All posts filed under: Debate

Debate

Down side of daydreaming

Daydreaming is one of life’s great joys. You can indulge in it when you’re stuck in a boring meeting or a long queue. This seemingly innocuous pastime, however, is a double-edged sword. Some research has found that it boosts creativity, but other studies suggest that it is bad for your mental health and could lower your intelligence. Before we look at the downside to daydreaming, let’s first look at the positive side. In a studyconducted by psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, undergraduate students were asked to come up with as many uses for everyday objects – such as toothpicks, clothes hangers and bricks – as they could in two minutes, take a 12-minute break, and then repeat the exercise. The students were able to generate more creative uses for the objects the second time around if their break involved completing an undemanding task, which is known to promote more daydreaming, compared with a break filled with a more attention-demanding task, known to reduce daydreaming. Daydreaming has also been linked with feeling socially …

How to help Vaccine Doubters

We are in the golden age for vaccines. We have dozens of highly effective vaccines licensed for infectious disease, promising new technologies contributing to massive advancement of vaccine development, and several promising vaccines on the horizon. Unfortunately, vaccines have been a victim of their own success. With the drastic reduction of once-devastating diseases like whooping cough and measles, it seems like some parents think that the vaccines themselves are the new danger. But the threat isn’t gone; it’s been kept at bay by vaccinations. With clusters of vaccine-hesitant individuals especially worrisome, we need to find effective ways to convince people that the true danger is still disease. Concerns about the chemical components of vaccines, government mandates of vaccinations for school entry, and “Big Pharma” pushing vaccination seem unchanged when facts countering these claims are presented. Most of the existing research focuses on providing education or addressing parental vaccine attitudes, but rarely addresses the values people hold. We know that a host of factors influence how people retain and use facts in their decision-making, and most …

Facts on Diet and Inflammation

In health, as with so many things, our greatest strength can be our greatest weakness. Take our astonishingly sophisticated response to injury and infection. Our bodies unleash armies of cellular troops to slaughter invaders and clear out traitors. Their movements are marshaled by signaling chemicals, such as the interleukins, which tell cells where and when to fight and when to stand down. We experience this as the swelling, redness and soreness of inflammation—an essential part of healing. But when the wars fail to wind down, when inflammation becomes chronic or systemic, there’s hell to pay. I’m looking at you, arthritis, colitis and bursitis, and at you, diabetes, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer, and we’ve known for 20 years that inflammation (along with too much cholesterol) ignites the buildup of plaque in our arteries. Still, no one knew if runaway inflammation could actually pull the trigger on heart attacks and strokes—until this summer. Results from a large, well-designed trial showed that certain high-risk patients suffered fewer of these …

How Constitutions Reveal about How Societies Evolve

Timing can be everything when it comes to successfully expanding constitutional rights. Now, a study looking at how constitutions around the world have evolved has revealed patterns that could help people predict the best moment to introduce such changes. Amendments are generally introduced into a country’s constitution in a certain sequence, the authors report in a paper on the preprint server arXiv, and now under review at a journal. In addition, their computer analyses corroborate previously proposed ideas that the addition of some provisions is heavily influenced by the zeitgeist—the dominant social mores of the time—whereas the adoption of others reflects a country’s colonial history. The study validates computational techniques that could be applied to pressing questions about how constitutions reflect and affect societies, says Mila Versteeg, a legal scholar at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “These methods might be able to move the ball if applied to the right questions,” she says. Organizations and advocates could use the results to push for policies in a more strategic way, say the paper’s authors. “This can …

Should the results of Nazi experiments ever be taken up and used?

During World War II, Nazi doctors had unfettered access to human beings they could use in medical experiments in any way they chose. In one way, these experiments were just another form of mass torture and murder so our moral judgement of them is clear. But they also pose an uncomfortable moral challenge: what if some of the medical experiments yielded scientifically sound data that could be put to good use? Would it be justifiable to use that knowledge? Using data It’s tempting to deflect the question by saying the data are useless – that the bad behaviour must have produced bad science, so we don’t even have to think about it. But there is no inevitable link between the two because science is not a moral endeavour. If scientific data is too poor to use, it’s because of poor study design and analysis, not because of the bad moral character of the scientist. And in fact, some of the data from Nazi experiments is scientifically sound enough to be useful. The hypothermia experiments in …

Whats wrong with Global Capitalism?

Global capitalism, the current epoch in the centuries-long history of the capitalist economy, is heralded by many as a free and open economic system that brings people from around the world together to foster innovations in production, for facilitating exchange of culture and knowledge, for bringing jobs to struggling economies worldwide, and for providing consumers with an ample supply of affordable goods. But while many may enjoy benefits of global capitalism, others around the world — in fact, most — do not. The research and theories of sociologists and intellectuals who focus on globalization, including William I. Robinson, Saskia Sassen, Mike Davis, and Vandana Shiva shed light on the ways this system harms many. GLOBAL CAPITALISM IS ANTI-DEMOCRATIC Global capitalism is, to quote Robinson, “profoundly anti-democratic.” A tiny group of global elite decide the rules of the game and control the vast majority of the world’s resources. In 2011, Swiss researchers found that just 147 of the world’s corporations and investment groups controlled 40 percent of corporate wealth, and just over 700 control nearly all of …

Just another ‘war on drugs’ disaster

The recent passing of a new addition to the British statute books, which will come into effect on April 6th, is the latest in a long line of poorly drafted drug laws. The new law, to act in parallel with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, effectively bans all substances – with the exception of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine – with a “psychoactive effect” on “normal brain functioning”. The awful irony of a UK government exempting two of the most individually and socially harmful substances has not been lost on concerned commentators. So where exactly has this nonsensical law come from? How on earth have we got ourselves into this situation? And will it work? To answer that, it’s worth reflecting on the emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), or so called legal highs. New highs In 2009, club drug researchers first heard talk of the stimulant NPS mephedrone or “M-Cat” at UK clubs and after parties. At that time, there was growing disillusionment among users with the purity of popular illegal club drugs – as one of our interviewees put …

Problem of Hollywood ‘whitewashing’

Actor Ed Skrein’s much applauded withdrawl from the role of Asian character, Major Ben Daimio, in the Hellboy reboot has again highlighted the pervasive practice of “whitewashing” in contemporary Hollywood. Whitewashing is not new. It was a common practice in classical Hollywood where some of its most egregious examples include John Wayne as Ghengis Khan in The Conqueror and Mickey Rooney as Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Audiences know instinctively that whitewashing is bad – hence the criticisms of other whitewashing films and the resulting hashtag #StarringJohnCho that went viral in spring 2016. As a cultural practice, having white people play, replace and stereotype characters of colour obscures and erases their history, agency and power. Although it is fair to reject whitewashing as false and offensive on these ideological grounds, to do so without further scrutiny does not allow us to explore the reasons why it exists. Whitewashing happens in a number of ways. It can be the whitening through casting of a character who was originally a person of colour in historical or …

Would you want Google to know if you have ‘criminal genes’?

Artificial intelligence is already being put to use in the NHS, with Google’s AI firm DeepMind providing technology to help monitor patients. Now I have discovered that Google has met with Genomic England – a company set up by the Department of Health to deliver the 100,000 Genomes Project – to discuss whether DeepMind could get involved. If this were to happen, it could help bring down costs and speed up genetic sequencing – potentially helping the science to flourish. But what are the risks of letting a private company have access to sensitive genetic data? Genomic sequencing has huge potential – it could hold the key to improving our understanding of a range of diseases, including cancer, and eventually help find treatments for them. The 100,000 Genomes Project was set up by the government to sequence genomes of 100,000 people. And it won’t stop there. A new report from the UK’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, is calling for an expansion of the project. However, a statement by the Department of Health in response …

Clean eating can damage children’s health

Clean eating seems ideal for parents who want to establish their children’s healthy habits early on. It’s no surprise really: “clean eating” is the perfect buzz term for parents who are faced with supermarket shelves full of baby and toddler food which is high in sugar content and low in nutritional value. But while some clean eating plans are focused on a balanced diet – with less processed and more whole foods – others are extreme. Some advise cutting out things such as gluten, or whole food groups, such as grains and dairy – all the while advising us to consume so-called “super-foods” to maximise health and well-being. There’s a reason why it’s called a “balanced” diet, and subscribing to any extreme nutritional plan can adversely affect child health on multiple levels. Excluding major food groups from our diet at any age can lead not only to inadequate calorie intake, but potentially malnutrition, and deficiencies in minerals and vitamins. Food groups Gluten – a protein found in cereals like wheat, rye and barely – appears …