Category Archives: Health

British scientists call for debate on ‘designer babies’

James Gallagher reports for BBC News:

BabiesDr Tony Perry, a pioneer in cloning, has announced precise DNA editing at the moment of conception in mice.

He said huge advances in the past two years meant “designer babies” were no longer HG Wells territory.

Other leading scientists and bioethicists argue it is time for a serious public debate on the issue.’

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China’s gender imbalance “most serious and prolonged in the world”

Xavier Symons writes for Bio Edge:

‘China has by far the greatest gender imbalance of any nation in the world, with conservative estimates from 2014 putting the ratio at 115.8 males to every 100 females.

The peak body responsible for family planning in the country, the National Health and Family Planning Commission, this week made its strongest statement yet on the crisis.’

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Why Animals Eat Psychoactive Plants

Johann Hari, author of Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, recently published an excerpt from his book at Boing Boing:

‘The United Nations says the drug war’s rationale is to build “a drug-free world — we can do it!” U.S. government officials agree, stressing that “there is no such thing as recreational drug use.” So this isn’t a war to stop addiction, like that in my family, or teenage drug use. It is a war to stop drug use among all humans, everywhere. All these prohibited chemicals need to be rounded up and removed from the earth. That is what we are fighting for.

I began to see this goal differently after I learned the story of the drunk elephants, the stoned water buffalo, and the grieving mongoose. They were all taught to me by a remarkable scientist in Los Angeles named Professor Ronald K. Siegel.’

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Why We Need to Abolish Competition and Embrace Arguments: Interview with Margaret Heffernan

Abby Martin interviews Margaret Heffernan, author of ‘Willful Blindness’ and ‘A Bigger Prize’, about the destructive impact of competition and alternative models of incentivizing people to work together for the greater good.’ (Breaking the Set)

The secret history of Special Brew

BBC Magazine reports:

Tins of Special Brew‘It was first brewed in honour of Winston Churchill. Today “Spesh” or, as it is often referred to in headlines, “tramp juice“, is most commonly associated with getting drunk incredibly cheaply. Now Special Brew – which at 9% ABV contains 4.5 units of alcohol per can – will become less potent in 2015. Brewer Carlsberg says that it will sign up to a UK government-led pledge that no drink should contain more than four units, a man’s maximum recommended daily intake.’

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Why the modern world is bad for your brain

Daniel J. Levitin has an excerpt from his latest book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, featured in The Guardian: 

Daniel J Levitan‘Our brains are busier than ever before. We’re assaulted with facts, pseudo facts, jibber-jabber, and rumour, all posing as information. Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting. At the same time, we are all doing more. Thirty years ago, travel agents made our airline and rail reservations, salespeople helped us find what we were looking for in shops, and professional typists or secretaries helped busy people with their correspondence. Now we do most of those things ourselves. We are doing the jobs of 10 different people while still trying to keep up with our lives, our children and parents, our friends, our careers, our hobbies, and our favourite TV shows.

Our smartphones have become Swiss army knife–like appliances that include a dictionary, calculator, web browser, email, Game Boy, appointment calendar, voice recorder, guitar tuner, weather forecaster, GPS, texter, tweeter, Facebook updater, and flashlight. They’re more powerful and do more things than the most advanced computer at IBM corporate headquarters 30 years ago. And we use them all the time, part of a 21st-century mania for cramming everything we do into every single spare moment of downtime. We text while we’re walking across the street, catch up on email while standing in a queue – and while having lunch with friends, we surreptitiously check to see what our other friends are doing. At the kitchen counter, cosy and secure in our domicile, we write our shopping lists on smartphones while we are listening to that wonderfully informative podcast on urban beekeeping.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Although we think we’re doing several things at once, multitasking, this is a powerful and diabolical illusion. Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT and one of the world experts on divided attention, says that our brains are “not wired to multitask well… When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost in doing so.” So we’re not actually keeping a lot of balls in the air like an expert juggler; we’re more like a bad amateur plate spinner, frantically switching from one task to another, ignoring the one that is not right in front of us but worried it will come crashing down any minute. Even though we think we’re getting a lot done, ironically, multitasking makes us demonstrably less efficient.’

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Why reading paper books is better for your mind

Naomi S. Baron writes for The Washington Post:

‘[…] Over 92 percent of those I surveyed said they concentrate best when reading a hard copy. The explanation is hardly rocket science. When a digital device has an Internet connection, it’s hard to resist the temptation to jump ship: I’ll just respond to that text I heard come in, check the headlines, order those boots that are on sale.

Readers are human. If you dangle distractions in front of us (or if we know they are just a click or swipe away), it’s hard not to take the bait.’

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WHO: Ebola cases cross 20,000 in West Africa

‘More than 20,000 people have been infected by Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea since the outbreak of the virus began, the World Health Organisation has said. Gregory Hartl, from the WHO, says urgent work will have to be done to bring down the number of cases.’ (Al Jazeera English)

John Perkins on Embracing Cuba, TPP Kiss of Death & Restoring the Life Economy

Abby Martin interviews Author and Activist, John Perkins, discussing the economic impact of the US’ new policy towards Cuba as well as the damage that international free trade agreements do to third world economies.’ (Breaking the Set)

Cops are the most obese workers in America, study reveals

Tim McFarlan reports for the Daily Mail:

‘Their job is to protect and serve – but it seems some police officers interpret this as an excuse to enjoy too many extra servings at the lunch table.

A study has revealed US cops have the highest rates of obesity among any profession in the country.

Along with firefighters and security guards, nearly 41 per cent of boys in blue are obese, according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.’

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New Study Raising Alarms About ‘Superbugs’

Inside an internet addiction treatment centre in China

Chris Baraniuk writes for New Scientist:

‘In China, if you are a kid who spends a long time online, you had better watch out. Your parents may send you off for “treatment”.

At the Internet Addiction Treatment Centre in Beijing, children must take part in military-style activities, including exercise drills and the singing of patriotic songs. They are denied access to the internet. One of the first experiences internees undergo is brain monitoring through electroencephalography (EEG). The programme is run by psychologist Tao Ran, who claims the brains of internet and heroin addicts display similarities.’

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Study: Vast Majority of Vegetarians and Vegans Return To Meat

Fast Company reports:

‘After decades of a growing appetite for meat, U.S. consumption is finally dropping after hitting “peak meat” a decade ago. But while many people are eating less meat, giving it up totally is much harder. Few people stick with their decision to become vegetarian or vegan.

In an attempt to move animal-free diets “from the margins more towards the center,” the Humane Research Council just put out the first study to put numbers to the lapsed vegetarian phenomenon. Their main takeaway is essentially what people have said for years: getting people to reduce their meat and dairy intake will be more effective overall than demanding “purity,” or complete elimination of animal products from their diet.’

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BPA in Cans and Plastic Bottles Linked to Quick Rise in Blood Pressure

Anahad O’Connor reports for The New York Times:

‘People who regularly drink from cans and plastic bottles may want to reconsider: A new study shows that a common chemical in the containers can seep into beverages and raise blood pressure within a few hours.

The research raises new concerns about the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA, which is widely found in plastic bottles, plastic packaging and the linings of food and beverage cans. Chronic exposure to BPA, as it is commonly known, has been associated with heart disease, cancer and other health problems. But the new study is among the first to show that a single exposure to the chemical can have a direct and fairly immediate impact on cardiovascular health.

The study found that when people drank soy milk from a can, the levels of BPA in their urine rose dramatically within two hours – and so did their blood pressure. But on days when they drank the same beverage from glass bottles, which don’t use BPA linings, there was no significant change in their BPA levels or blood pressure.’

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Prenatal Exposure to Common Chemicals Linked to Lower IQ in Kids

Agata Blaszczak-Boxe reports for Live Science:

‘The children of women who are exposed to higher levels of chemicals called phthalates during pregnancy may have lower IQ scores than those whose mothers are exposed to lower levels of those chemicals, according to a new study. Phthalates are common in products such as plastics and the fragrances used in shampoos, air fresheners and dryer sheets.

In the study, researchers followed 328 women in New York City who were either African-American or Dominican-American, as well as their children, who were born between 1998 and 2006. The researchers measured the levels of four types of phthalates in the women’s urine, and looked at the children’s IQ scores at age 7.

They found that the children of mothers with the highest urine levels of two chemicals — called di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP) — had IQ scores that were about 6 to 8 points lower than those of the children whose mothers had the lowest levels of those chemicals in their urine.’

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Henry Kissinger’s secret role in the Bhopal tragedy

Rob Edwards reports for The Scottish Herald:

‘Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger put pressure on the Indian Government to agree a legal settlement that let the American chemical company Union Carbide off the hook for the 25,000 people killed by the toxic gas disaster in Bhopal 30 years ago.

A letter released under freedom of ­information legislation reveals that the late Indian steel magnate JRD Tata wrote secretly to the Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1988 conveying ­Kissinger’s concern about the delays in reaching agreement on the compensation to be paid to victims.

At the time, Kissinger – who became notorious around the world in the 1970s for being involved in some of most hawkish US foreign policy decisions – was an adviser to Union Carbide and other major US corporations.’

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30 Years After Bhopal Gas Leak, U.S. Company Responsible Remains Unpunished: Interview with Vijay Prashad

Of mice and men: Comparing genetics raises new questions about reliability of rodent studies

David Warmflash reports for Genetic Literacy Project:

mice‘Whether for cancer research, heart disease, strokes, the effects of different diet, drug research, or animal evolution, we are accustomed to hearing about major medical and biological discoveries announced with results of studies using laboratory mice. The areas just mentioned constitute just the tip of the iceberg; throughout biological science, laboratory mice are ubiquitous. They are used to make the transition from cell culture, in in vitro work, to studies on human subjects with direct clinical implications. There are some exceptions, of course. Along the spectrum from cell to clinic, mice often are not useful for investigations involving new surgical procedures, treatment of head trauma, and various other areas, which require larger animals, such as dogs or primates. Excluding selected areas, though, the laboratory mouse really lies at the foundation of numerous life science studies, but is it an appropriate model in all cases?’

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Most Brits don’t eat five a day (unless you count chocolate)

Georgie Keate reports for The Times:

Fruit and vegetables‘More than three million people have not eaten any greens in the past week with most of them believing chocolate, cheese and meat are part of their five fruit and vegetables a day.

A recent study has found that despite the Department of Health issuing guidelines in 2002, men eat only 2.4 portions a day on average, while women are only slightly healthier, eating 2.7 daily portions.

Birds Eye, which commissioned the reserach, discovered that 10 per cent of adults were earting fewer greens than they did as a child, while 11 per cent claimed bad memories of school dinner.’

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Land of Waste: How Albania Became Europe’s Rubbish Tip

‘Albania is slowly sinking under the weight of Europe’s waste. This report investigates an industry of waste that is both necessary for survival, yet a threat for many Albanians. For how long can it continue? “For us, the Roma, it is our only work, because nobody will hire us”, says Renato, a scavenger earning half the average national wage. In the “dustbin of Europe”, countries such as Serbia, Slovenia and Russia dump their scrap in vast quantities. Yet Albania’s infrastructure is insufficient for dealing with this often toxic waste. Despite efforts to restrict imports, waste continues to enter under the guise of “raw material”. In towns such as Elbasan, home to a large metallurgical plant, the poor control on the industry is beginning to destroy the health of its workers. As one doctor describes, “On one hand, the community has been here for a long time, and needs work. But on the other, it cannot afford the sacrifice”.’ (Journeyman Pictures)

Belgian euthanasia group tours Auschwitz

Michael Cook writes for BioEdge:

‘About 70 people accompanied Belgian euthanasia doctor Wim Distelmans on his tour of Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination camp in German-occupied Poland, last month. The German magazine Der Spiegel ran a long, reflective feature which attempted to explain why he dared to link euthanasia to Nazi atrocities.

The tour was highly controversial. In Antwerp ultraorthodox Jews were outraged that Dr Distelmans had described Auschwitz as “an inspiring venue”. They called him “a professional killer”. The deputy director of the Auschwitz memorial commented: “We feel that the attempt to link the history of Auschwitz with the current debate about euthanasia is inappropriate.”

Distelmans was not deterred by the protests. His point was that the Nazis violated autonomy while he esteems it. He is killing patients out of humility and love. “What does this mean to us?”, Distelmans asked the tour group.’

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U.S. Buys Up Ebola Gear, Leaving Little for Africa

Drew Hinshaw and Jacob Bunge report for The Wall Street Journal:

‘[…] For months, companies like DuPont Co. have struggled to fill all the orders coming in for the niche products—chemical suits, boot covers, face masks, hoods—that make up what doctors call PPEs, or Personal Protective Equipment. Now, PPE orders are piling up faster than DuPont and others can fill them.

One of the demand spikes isn’t coming from West Africa—but from America. U.S. hospitals and government agencies have strained PPE supplies in some regions, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. This month, the CDC itself said it ordered $2.7 million in PPEs, a collection it calls a Strategic National Stockpile. CDC guidelines state American hospitals and firefighters need PPEs on hand, in case a potential Ebola suspect wanders into an emergency room or dials 911.

The shortage shows how the deep anxiety over Ebola’s arrival in the U.S. has complicated efforts to fight it in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Ebola has sickened more than 15,000 people in West Africa, more than 5,400 of them fatally. The U.S. has had six cases. Two people died.’

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Crickets Are The Latest Health Food Craze

Ag-tech: High-tech farming poised to change the way the world eats

Heather Somerville reports for the Contra Costa Times:

‘Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming — the world’s oldest industry — with an audacious and ambitious agenda: to make sure there is enough food for the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2100, do it without destroying the planet and make a pretty penny along the way.

Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app.

“The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.”‘

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Possible alternative to antibiotics developed – but skeptics remain

Sonya Angelica Diehn reports for DW:

Woman examining a pill‘A study published in the journal “Nature Biotechnology” unveils an engineered substance, which its makers hope will present an alternative to antibiotics in the fight against bacterial infection.

Resistance to antibiotics is a serious, growing worldwide problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) in a 2014 report warned that “antibiotic resistance is no longer a prediction for the future; it is happening right now, across the world.”

Although any new substance would have to undergo a lengthy process before it can be used as medicine, the Geneva-based biomedical startup Lascco has already announced clinical trials for next year. Some doctors and scientists stress that the new substance will likely not be able to replace the use of antibiotics.’

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FIXED (Documentary Trailer): Where do we draw the line on bioehancement?

‘A new American documentary examines the ethical issues surrounding human enhancement for people with disabilities. The documentaryFIXED, contains interviews with a range of physically impaired people, as well as specialists in bioehancement. It presents an exciting picture of technological advance, while at the same time giving voice to scepticism and concerns. Overall the documentary presents the bioehancement project in a favorable light. Some may disagree with its conclusions, but it is a resource for understanding the ethical issues surrounding emerging enhancement technologies.’ (BioEdge)

The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed

Adrian Chen reports for Wired:

[…] So companies like Facebook and Twitter rely on an army of workers employed to soak up the worst of humanity in order to protect the rest of us. And there are legions of them—a vast, invisible pool of human labor. Hemanshu Nigam, the former chief security officer of MySpace who now runs online safety consultancy SSP Blue, estimates that the number of content moderators scrubbing the world’s social media sites, mobile apps, and cloud storage services runs to “well over 100,000”—that is, about twice the total head count of Google and nearly 14 times that of Facebook.

This work is increasingly done in the Philippines. A former US colony, the Philippines has maintained close cultural ties to the United States, which content moderation companies say helps Filipinos determine what Americans find offensive. And moderators in the Philippines can be hired for a fraction of American wages. Ryan Cardeno, a former contractor for Microsoft in the Philippines, told me that he made $500 per month by the end of his three-and-a-half-year tenure with outsourcing firm Sykes. Last year, Cardeno was offered $312 per month by another firm to moderate content for Facebook, paltry even by industry standards.’

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Did Military Burn Pits Make U.S. Soldiers Sick?

Noam Chomsky: The Other Side of Technology

Why Adele was right to ignore Bob Geldof and Band Aid

Bryony Gordon writes for The Telegraph:

[…] Nobody wants a world full of Ebola, but nor do I want a world full of Malaria and HIV and Tuberculosis and numerous other diseases – not to mention conditions such as hunger and poverty – that are destroying the lives of many millions of Africans every day.

Certainly, I don’t want to be told how to behave philanthropically by a man worth an estimated £32 million, a man who is said to use tax avoidance schemes (it is telling that when a journalist asked him two years ago how much tax he paid, Geldof exploded at her, saying: ‘My time? Is that not a tax?’ Well, no, Bob, it isn’t).

I don’t want to be implored to give charitably by a band that travels in separate private jets because they don’t get on (One Direction), or by a man who avoids Irish taxes while simultaneously telling the Irish government to help developing countries (Bono).

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