firecat: red panda looking happy (Default) is a collection of science projects that lay people can help with. Most of them involve looking at images and marking things on the images. Apparently it's easier for humans to do some tasks of this sort than computers.

One of my favorites is called Radio Galaxy Zoo. You're shown an image that is an overlay of radio signals on an infrared photo of a distant part of the universe. You click the picture to indicate associations between the radio signals and the infrared signals. I find it easy and calming.

Another easy and calming one involves keeping tabs on penguin populations. Basically you see a photo that may or may not have penguins in it, and if there are penguins, you click them.
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I am trying to take a course on called The Science of Happiness. But I just did 1/5 of the first week's work and I'm not sure how far I'm going to make it. Here is what I tossed into the discussion forum after reading two articles with an increasing sense of outrage. I'm darned if I'm going to make myself unhappy over a course about happiness.

These are the articles I'm commenting one.

Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You by June Gruber
Is a Happy Life Different from a Meaningful One?" by Jason Marsh & Jill Suttie


The June Gruber article and the Jill Suttie/Jason Marsh article are taking correlations and assuming causal relationships without showing their work. June Gruber's article first.

These statements are contradictory, but no mention is made of this fact.
"too much positive emotion—and too little negative emotion—makes people inflexible in the face of new challenges."

"When feeling happy, we also tend to feel less inhibited and more likely to explore new possibilities and take risks."

"positive emotions like happiness signal to us that our goals are being fulfilled, which enables us to slow down"
This statement does not provide any evidence that pride "leads to" mania instead of being associated with mania or mania causing excessive feelings of pride. Isn't mania understood to have a biological component? If so then it would seem more likely that mania could lead to excess pride than that excess pride could lead to mania.
"when we experience too much pride or pride without genuine merit, it can lead to negative social outcomes, such as aggressiveness towards others, antisocial behavior, and even an increased risk of mood disorders such as mania."
In the context of human behavior, "hardwired" means "biologically or genetically determined" rather than "culturally determined." Americans don't have different genes than people who live in other countries, so it's pretty silly to assert "We seem hardwired to pursue happiness, and this is especially true for Americans."

Why would people who are depressed or who have bipolar disorder be more likely to 'pursue' happiness? Perhaps because their conditions make it more difficult for them to feel happy? Suggesting that their striving is causing their disorders seems like blaming the victim (especially since these conditions usually have a biological component).
"the pursuit of happiness is also associated with serious mental health problems, such as depression and bipolar disorder. It may be that striving for happiness is actually driving some of us crazy."
The final paragraph is written with highly questionable assumptions that constantly creep into self-help and pop psychology articles: that a person has finely detailed control over how and when they experience certain emotions and can therefore create an emotional experience as easily as making an omelette, and that it is necessary to constantly apply this sort of control in order to be "healthy."
"First, it is important to experience happiness in the right amount. Too little happiness is just as problematic as too much. Second, happiness has a time and a place, and one must be mindful about the context or situation in which one experiences happiness. Third, it is important to strike an emotional balance. One cannot experience happiness at the cost or expense of negative emotions, such as sadness or anger or guilt. These are all part of a complex recipe for emotional health and help us attain a more grounded perspective."
Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh's article is not as problematic as Gruber's, but it isn't free of the problem of confusing correlation and causation either.
A recent study by Steven Cole of the UCLA School of Medicine, and Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that people who reported more eudaimonic happiness had stronger immune system function than those who reported more hedonic happiness, suggesting that a life of meaning may be better for our health than a life seeking pleasure.
It must be that pursuing meaning causes better health, because it couldn'tpossibly be the case that people who are healthier find it easier to pursue meaningful activities than people who are having immune system problems all the time.
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The professor of my Virology MOOC, Vincent Racaniello, spent the first couple of lectures drilling us on how viruses are completely inanimate, are not even alive (depending on how you define "alive"), and definitely can't think or strategize. This week's lectures have been about how viruses get inside cells and how they avoid attaching to the wrong things or being eaten by stuff inside the cell before they are where they need to be. Each time he describes one of the methods he says "It's really a brilliant strategy." (And he's right. I don't believe in a creator deity, so I think it's a strategy not developed on purpose by any consciousness, but it's a strategy, and it's brilliant.)

The professor of my MOOC "A Brief History of Humankind" theorized that Stone Age humans mostly practiced animism, a spiritual system in which everything in the environment is considered to be alive and to have personality, goals, to be able to communicate, etc.

It certainly does seem that animistic metaphors and ways of thinking are built into the language I speak.
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(Well actually it's from 2006 so I don't know how new it is.)
"How your nervous system sabotages your ability to relate: An interview with Stephen Porges about his polyvagal theory" by Ravi Dykema

The bad: The title of this article sucks, and some of the language is annoying and patronizing, and there's some sexism and heterocentrism, and there's a "Dos and don'ts" graphic that completely misses the point.

The good: Stephen Porges has come up with a theory that explains what a lot of people who have anxiety issues and difficulty with in-person socializing (because of being non-neurotypical or having PTSD or other reasons) already know: it works better if we feel safe, and a lot of us tend feel safer in quiet environments and in environments where we are not constantly pressured to engage in eye contact.

A lot of his conclusions aren't going to be news to people who have these issues, but I figure it could be a good thing that someone is trying to sort out some neurochemical reasons for this stuff, especially because Porges seems to be saying that the same mechanisms operate in people who have "diagnosable disorder" levels of difficulty and people who are anxious in some social situations but it doesn't get to the level of a disorder.

Excerpts:Read more... )
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In the Pipeline is a blog written by an organic chemist who works in pharmaceutical development. He writes with intelligent laypeople in mind. refutes some of the misinformation in a fearmongering Buzzfeed article called "8 foods we eat in the U.S. that are banned in other countries." (The article is actually about chemical additives, some of which are not actually banned in other countries.)

I have felt especially fed up by pseudoscience lately (possibly having something to do with the latest shenanigans of the AMA *cough*). So this post scratched a particularly irritating itch of mine. A couple of excerpts:
If we're going to play the "made from the same atoms" game, well, strychnine and heroin are derived from the same harmful chemicals as the essential amino acids and B vitamins. Those harmful chemicals, in case you're wondering, are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen.
If you're having chicken and rice and you want to worry about arsenic, worry about the rice.
Read the comments if you like to see people named "Anonymous" questioning whether the blogger is a real scientist.

If you like that, I also recommend the posts with the tag "Things I Won't Work With." Some of them are laugh-out-loud hilarious.

None of this is intended to be an opinion about what anyone does or does not eat.
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This essay basically says (my own words) "In our enthusiasm for evidence-based medicine (which uses statistics and large population samples to evaluate treatments and create clinical guidelines), let's make sure not to throw out things doctors learn through many years of practice seeing one patient at a time." It says it really, really well.

"Why do we always end up here? Evidence-based medicine’s conceptual cul-de-sacs and some off-road alternative routes" by Trisha Greenhalgh, M.D. (Journal of Primary Health Care 2012; 4(2))

Researchers in dominant paradigms tend to be very keen on procedure. They set up committees to define and police the rules of their paradigm, awarding grants and accolades to those who follow those rules. This entirely circular exercise works very well just after the establishment of a new paradigm, since building systematically on what has gone before is an efficient and effective route to scientific progress. But once new discoveries have stretched the paradigm to its limits, these same rules and procedures become counterproductive and constraining. That’s what I mean by conceptual cul-de-sacs.
the skilled practice of medicine is not merely about knowing the rules, but about deciding which rule is most relevant. This remains under-acknowledged and undertheorised in the dominant EBM paradigm. Illness may be a narrative, but just as in law, just as in literature, there is no text that is self-interpreting.
I think something sinister is happening, mainly because of the striking circumstantial resonance between the reductionism of EBM and the reductionism of contemporary policymaking.
EBM isn’t inherently wrong, but it plays to a vision of science that is characterised by predictive certainty—a vision that is taught to schoolchildren and perpetuated in the media, a vision of simple logic with readily deduced details and rule-governed consequences. It is this logic, coupled with the values of consumerism, which appear to have prompted the coalition government to develop a one-dimensional metric of human happiness which will light up like a thermometer bulb when policy tickles the public G-spot.
These books that she mentions sound very interesting:
How Doctors Think by Kathryn Montgomery (not the book of the same name by Jerome Groopman)
Complex Knowledge by Professor Hari Tsoukas
Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions by Martha Nussbaum
The Logic of Care by Annemarie Mol
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This article talks about how humans vary in how many copies we have of a gene that codes for a carbohydrate-processing enzyme. Humans who live in societies where starch is a major part of the diet tend to have more copies.

When I say the Paleo diet is too simplistic, I mean that this is evidence human digestion has evolved since the introduction of agriculture. If you are on the Paleo diet and feel happy and healthy, that's cool.
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Recycled linkspam, via my OH:
(very long) Bruce Schneier talks about the difference between feeling secure and actual security, with digressions through innumeracy and irrational decision-making tendencies. I'm not sure I believe all of his theories, but I believe some of them.
(From July) Elaine Wherry, a founder of Meebo (now owned by Google), analyzes the behavior of high-tech recruiters, including that they try to poach people from the very companies who hire them to find new talent.
(From October) Some developers put themselves up for auction instead of relying on recruiters:
Transcript of PBS show. The limitations of fingerprint, bite mark, and blood-spatter analysis (sorry Dexter); the potentials of virtual autopsies and 3D recreations of crime scenes.
The banished words/phrases of 2012 include "yolo" (I've never heard it before), "bucket list" (I've heard that for years, why is it only banished now?), "superfood" (Yaaay!), and "spoiler alert" (hey! that's actually useful!)
firecat: statuette of sumo crouching (sumo)

This article reports on a metastudy that finds people in the category of BMI currently labeled "overweight" have a lower mortality risk than people in the "normal BMI" category.

weight and food are discussed herein )
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This is from a comment I made in [personal profile] xiphias's journal, where there is a discussion of the concepts "theist," "atheist," and "agnostic."

A quote I like on this subject:
For T. H. Huxley, who coined the term in 1869, agnosticism was as demanding as any moral, philosophical, or religious creed. Rather than a creed, though, he saw it as a *method* realized through "the rigorous application of a single principle." He expressed the principle positively as "Follow your reason as far as it will take you," and negatively as: "Do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable."....Huxley called it the "agnostic faith." -- Stephen Batchelor, Buddha Without Beliefs
I'm very much of two minds. Intellectually I'm scientifically oriented and don't believe in things I don't have evidence for. Emotionally, on a subconscious level, I often have a feeling that the universe is benign ("of a kindly disposition"), although I don't really imbue it with personality so I wouldn't call it belief in deity.

I've tried various ways of balancing these things. My current solution to this two-mindedness is a Buddhist practice with no belief in deity and with a goal of bringing me into better contact with whatever benignity does exist (in me and other beings).
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Small medical tech companies have a hard time selling their products because of loopholes in Medicare laws.
Shaw’s retractable syringe hit just as these trends were converging. In fact, the year his product came onto the market, three of the nation’s largest GPOs merged to form a company called Premier, which managed buying for 1,700 hospitals, or about a third of all hospitals in the United States. Shortly thereafter, Premier signed a $1.8 billion, seven-and-a-half-year deal with Becton Dickinson. Under the agreement, member hospitals—among them Dallas-based Presbyterian, where Shaw would hit a brick wall—had to buy 90 percent of their syringes and blood collection tubes from the company. Over the next two years, BD landed similar deals with all but one major GPO. As a result, almost everywhere Shaw turned, he found hospital doors were closed to him.
This law is supposed to discourage sex trafficking, but the real consequences might be harmful to women:
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a new regulation targeting taxicab drivers who knowingly transport people who are engaging in prostitution....Critics of the law have pointed out that the new regulation might lead cab drivers to refuse rides to any woman who are suspected of being prostitutes or sex trafficking victims (based on their appearance and other factors).
The article suggests a better way:
There are many initiatives within anti-domestic violence movement that attempt to build community support for people who are in ongoing, long-term abusive relationships. One example of such strategy is anti-DV organizations partnering with cosmetology schools and practitioners to educate hairstylists and others in the field to become the first line of support and information referral point for victims of domestic violence....

The purpose of the partnership is not so that hairstylists can identify and report suspected abuse victims to the police; it is to build trust and rapport with the women, hear their stories, provide support and encouragement, and when a woman ready and willing, give her resources she needs to escape from violence. What I wish the New York City had done is to adapt a similar strategy to reach out to people in the sex trade through cab drivers, whether or not their circumstances meet the legal definition of “sex trafficking.”
So much for music companies' claims that they care about piracy because they want musicians to get more money: "any recovered funds will be paid to IFPI Sweden and IFPI London for use in future anti-piracy activities,” IFPI writes."
From the DUH files:
In 2007, South Korea temporarily mandated that all websites with over 100,000 viewers require real names, but scrapped it after it was found to be ineffective at cleaning up abusive and malicious comments (the policy reduced unwanted comments by an estimated .09%).
I can't wait!
What if every Olympic sport were photographed like beach volleyball? (Contains a lot of butt and crotch shots, obvs.)
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I failed to record the sources where I found these, but many are from [personal profile] andrewducker and [ profile] moominmuppet
"Old movies" are now movies made in the 70s and 80s, and in a couple of cases, 90s. Ghod.
Some Eagle Scouts are returning their medals in protest of Boy Scouts of America homophobia and religious intolerance.
Complete with equations! Now to get medical schools to also realize that days-long shifts aren't a good idea.
Video of lightning captured at 7,207 images per second
This is about how in the US and some other cultures, children are no longer allowed outdoors unsupervised.
"In the Sydney Morning Herald, a writer recently marveled at seeing children wandering unchaperoned all over Tokyo. When she worried to her Japanese colleague about the lack of adult supervision, he responded, “What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians.” In Japan, 80 percent of kids between 6 and 12 walk to school grownup-free."
Note: I don't judge any parents. But I wonder about the consequences of a culture where children are not allowed to have any time to themselves outdoors.
Interview with Ursula K. Le Guin. Includes the cover of an SF Masterworks version of The Dispossessed that strikes me as the most awesome bookcover ever. This interview also links to an article Le Guin wrote for Harpers in 2008 about reading:
MANATEE SUPERHEROES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Yes I agree, but that doesn't mean people who have survival needs going unmet are happy. So I hope no one uses it as an excuse to continue suppressing the minimum wage and promoting other underpaid work.
How Stereotypes Can Drive Women To Quit Science

And can I just say that I'm disgusted people are criticizing the body of a female swimmer who has won multiple gold medals? (Leisel Jones of Australia). I'm not linking to any of the news articles about it because they quote body hatred, but you can quack it.
Fluoride lowers IQ, or does it? (How science is misreported, especially by people with an agenda.)
I approve.
Olympics organisers have warned businesses that during London 2012 their advertising should not include a list of banned words, including "gold", "silver" and "bronze", "summer", "sponsors" and "London", if they give the impression of a formal connection to the Olympics.
Interesting article about the ramifications of various ways to legalize and regulate marijuana.
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via [personal profile] andrewducker
"This startling fact was first noticed by the British actuary Benjamin Gompertz in 1825 and is now called the 'Gompertz Law of human mortality.' Your probability of dying during a given year doubles every 8 years." The article goes on to explain what we can conclude from this statistic: "By looking at theories of human mortality that are clearly wrong, we can deduce that our fast-rising mortality is not the result of a dangerous environment, but of a body that has a built-in expiration date." (Also, the law refutes the popular notion that thin people don't die.)

via [personal profile] onyxlynx

Face-recognition camouflage:

Four rhetorical techniques the media or government can use to increase fear and hatred in the populace:
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Via [ profile] moominmuppet

"Mortgage defaults are causing health problems in people over 50" by Annalee Newitz

The study was led by University of Maryland epidemiologist Dawn E. Alley, who said:
More than a quarter of people in mortgage default or foreclosure are over 50. For an older person with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, the types of health problems we saw are short term consequences of falling behind on a mortgage that could have long-run implications for that person's health.
While this information may seem like common sense, this study is one of the only examples where such "common sense" has actually been confirmed scientifically.
Well, I'm glad research like this sometimes sees the light of day.

Original study
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The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--And How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson

Alan Sklar's narration is a little heavy, but adequate.

The first part of this book examines the process of scientific advance through the lens of an 1854 cholera outbreak in London. Johnson's research seems thorough and complete, and he does a good job of explaining relevant concepts and facts. From time to time he stirs in a narrative-style story of the outbreak and the two men who were studying it.

He uses this whole to discuss how science advances in fits and starts as new theories compete with old, established ones. I thought this part of the book was fascinating because I see the same process going on today. Johnson also does a good job of describing the role of chance in the story of the outbreak and its solution. (E.g., the solution would not have been found without the intervention both of a medical man trained in anesthesiology and of a clergyman who understood the neighborhood that was affected.)

Another of Johnson's themes is the nature of urban living and urban planning. He describes the patchwork of services, individual laborers, technological advances, and economic realities that made up London's inadequate refuse disposal solution, and explained how understanding the transmission of cholera led to the development of modern sewer systems.

The final third of the book is Johnson's ode to modern cities and human progress. It's not grounded in research the way the historical narrative was. I wasn't very impressed with it and didn't finish it.

In the part I did listen to, there is a lot of "gee whiz" about how the Internet will let you look up your nearest coffee shop and how dense urban living is good for the environment and for population control and for human interaction and progress. I have heard those ideas before and mostly agree with them, and he doesn't present anything new from my point of view, nor does he do a careful job of providing supporting evidence for his arguments.

He also goes on about how squatter cities are really where things are happening these days (apparently drawing on Robert Neuwirth's Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World). I don't know much about this but it seems he glosses over the infrastructure problems (and concomitant pollution problems) such cities have in order to talk about how they are cool because they have multi-story buildings and nightclubs and lots of (*ahem*) economic opportunities.

View all my ( reviews >>
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We Are the Apes Who Pray

To explore the evolution and purpose of the supernatural worldview (in all its forms) as purely a matter of human invention. As an atheist, it is often challenging to foster an uncompromised discussion of religion and spirituality without bowing to the social pressure to 'respect' or treat 'seriously' beliefs and opinions which, ultimately, have no basis in scientific fact. Beginning with the acknowledgement that human beings are, without exception, products of biological evolution, how do we move forward to discuss religion and belief for what they are: neurological, anthropological, psychological and sociological aspects of the human condition whose true value rests in what they reveal about us as apes who pray?

Panelists: Erin Cashier, Catherine Anne Crowe, Janet M. Lafler, Keith R. Watson
Moderator: Richard F. Dutcher

Everyone on the panel was an atheist or agnostic.

Some useful/important things that were said:
Read more... )
firecat: red panda looking happy (wiscon33)

We Are the Apes Who Pray

To explore the evolution and purpose of the supernatural worldview (in all its forms) as purely a matter of human invention. As an atheist, it is often challenging to foster an uncompromised discussion of religion and spirituality without bowing to the social pressure to 'respect' or treat 'seriously' beliefs and opinions which, ultimately, have no basis in scientific fact. Beginning with the acknowledgement that human beings are, without exception, products of biological evolution, how do we move forward to discuss religion and belief for what they are: neurological, anthropological, psychological and sociological aspects of the human condition whose true value rests in what they reveal about us as apes who pray?

Panelists: Erin Cashier, Catherine Anne Crowe, Janet M. Lafler, Keith R. Watson
Moderator: Richard F. Dutcher

Everyone on the panel was an atheist or agnostic.

Some useful/important things that were said:
Read more... )
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Before the presidential election, I was disappointed to see Obama commenting that doing away with "obesity" would go a long way toward solving US health care problems. Some fat activists have been communicating with Obama and emphasizing that focusing on "obesity" is not beneficial; if disease prevention is a concern, then better results would be obtained by focusing on Health At Every Size (HAES) principles, including encouraging movement and whole foods.

I've mostly had my head in the sand about this because I don't trust Obama to get this. But I noticed that Yahoo had a news story a couple of days ago: "Obama wants skinnier feds".

But I read the article pretty closely and I didn't see one single quote attributed to Obama that mentioned weight. The article described the practices of seven "work force innovators who were meeting with the president to discuss their best practices." Only two of these descriptions mentioned weight: Microsoft was reported to have an "obesity program" and Safeway was reported to have a “Healthy Measures” program that was "making employees accountable for their weight."

A recent article in the New York Times, "Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits", mentions "Congress is planning to give employers sweeping new authority to reward employees for...weight loss..." Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa is one of the authors of a proposal that would encourage employers to develop programs that focus on "obesity" among other things that are believed to be related to health. Obama is mentioned only once, and not in the context of saying anything about weight.

On a search on "obesity" turns up 16 references, most of them from reports on state by state "Health Care Community Discussions." But there are no documents coming out of the White House mentioning it, at least if the search form is working properly.

On today there is a blog post "Health Care Reform: Urgency and Determination." It links to a statement by the president about health care reform. One paragraph made reference to "prevention and wellness programs," but the main principles Obama asked Congress to emphasize were:
first, that the rising cost of health care has to be brought down; second, that Americans have to be able to choose their own doctor and their own plan; and third, all Americans have to have quality, affordable health care.
I'm nervous because "prevention and wellness programs" often focus on weight, but so far I'm not seeing any fat-bashing.

Unfortunately although Obama might be using HAES language, the health reform programs that actually get implemented might not use HAES principles. As such programs begin to be implemented fat activists are going to have to be vigilant to encourage the people developing them to turn away from using changes in weight and BMI as symbols of health improvement. They are lousy symbols of health improvement because they just aren't directly related to health the way changes in exercise habits, say, can be.


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