation damages an enzyme called MIF

July 17th, 2017

Abnormally high blood sugar levels are linked to Alzheimer’s, and now the mechanism has become clearer:

Diabetes patients have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy individuals. In Alzheimer’s disease abnormal proteins aggregate to form plaques and tangles in the brain which progressively damage the brain and lead to severe cognitive decline.

Scientists already knew that glucose and its break-down products can damage proteins in cells via a reaction called glycation but the specific molecular link between glucose and Alzheimer’s was not understood.

But now scientists from the University of Bath Departments of Biology and Biochemistry, Chemistry and Pharmacy and Pharmacology, working with colleagues at the Wolfson Centre for Age Related Diseases, King’s College London, have unraveled that link.

By studying brain samples from people with and without Alzheimer’s using a sensitive technique to detect glycation, the team discovered that in the early stages of Alzheimer’s glycation damages an enzyme called MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor) which plays a role in immune response and insulin regulation.

MIF is involved in the response of brain cells called glia to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain during Alzheimer’s disease, and the researchers believe that inhibition and reduction of MIF activity caused by glycation could be the ‘tipping point’ in disease progression. It appears that as Alzheimer’s progresses, glycation of these enzymes increases.