October 23, 2012
October 22, 2012
Last week, Houston lost one of its remarkable citizens -- S. Ward "Trip" Casscells -- to prostrate cancer at the age of 60. Dr. Casscells was a renowned cardiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center in the Texas Medical Center who spent the final ten years of his life battling prostrate cancer while serving his country in a variety of important roles. The video below provides a glimpse of his incredible story. We in Houston are blessed to have known Trip. He will be missed.
October 18, 2012
October 16, 2012
October 15, 2012
October 8, 2012
October 5, 2012
September 8, 2012
September 7, 2012
Lynda Chin of M.D. Anderson's Department of Genomic Medicine.
September 3, 2012
August 29, 2012
August 27, 2012
August 23, 2012
August 22, 2012
August 20, 2012
H/T Farnam Street
August 13, 2012
August 12, 2012
H/T Farnam Street.
August 9, 2012
August 7, 2012
August 1, 2012
July 30, 2012
July 23, 2012
From the International Space Station.
July 20, 2012
Following on Peter Attia's lecture from earlier this week, Gary Taubes lucidly explains in ten minutes how bad science led to poor governmental policy on nutrition.
July 19, 2012
July 18, 2012
When you have a spare hour, this Peter Attia, M.D. lecture on how dubious governmental dietary policies arose from research that was not based on well-controlled science is well worth a listen.
July 16, 2012
July 12, 2012
July 10, 2012
July 9, 2012
July 5, 2012
July 4, 2012
The remarkable story of Elyn Saks.
June 29, 2012
June 28, 2012
June 24, 2012
June 20, 2012
June 19, 2012
June 18, 2012
June 9, 2012
Clear Thinkers favorite Art DeVany's Zurich Minds lecture on the basis of his Evolutionary Fitness lifestyle. Watch the videos below in order because Part 1 is incorrectly titled as Part 2 and Part 2 is incorrectly titled as Part 1.
June 8, 2012
The slides for this lecture are here.
June 5, 2012
H/T NY Times Economix.
June 4, 2012
June 1, 2012
May 30, 2012
May 10, 2012
May 9, 2012
May 6, 2012
Part IV of Dr. Robert Lustig's and UC-San Francisco'svery good series on the alternative hypothesis that obesity is a growth disorder in which fat accumulation is determined not simply by the balance of calories consumed and expended, but by the effect of specific nutrients on the hormonal regulation of fat metabolism.
May 3, 2012
April 30, 2012
April 25, 2012
Clear Thinkers favorite Dr. Robert Lustig eloquently explains in these videos the increasing scientific evidence supporting the alternative hypothesis that obesity is a growth disorder in which fat accumulation is determined not simply by the balance of calories consumed and expended, but by the effect of specific nutrients on the hormonal regulation of fat metabolism.
Here is Part I:
And Part III:
April 12, 2012
April 5, 2012
H/T Jason Kottke
April 3, 2012
In case you missed it on Sunday evening, the 60 Minutes segment that addresses a health issue that has been a frequent topic here -- is sugar toxic?
April 2, 2012
March 28, 2012
A NASA visualization reflecting ocean surface currents around the world from June 2005 through December 2007.
March 27, 2012
M.I.T. professor Donald Sadoway explains the challenges of bringing renewable energy to market.
March 26, 2012
March 15, 2012
March 12, 2012
March 11, 2012
March 6, 2012
March 1, 2012
February 29, 2012
February 27, 2012
Nobel Prize winner Peter Agre talks about the power of medicine, even in regard the knotty problem of North Korea.
February 23, 2012
February 13, 2012
Physicist Michael Nielson explains Michael Nielsen explains why scientists should embrace new technological tools for collaboration that will facilitate discoveries. A related Q & A is here.
February 8, 2012
February 3, 2012
February 2, 2012
January 30, 2012
Neuroscientist Terry Sejnowski discusses the complexities of the brain. H/T Art DeVany.
January 29, 2012
January 25, 2012
Cancer researcher David Agus follows this 2009 TED video with this recent TEDMED video on the potential for improving preventive medicine using genomics, technology and better analysis of research data.
January 16, 2012
January 13, 2012
January 12, 2012
January 10, 2012
January 7, 2012
January 3, 2012
January 2, 2012
December 21, 2011
December 12, 2011
December 11, 2011
H/T Greg Mankiw.
December 7, 2011
The University of Iowa internist tells her fascinating story on battling M.S.
December 5, 2011
December 3, 2011
December 2, 2011
November 29, 2011
November 23, 2011
November 15, 2011
Recommendations from Rice University's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters (SSPEED) Center. But do we have enough financial clout to pull this off while financing an array of expensive urban boondoggles?
November 14, 2011
November 11, 2011
November 10, 2011
November 8, 2011
Harvard researcher Jay Bradner discusses his approach to open-source cancer research.
November 6, 2011
November 2, 2011
November 1, 2011
The bottom line is that we simply do not know enough about Jobs' circumstances with this particularly pernicious form of cancer to know whether his nine-month flirtation with quacks before submitting to the Whipple surgical procedure made any difference in his death. The Whipple procedure can save the lives of a very small percentage of pancreatic cancer patients, but we do not know if Jobs' tumor was of the specific type that can be effectively eradicated through that procedure. About the only sure thing that can be said about Jobs' foray into the ephemeral field of "alternative medicine" is that it didn't help his situation.
The optimistic view of therapeutic intervention in medicine that post-World War II doctors embraced has resulted in enormous advances in our understanding on how to cure, or mollify the effects of, disease.
But the real lesson of Steve Jobs' cancer is that there remains much more that we simply do not know.
October 30, 2011
October 25, 2011
Dr. Eric J. Ahlskog of The Mayo Clinic's Department of Neurology discusses his article appearing in the September 2011 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings on the effect of physical exercise as a disease-modifying treatment for dementia and the aging brain (H/T Art DeVany).
October 23, 2011
October 21, 2011
October 16, 2011
October 10, 2011
Regardless of what you think about Al Gore's books, the format of his latest is pretty cool.
October 9, 2011
October 6, 2011
October 5, 2011
October 4, 2011
September 30, 2011
September 25, 2011
H/T Paul Kedrosky.
September 9, 2011
This Chris Sorensen/Macleans.CA article provides an excellent overview of an issue that is of interest to all air travelers - that is, the increasing number of loss-of-control airline accidents over the past five years:
Statistically speaking, modern avionics have made flying safer than ever. But the crash of [Turkish] Flight 1951 is just one of several recent, high-profile reminders that minor problems can quickly snowball into horrific disasters when pilots don't understand the increasingly complex systems in the cockpit, or don't use them properly. The point was hammered home later that year when Air France Flight 447 stalled at nearly 38,000 feet and ended up crashing into the Atlantic, killing all 228 on board. . . [. . .]
Why is it happening? Some argue that the sheer complexity of modern flight systems, though designed to improve safety and reliability, can overwhelm even the most experienced pilots when something actually goes wrong. Others say an increasing reliance on automated flight may be dulling pilots' sense of flying a plane, leaving them ill-equipped to take over in an emergency. Still others question whether pilot-training programs have lagged behind the industry's rapid technological advances.
It's a vexing problem for airlines, and a worrisome one for their customers. Unlike mechanical failures that can be traced to flawed design or poor maintenance, there is no easy fix when experienced and highly trained pilots make seemingly inexplicable decisions that end with a US$250-million airplane literally falling out of the sky. "The best you can do is teach pilots to understand automation and not to fight it," [flight simulation expert Sunjoo] Advani says, noting that the focus in recent years has, perhaps myopically, been on simplifying and speeding up training regimes, secure in the knowledge that planes have never been smarter or safer. "We've worked ourselves into a little bit of a corner here. Now we have to work ourselves back out."
Read the entire article. And then have a stiff drink before you get on your next commercial flight.
September 8, 2011
H/T Guy Kawasaki.
September 7, 2011
September 6, 2011
August 7, 2011
The late Duke University philosophy professor Rick Roderick talks about, among other things, the underpinnings of the drug culture of the United States.
July 29, 2011
Marcia Angell, an internist and pathologist who is a senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, has recently written two lengthy book reviews for The New York Review of Books -- The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why? and The Illusions of Psychiatry - that has re-ignited a debate among medical professionals regarding the effectiveness of modern psychiatry.
Dr. Angell reviews three books that challenge the effectiveness of psychiatric medications and the hypothesis that disordered neurotransmitters cause psychiatric ailments. Irving Kirsch's The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth analyzes research on antidepressant medications and concludes that the vast majority of their impact stems from the placebo effect.
Roger Whitaker's Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America is even more disturbing in that Whitaker contends that the huge increase in diagnosis of serious psychiatric illness is actually caused by the detrimental effects of the medications. According to Whitaker, the problem isn't that medications don't help, it's that they make the problem worse. Yowza!
Finally, in Dr. Angell's second article, she takes on the entire profession of psychiatry in discussing Daniel Carlet's Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry -- A Doctor's Revelations About a Profession in Crisis and the American Psychiatric Association's controversial "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" a/k/a "DSM."
As Harriet Hall points out, Dr. Angell's criticisms - particularly in regard to DSM - borders on psychiatry-bashing, which is of dubious merit. Sure, psychiatry is less science-based than other medical fields, but it has undeniably saved lives and improved the quality of life of many tortured souls. Are we simply to dispense with that progress?
Nevertheless, Dr. Angell reviews - as well as the books that are their subjects - provide a more nuanced view of human interaction that takes into consideration both the importance of both the "brain" and the "mind" without forcing a choice based on competing pseudo-truths.
These are discussions that need to be nurtured, both for the benefit of developing better protocols for patients afflicted with such disorders and for a society that still struggles on how best to deal with the social impact of such disorders.
July 25, 2011
The space shuttle Atlantis' landing this past Thursday was the end of an era of U.S. space exploration.
Lawrence Krauss contends that the space shuttle was a dud and that we can do better in space exploration. Former shuttle program manager Wayne Hale disagrees and believes that the shuttle program was worthwhile.
Meanwhile, Neil deGrasse Tyson asserts in the video below that the space shuttle program was never really about the promotion of science in the first place.
July 22, 2011
July 8, 2011
June 25, 2011
June 16, 2011
June 15, 2011
Daniel Kraft provides an entertaining overview of medical innovations that will likely redefine the way in which doctors diagnose their patients' medical problems.
May 23, 2011
One of the nicest compliments that I have ever received came from from a court clerk who told me that the court staff enjoyed having me in their court because I always came with a smile on my face. Ron Gutman provides good thoughts on smiles to begin the week.
May 15, 2011
May 4, 2011
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert W. Fogel has been leading a research project over the past 30 years analyzing the changes in the size and shape of the human body in relation to economic, social and other changes throughout history.
As this NY Times article notes, the conclusions being reached from the project are fascinating:
"The rate of technological and human physiological change in the 20th century has been remarkable," Mr. Fogel said . . . "Beyond that, a synergy between the improved technology and physiology is more than the simple addition of the two."
This "technophysio evolution," powered by advances in food production and public health, has so outpaced traditional evolution, the authors argue, that people today stand apart not just from every other species, but from all previous generations of Homo sapiens as well. [. . .]
To take just a few examples, the average adult man in 1850 in America stood about 5 feet 7 inches and weighed about 146 pounds; someone born then was expected to live until about 45. In the 1980s the typical man in his early 30s was about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighed about 174 pounds and was likely to pass his 75th birthday.
Across the Atlantic, at the time of the French Revolution, a 30-something Frenchman weighed about 110 pounds, compared with 170 pounds now. And in Norway an average 22-year-old man was about 5 ¬Ĺ inches taller at the end of the 20th century (5 feet 10.7 inches) than in the middle of the 18th century (5 feet 5.2 inches). . .
Despite this accelerated physical development over the past 150 years, one factor that the researchers did not anticipate is threatening to derail the progress:
One thing Mr. Fogel did not expect when he first started his research was that "overnutrition" would become the primary health problem in the United States and other Western nations. Obesity, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension and some cancers, threatens to upset the links in the upward march of size, health and longevity that he and his colleagues have spent years documenting.
And as this recent post notes, that "overnutrition problem" is not going to be an easy one to solve.
April 21, 2011
Jim Baggott talks about his new book on the history of the quantum revolution.
March 30, 2011
Daniel Simons lucidly explains what most trial lawyers know instinctively -- an eyewitness is often quite unreliable.
March 29, 2011
Following on this post from last fall, check out this Scientific American excerpt of the new book, Demand Better! Revive Our Broken Health Care System (Second River Healthcare Press, March 2011) by Sanjaya Kumar, chief medical officer at Quantros, and David B. Nash, dean of the Jefferson School of Population Health at Thomas Jefferson University:
Most of us are confident that the quality of our healthcare is the finest, the most technologically sophisticated and the most scientifically advanced in the world. And for good reason--thousands of clinical research studies are published every year that indicate such findings. Hospitals advertise the latest, most dazzling techniques to peer into the human body and perform amazing lifesaving surgeries with the aid of high-tech devices. There is no question that modern medical practices are remarkable, often effective and occasionally miraculous.
But there is a wrinkle in our confidence. We believe that the vast majority of what physicians do is backed by solid science. Their diagnostic and treatment decisions must reflect the latest and best research. Their clinical judgment must certainly be well beyond any reasonable doubt. To seriously question these assumptions would seem jaundiced and cynical.
But we must question them because these beliefs are based more on faith than on facts for at least three reasons, each of which we will explore in detail in this section. Only a fraction of what physicians do is based on solid evidence from Grade-A randomized, controlled trials; the rest is based instead on weak or no evidence and on subjective judgment. When scientific consensus exists on which clinical practices work effectively, physicians only sporadically follow that evidence correctly.
Medical decision-making itself is fraught with inherent subjectivity, some of it necessary and beneficial to patients, and some of it flawed and potentially dangerous. For these reasons, millions of Americans receive medications and treatments that have no proven clinical benefit, and millions fail to get care that is proven to be effective. Quality and safety suffer, and waste flourishes.
At first blush, this may seem shocking, but it really provides a great incentive for the consumer of health care services and products to be as fully informed as possible about various treatment alternatives.
The human body is an incredibly complex organism. That we can predict and control outcomes relating to such complexity in even a fraction of cases is a remarkable achievement.
The approach we need to take is to embrace that complexity and randomness, educate ourselves as best we can on the risks that certain behaviors and habits have in regard to affecting bad health outcomes, and then lead our lives in a way that deals with those risks in a manner that is acceptable to each individual.
However, the reality is that neither we - nor our doctors - control the outcome of many of our health care decisions. We can make choices based on the best available information. But life is still largely a roll of the dice.
March 22, 2011
The stigma attached to obesity has been an accepted practice of American society for a long time. Heck, even those who should know better often embrace the simplistic thinking that obesity is merely the result of an individual's lack of willpower.
But research is increasingly revealing that the obesity stigma is misplaced and counterproductive. Michelle Berman, MD noted this awhile back in this post on KevinMD.com:
Did you know that some psychologists and psychiatrists would like to classify obesity as a brain disease?
The reason for this is that there is mounting evidence that food, or certain types of food, can trigger the same addictive effects in the brain as drugs like heroin and cocaine. There is also substantial evidence that some people lose control over their food consumption and exhibit other behaviors (e.g. tolerance, withdrawal) that may meet diagnostic criteria . . . for substance dependence.
Arya Sharma, MD picks up on this line of thinking in this recent KevinMD.com post:
Recently, I attended a scientific symposium on addictions.
One of the books I picked up at that conference . . . is A. J. Adams' Undrunk: A Skeptic's Guide to AA. [. . .]
The definition [of alcoholism] reads as follows:
Alcoholism is a primary chronic disease with genetic, psycho-social and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol despite adverse consequences and distortions of thinking, mostly denial.
Let us look at this definition of alcoholism and see what aspects of it (if any) apply to obesity.
No doubt, as readers of these pages know, obesity is most definitely a chronic condition, whose development and manifestations are influenced by genetic, psycho-social and envrionmental factors. In some cases obesity may be more genetic, in others more psycho-social and sometimes purely environmental, but certainly, obesity would fit the bill as far as this statement goes.
And yes, obesity is often progressive and fatal. [. . .]
This may not seem as obvious as in the case of the alcoholic who dies of liver cirrhosis or totals his car (and himself) whilst DIU, but when you start looking at the many ways in which obesity can kill you, from heart attacks to cancer, there is no doubt that obesity is fatal (often after ruining most of your life first - another similarity to alcoholism).
Clear Thinkers favorite Art DeVany does an excellent job of explaining the physiological underpinnings of overeating in his recent book, The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness and Aging (Rodale 2010). The following oversimplifies DeVany's explanation, so definitely read the book if you are interested in this subject.
But the essence of DeVany's point is that the brain needs glucose - generally supplied by carbohydrates - in order to live and thrive. Thus, the brain signals that it needs more glucose, which triggers our desire to eat carbohydrate to fulfill that need. The body (specifically the pancreas) generates insulin to absorb the glucose into the bloodstream.
So far, so good. However, DeVany explains that most people who become obese fall into a sort of negative feedback loop in which they become "insulin insensitive." This is bad for a variety of reasons (damage on a cellular level, etc), but it is particularly damaging in in regard to obesity - the body ends up generating excess insulin, which it stores as fat.
Thus, insulin insensitivity causes a sort of negative feedback loop in which the consumer becomes conditioned to being continually hungry (the brain is signaling that it needs glucose), the consumer eats high-calorie, processed (and readily available) carbohydrate to fulfill that hunger, the body produces more insulin that it needs to absorb the glucose, the body stores the excess insulin as fat, and then the process starts all over again, partly because of the consumer's increasingly insulin-insensitive nature.
In short, willpower really doesn't have that much to do with it. Physiological impulses do.
As DeVany explains in his book (and in his excellent blog), the solution to this obesity syndrome is to become "insulin sensitive" through a lifestyle based on a diet of lean meats, vegetables and fruits, as well as exercise and recreation that promote maintenance of lean body mass.
However, the more important message that DeVany delivers is that the social stigma attached to obesity is inhumane and counterproductive. It is that stigma that drives obese people to "quick fixes" such as fad diets and excessive exercise routines, both of which rarely result in sustained weight loss.
Rather, as with any addiction, the key to overcoming the addiction to high caloric food is to educate the addict to understand the physiological underpinnings that drive the addict's compulsion.
In short, less stigma and better education equals less obesity and better health.
Sounds like a good trade to me.
January 19, 2011
This LA Times article reports on the declining quality of the end-of-life period of many Americans:
Life expectancy soared over the last part of the 20th century as treatments for major diseases improved and infectious diseases were quelled by vaccines and better treatment. The most recent data, however, hint that life expectancy is no longer growing. According to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago. [. . .]
According to the analysis, the average age of morbidity - which is defined as the period of life spent with serious illness and lack of functional mobility - has increased in the last two decades. For example, a 20-year-old man in 1998 could be expected to live an additional 45 years without at least one of these diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes. That number fell to 43.8 in 2006. For women, the expected years of life without a serious disease fell from 49.2 years to 48 years over the last decade. [. . .]
"There is substantial evidence that we have done little to date to eliminate or delay disease or the physiological changes that are linked to age," the authors wrote.
Meanwhile, a part of that problem is the result of the fact that many Americans have no idea what - or how much - they are eating:
Nearly 90% of respondents to a Consumer Reports telephone survey thought they were eating right -- saying that their diet was either somewhat (52.6%), very (31.5%), or extremely healthy (5.6%).
But when they were asked about what they actually eat, far fewer seemed to be in following a healthy diet.
For instance, of the 1,234 people surveyed, only 30% said they eat five servings of fruit and vegetables every day, just 13% step on the scale every morning, and a meager 8% monitor their daily calorie intake. [. . .]
bout a third of those who said they were a healthy weight actually had a body mass index (BMI) in the overweight or obese range (30% and 3%, respectively).
"It's likely that Americans are thinking about health more, and that's a good thing," said Keith Ayoob, EdD, RD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Still, nine out of 10 think they're doing pretty well, and to that, I'd say let's talk again."
So, asks this Dana P. Goldman/Darius N. Lakdawalla article, what would be the best investment to generate significant improvement in the health of Americans?:
The first step is to invest--not in the healthcare system, but in education. We should take the $120 billion it might cost for universal coverage, and use it, instead, to provider earlier education and to improve the quality of education. Better-educated people live longer, are less likely to be disabled, and engage in healthier behavior.
For nearly 40 years, distinguished health economists led by Michael Grossman have observed that more-educated people have much more powerful incentives to protect their own 'investments' in education by practicing healthier habits and reducing their risks of death. They also are better at self-managing chronic diseases. And, unlike universal coverage, more education has other valuable benefits to a person and to society. Less crime, less divorce, and higher earnings--can universal health insurance promise that?
The second place to invest is prevention. Primary prevention has the capacity to slow or reduce the rising prevalence of chronic disease, and simultaneously attenuate the downstream spending that is associated with it. Equally importantly, however, prevention leads to a life with less disability and more years of an active lifestyle. It simply makes a lot of sense to avoid disease in the first place, rather than try to treat it later.
January 5, 2011
December 27, 2010
It has been eight months since the Macondo well erupted below the Deepwater Horizon, creating one of the worst environmental catastrophes in United States history. With government inquiries under way and billions of dollars in environmental fines at stake, most of the attention has focused on what caused the blowout. Investigators have dissected BP's well design and Halliburton's cementing work, uncovering problem after problem.
But this was a disaster with two distinct parts - first a blowout, then the destruction of the Horizon. The second part, which killed 11 people and injured dozens, has escaped intense scrutiny, as if it were an inevitable casualty of the blowout.
It was not.
Nearly 400 feet long, the Horizon had formidable and redundant defenses against even the worst blowout. It was equipped to divert surging oil and gas safely away from the rig. It had devices to quickly seal off a well blowout or to break free from it. It had systems to prevent gas from exploding and sophisticated alarms that would quickly warn the crew at the slightest trace of gas. The crew itself routinely practiced responding to alarms, fires and blowouts, and it was blessed with experienced leaders who clearly cared about safety.
On paper, experts and investigators agree, the Deepwater Horizon should have weathered this blowout.
This is the story of how and why it didn't.
Meanwhile, this Robert Nelson/Weekly Standard article points out that it now is becoming apparent that the Gulf of Mexico suffered remarkably little damage from the oil spill that resulted from the blowout:
Oddly enough, however, the ecosystem of the Gulf itself turns out to have suffered remarkably little damage from the continuous gushing of oil into the water from April 20 till July 15, when the leaking well was capped. One group of scientists rated the health of the Gulf's ecology at 71 on a scale of 100 before the spill and 65 in October. By mid-August, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was having trouble finding spilled oil. This squared with the finding of researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California that the half-life of much of the leaking oil was about three days. At that rate, more than 90 percent would have disappeared in 12 days.
NOAA explained one reason for this in a report in August: "It is well known that bacteria that break down the dispersed and weathered surface oil are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico in large part because of the warm water, the favorable nutrient and oxygen levels, and the fact that oil regularly enters the Gulf of Mexico through natural seeps." In other words, the organisms that normally live off the Gulf's large natural seepage of oil into the water multiplied extremely rapidly and went on a feeding frenzy. Another 25 percent of the spilled oil-the lightest and most toxic part-simply evaporated at the surface or dissolved quickly.
Damage to wildlife, too, was relatively sparse. As of November 2, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that 2,263 oil-soiled bird remains had been collected in the Gulf, far fewer than the 225,000 birds killed by the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989. Despite fears for turtles, only 18 dead oil-soiled turtles had been found. No other reptile deaths were recorded.
While more than 1,000 sea otters alone had died in the Alaska spill, only 4 oil-soiled mammals (including dolphins) had been found dead in the Gulf region. These are very small numbers relative to the base populations. Similarly, government agencies were unable to find any evidence of dead fish. Fish can simply swim away from trouble. Nor was evidence found of contamination of live fish. In one government test, 2,768 chemical analyses uncovered no signs of contamination.
In the latest irony, marine biologists this fall have actually been seeing surprising increases in some fish populations. It seems that the closure of large areas of the Gulf to fishing amounted to an unplanned experiment in fisheries management. According to Sean Powers, a University of South Alabama marine biologist, "It's just been amazing how many more sharks we are seeing this year. I didn't believe it at first." He attributed the change to the "incredible reduction in fishing pressure," and added, "What's interesting to me [is that] we are seeing it across the whole range, from the shrimp and small croaker all the way up to the large sharks."
December 14, 2010
December 8, 2010
Clear Thinkers favorite Art DeVany (previous posts here) is preparing for the release of his new book, The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness and Aging (Rodale Dec. 21, 2010), so he presents his basic ideas on nutrition and exercise in the trailer for the book below. Russ Roberts' longer audio interview of DeVany from earlier this year can be listened to here and Patrick Kiger provides an excellent overview of DeVany's ideas on nutrition and exercise here.
October 23, 2010
Check out this cool video.
October 20, 2010
It's hard to beat that title of this interesting David H. Freedman/The Atlantic article (H/T John Goodman) about medical researcher, John Ioannidis, who has made a name for himself establishing that most medical information that physicians commonly rely upon is largely flawed:
. . . can any medical-research studies be trusted?
That question has been central to Ioannidis's career. He's what's known as a meta-researcher, and he's become one of the world's foremost experts on the credibility of medical research. He and his team have shown, again and again, and in many different ways, that much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies-conclusions that doctors keep in mind when they prescribe antibiotics or blood-pressure medication, or when they advise us to consume more fiber or less meat, or when they recommend surgery for heart disease or back pain-is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong. He charges that as much as 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed.
His work has been widely accepted by the medical community; it has been published in the field's top journals, where it is heavily cited; and he is a big draw at conferences. Given this exposure, and the fact that his work broadly targets everyone else's work in medicine, as well as everything that physicians do and all the health advice we get, Ioannidis may be one of the most influential scientists alive. Yet for all his influence, he worries that the field of medical research is so pervasively flawed, and so riddled with conflicts of interest, that it might be chronically resistant to change-or even to publicly admitting that there's a problem. [. . .]
We could solve much of the wrongness problem, Ioannidis says, if the world simply stopped expecting scientists to be right. That's because being wrong in science is fine, and even necessary-as long as scientists recognize that they blew it, report their mistake openly instead of disguising it as a success, and then move on to the next thing, until they come up with the very occasional genuine breakthrough. But as long as careers remain contingent on producing a stream of research that's dressed up to seem more right than it is, scientists will keep delivering exactly that.
"Science is a noble endeavor, but it's also a low-yield endeavor," he says. "I'm not sure that more than a very small percentage of medical research is ever likely to lead to major improvements in clinical outcomes and quality of life. We should be very comfortable with that fact."
October 11, 2010
The Chicago Marathon was over this past weekend, which resulted in the typical dozens of hospitalizations of participants.
That reminds me to pass along health and nutrition expert Art DeVany's top 10 reasons not to run marathons (here is a previous post on the risks of long-distance running). Art's summary of each reason is below, but you will have to subscribe to Art's insightful site on fitness, health, aging nuturion and exercise to read Art's elaboration on each reason:
10. Marathon running damages the liver and gall bladder and alters biochemical markers adversely. HDL is lowered, LDL is increased, Red blood cell counts and white blood cell counts fall. The liver is damaged and gall bladder function is decreased. Testosterone decreases.
9. Marathon running causes acute and severe muscle damage. Repetitive injury causes infiltration of collagen (connective tissue) into muscle fibers.
8. Marathon running induces kidney disfunction (renal abnormalities).
7. Marathon running causes acute microthrombosis in the vascular system.
6. Marathon running elevates markers of cancer. S100beta is one of these markers. Tumor necrosis factor, TNF-alpha, is another.
5. Marathon running damages your brain. The damage resembles acute brain trauma. Marathon runners have elevated S100beta, a marker of brain damage and blood brain barrier dysfunction. There is S100beta again, a marker of cancer and of brain damage.
4. Marathons damage your heart. From Whyte, et al Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2001 May, 33 (5) 850-1, "Echocardiographic studies report cardiac dysfunction following ultra-endurance exercise in trained individuals. Ironman and half-Ironman competition resulted in reversible abnormalities in resting left ventricular diastolic and systolic function. Results suggest that myocardial damage may be, in part, responsible for cardiac dysfunction, although the mechanisms responsible for this cardiac damage remain to be fully elucidated."
3. Endurance athletes have more spine degeneration.
The number two reason not to run marathons:
2. At least four particiants of the Boston Marathon have died of brain cancer in the past 10 years. Purely anecdotal, but consistent with the elevated S100beta counts and TKN-alpha measures. Perhaps also connected to the microthrombi of the endothelium found in marathoners.
And now ladies and gentlemen the number one reason not to run marathons:
1. The first marathon runner, Phidippides, collapsed and died at the finish of his race. [Jaworski, Curr Sports Med Rep. 1005 June; 4 (3), 137-43.]
Now there is a recommendation for a healthy activity. The original participant died in the event. But, this is not quite so unusual; many of the running and nutritional gurus of the past decade or two died rather young. Pritikin, Sheehy, Fixx, and Atkins, among many other originators of "healthy" practices died at comparatively young ages. Jack LaLanne, the only well-known guru to advocate body building, will outlive us all.
October 4, 2010
This Kathryn Schulz/The Wrong Stuff blog post provides an insightful interview with clinical researcher Barry Marshall, the 2005 Nobel Prize winner who, along with colleague Robin Warren, proved that up to 90 percent of peptic ulcers are caused by a bacterium and not by stress as medical "wisdom" had long held.
The entire interview is interesting, but the most fascinating part is where Dr. Marshall explains the difficulty of attempting to persuade the scientific establishment to abandon the conventional wisdom about ulcers even when he could provide clinical evidence that the conventional wisdom was wrong. As with much of the progress in medical research over the past 50 years, Marshall's breakthrough in changing the conventional wisdom emanated from Houston:
When and how did you start to convince people?
Part of it had to do with David Graham, who was chief of medicine at [Baylor College of Medicine], in [Houston] Texas, and a thought leader in gastroenterology. Graham started off as a real skeptic but quickly turned around. To his credit, Graham never said that I was wrong. He said, "I don't know, and I'm going to find out." And a couple of years later, he said, "I've checked it out and it looks pretty good, it looks like it could be true."
And then in 1993 or '94, the NIH had a consensus conference, and Tachi Yamada summed it up. Yamada is currently the head of [the Global Health Program of] the Gates Foundation; he's a very, very smart guy, and he said, "Looks like it's proven: Bacteria cause ulcers, and everybody needs to start treating ulcers with antibiotics."
It was just like night and day after that. The whole thing just went ballistic.
So, why do we cling to conventional wisdom even in the face of compelling evidence to the contrary? Is embracing the truth not as important as being comfortable with the beliefs - regardless of whether they are right -- of what we want to be the truth or what those we live with believe is true?
September 3, 2010
On one hand, drinking even diet soft drinks causes higher risk of heart disease?:
A new US study has found that drinking more than one soft drink a day, whether regular or diet, may be linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease, via an increase in metabolic syndrome, a group of characteristics like excess girth, high blood pressure, and other factors that increase the chances of getting diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
But on the other hand, even though overweight people are at higher risk of heart attacks, patients with heart failure have lower mortality rates if they are obese:
[T]he "obesity paradox" among patients with heart failure. The paradox refers to the repeated finding that while overweight people are more prone to heart failure, patients with heart failure have lower mortality rates if they are obese. The reason for this paradox is far from clear, though Dr. Lavie suggested that one explanation could be that once people become ill, having more bodily "reserve" could be to their advantage.
My sense is that the obesity paradox is more the result of overweight people having more muscle mass. It's not the excess fat that helps them recover from heart failure. It's the muscle mass and strength.
As Art DeVany has been saying for years: "Muscle is medicine. Strength carries us effortlessly through life." As we age, our workout routines should be tailored toward maintaining or increasing strength.
August 21, 2010
The camera that shot this video is mounted on one of the solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle. The launch clock is in the upper left corner. The first couple of minutes is uneventful, but the rest of the seven minute video certainly is not. Enjoy!
July 15, 2010
Following on this recent post, here is Matt Ridley's TED lecture:
June 3, 2010
May 10, 2010
This David Agus/TEDlecture from awhile back emphasized the need for new ideas and approaches in cancer research.
Along those lines, David Servan-Schreiber in the video below announces that he has teamed up with Houstonís MD Anderson Cancer Center in a new research project aimed at enhancing and bolstering cancer research and care. Dr. Servan-Schreiberís website about the project is here.
Dr. Servan-Schreiber is the author of the best-selling book, Anticancer, A New Way of Life (Viking 2009). While serving as a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Servan-Schreiber underwent chemotherapy and surgery twice for brain cancer. After the second bout, Servan-Schreiber spent years researching a mass of scientific data on natural defenses against cancer. His book is the result of this experience and research.
As this Abigal Zuger/NY Times review notes, there is skepticism in the clinical research community regarding Servan-Schreiberís conclusions and recommendations. So, M.D. Andersonís interest in Servan-Schreiberís approach is somewhat surprising.
Nevertheless, as Dr. Agus notes in his TED lecture, perhaps Servan-Schreiberís ideas are the type that are needed to spur clinical research into better treatment protocols and innovative care procedures for cancer patients.
April 4, 2010
David Galloís remarkable footage during his 2008 TED lecture.
April 1, 2010
Performance enhancing drugs resulted in new records in baseball? Pure conjecture. More likely the records are simply the result of outliers.
The more exercise, the better? Nope. Intensity and randomness is the key to an effective exercise regimen. Forget the jogging.
We're healthier than our ancestors? Not really, unless you're watching your diet and controlling your insulin levels.
March 28, 2010
This is one of the most fascinating TED lectures. Brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor describes the experience of having a stroke.
March 26, 2010
Publisher of the Whole Earth Review and former Wired executive editor Kevin Kelly weaves the fascinating tale.
March 7, 2010
I've been meaning to pass along for awhile this superb Gearld Traufette/Spiegel Online article on the continuing investigation into last summer's horrific crash of Air France 447 into the Atlantic Ocean (earlier post here).
Although the black box still has not been recovered (and quite likely won't be), investigators are becoming more confident that they understand what happened, including the following interesting theory:
According to this scenario, the pilots would have been forced to watch helplessly as their plane lost its lift. That theory is supported by the fact that the airplane remained intact to the very end. Given all the turbulence, it is therefore possible that the passengers remained oblivious to what was happening. After all, the oxygen masks that have been recovered had not dropped down from the ceiling because of a loss of pressure. What's more, the stewardesses weren't sitting on their emergency seats, and the lifejackets remained untouched. "There is no evidence whatsoever that the passengers in the cabin had been prepared for an emergency landing," says BEA boss Jean-Paul Troadec.
February 26, 2010
University of Southern California University professor David Agus provides a particularly lucid 24-minute lecture for the TED conference on the state of cancer research.
November 27, 2009
This is a pretty darn impressive computer reconstruction of US Airways 1549's emergency landing in the Hudson River earlier this year.
August 16, 2009
I watched this video enlarged on my 27-inch HD monitor. It is incredible. Enjoy.
July 21, 2009
When I travel to Europe, I normally fly on Air France, which is one of my favorite airlines. Professional, orderly, reasonably comfortable and clean. It's amazing how few airlines combine those characteristics these days.
Air France's fleet includes a large number of Airbus 330 aircraft, which is the aircraft that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean last month on Air France's Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris. So, given my preference for Air France, I've been following the development of information on that crash with particular interest.
James Fallows, who is a long-time aviator, follows most aircraft crashes closely, and he has provided much-needed information and insight in his posts on Flight 447 here, here, here and here. Initial speculation on the cause of the crash revolved around multiple system failures occurring during an unusually violent storm.
But now, questions are beginning to emerge as to whether there is a fundamental problem with the design of the Airbus 330. This lengthy David Rose/Mail Online article surveys the evidence that suggests a problem. Here is a list of the recent troubled flights of the Airbus 330 model:
August 2008 - Air Caraibes Atlantique - Paris to Martinique: Plane flying through turbulence experiences failure of autopilot, ADIRU and computerized instruments. Pilots successfully fight to restore control.
September 2008 - Air Caraibes Atlantique - Paris to Martinique: Second Air Caraibes flight to Martinique has identical experience. Plane is same model, different aircraft.
October 7, 2008 - Qantas Flight 72 - Singapore to Perth: Makes emergency landing after twice plunging uncontrollably in flight following failure of ADIRU, autopilot and instruments. 64 injured, 14 seriously.
December 28, 2008 - Qantas Flight 71 - Perth to Singapore: Forced to return to base after failure of autopilot and ADIRU. Different aircraft, same model as in previous incident.
May 21, 2009 - TAM Flight 8901 - Miami to Sao Paulo: Experiences failure of autopilot, ADIRU and instruments. Crew regain control after five minutes. No injuries. US investigation under way.
June 1, 2009 - Air France Flight 447 - Rio to Paris: Crashes during Atlantic storm, killing 228. Automatic radio messages indicate that in minutes before crash, crew lost autopilot, ADIRU and computerized instruments.
June 23, 2009 - Northwest Airlines - Hong Kong to Tokyo: Flight loses autopilot, ADIRU and instruments before landing safely. US investigation under way.
Interviews with pilots, lawyers and crash investigators suggest there may be an underlying problem with A330s. It’s impossible to conclude what this is, but there are two prime suspects – either flaws in the software, or with the wiring found inside huge numbers of modern aircraft.
‘It looks to me like there’s only one reason why AF447 crashed and QF72 survived,’ says Charles-Henri Tardivat, a former crash investigator who’s now part of a team from the London law firm Stewarts Law, which represents the victims’ families. ‘On QF72, the same things started happening that preceded the Air France crash. They were able to recover control because they were flying in daylight and perfect weather. They could see what was happening, even without their instruments. But AF447 was caught in a violent storm at night. The A330 is a very well-built aircraft, but there obviously is a problem somewhere. With so many of them out there, we need to find it.’
February 13, 2009
February 4, 2009
One of my favorite new blogs is Wayne Hale's blog in which he discusses working at NASA generally and on the Space Shuttle program specifically. Despite being a political football from time-to-time, NASA remains a fascinating place.
Every one of Hale's blog posts is interesting, and most of them are downright capitvating. His most recent post -- "Don't Call Him Willy Any More" -- is representative:
Back when the world was much younger than it is now, I was a young shuttle flight controller working in the MCC on several early flights. We were all learning about the shuttle in those days, and one fellow I knew actually saved the shuttle because he knew what to do when the unexpected happened. [. . .]
Willy was an up and coming Captain in the USAF and made a great GNC. He knew the guidance, navigation, and flight control systems forwards and backwards. We worked together a lot in those days since the PROP console (mine) was responsible for the attitude control thrusters, their plumbing, etc., while the GNC console was responsible for the Auto Pilot that called on those thrusters to maintain attitude. Even in those days, Willy demonstrated what military men call "command presence".
But almost as important, Willy could do the most devastatingly funny imitation of our legendary boss, Gene Kranz. Willy had the mannerisms down exactly right, could put the gruff intonation into the right pitch, and deliver a comedy routine that had all of us in the trench in stitches. Always during LOS or debrief between sim runs, of course. Never during the training runs, and especially not during a real flight. Hmm. [. . .]
After the shuttle main engines cut off and the External Tank is jettisoned, there is still a lot of the main propulsion system propellant -- liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen - trapped in the large pipes in the orbiter aft compartment. . . . Not really a safety issue, but a nuisance and something that could cause interruptions later on.
The booster guys came up with a dandy plan to get rid of these propellants faster. . . . those actions would cause a more thorough dump and eliminate the pesky vacuum inerting procedures that interrupted later activities.
So we tried it. Worked great in the simulator. Hmm. In flight, . . . .well . ..
Ascent is always a tense time. Willy, I, and all the other flight controllers were glued to the data. Everything went nominally all through mainstage. No systems issues. MECO, ET sep, dump start, OOOPS!
The increased propellant dump flow out the side of the orbiter caused it to bank sharply -- the wing headed for the jettisoned but not distant ET. Willy, calm as could be, relayed the instructions to the crew to regain attitude control. The wing missed the tank, by how much I don't know, but not by much.
It was all over in just a couple of minutes. We took a deep breath and got about the business of flying the orbiter in space.
After Challenger, all the USAF "detailees" were pulled out of flight control. I haven't seen Willy in probably two decades until I ran into him recently. He has done well in his USAF career, has stars on his epaulets now. I wouldn't recommend you call him Willy these days.
But then, I haven't called him that since the day he saved the shuttle.
And I bet you didn't even know.
November 30, 2008
Check out NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft's video of the Moon transiting the Earth from 31 million miles away!
July 5, 2008
CNET's Road Trip 2008 blog visits the Johnson Space Center in the Clear Lake area of Houston (photos here). The article and accompanying photos are a good primer for the always interesting visit to the JSC.
May 25, 2008
April 15, 2008
Don't tell Ray Kurzweil that we ought to be all gloomy about the prospects for mankind. This WaPo op-ed reflects that he is downright bullish:
MIT was so advanced in 1965 (the year I entered as a freshman) that it actually had a computer. Housed in its own building, it cost $11 million (in today's dollars) and was shared by all students and faculty. Four decades later, the computer in your cellphone is a million times smaller, a million times less expensive and a thousand times more powerful. That's a billion-fold increase in the amount of computation you can buy per dollar.
Yet as powerful as information technology is today, we will make another billion-fold increase in capability (for the same cost) over the next 25 years. That's because information technology builds on itself -- we are continually using the latest tools to create the next so they grow in capability at an exponential rate. This doesn't just mean snazzier cellphones. It means that change will rock every aspect of our world. The exponential growth in computing speed will unlock a solution to global warming, unmask the secret to longer life and solve myriad other worldly conundrums. [. . .]
Take energy. Today, 70 percent of it comes from fossil fuels, a 19th-century technology. But if we could capture just one ten-thousandth of the sunlight that falls on Earth, we could meet 100 percent of the world's energy needs using this renewable and environmentally friendly source. We can't do that now because solar panels rely on old technology, making them expensive, inefficient, heavy and hard to install. But a new generation of panels based on nanotechnology (which manipulates matter at the level of molecules) is starting to overcome these obstacles. The tipping point at which energy from solar panels will actually be less expensive than fossil fuels is only a few years away. The power we are generating from solar is doubling every two years; at that rate, it will be able to meet all our energy needs within 20 years.
I just thought I'd toss in that third paragraph for those in the oil and gas industry that believe that a period like the mid-to-late 1980's can't happen again. Meanwhile, light, sweet crude oil futures for May delivery settled yesterday at $111.76, a new record, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
February 21, 2008
If you're a land owner and animals such as coyotes or wild pigs are driving you hog wild, help may soon be on the way to control their numbers in a humane way - in the form of a birth control pill for animals being developed at Texas A and M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. The concept would be to get it to wild animals through baited food, researchers say. [. . .]
n Texas, feral hogs have become a severe nuisance to farmers and ranchers, and the state has an estimated 3-4 million feral hogs, by far the most in the country.
September 12, 2006
Andrew Dessler is an associate professor in the Texas A&M University Department of Atmospheric Sciences. A couple of months ago, I came across his interesting new blog that focuses on the science and politics of climate change. In this Chronicle article, the Chronicle's science reporter, Eric Berger, interviews Professor Dessler, who makes the following common sense observation about the climate change debate:
[T]here are a lot of really legitimate uncertainties [about global climate change] that people don't seem to argue about. It's a little bit disappointing that people are still arguing over whether the Earth is round or not. Whether humans are causing the increase in CO2 is really like arguing whether the Earth is round. We know it is. There's no question. We've got lots of evidence. The debate isn't really where it should be at this point: We need to view climate change as a risk. It's a somewhat uncertain risk, but it's a risk nonetheless. The question really becomes, as a policy, how do we address this risk?
Eric has a podcast of his entire interview with Professor Dessler over at his SciGuy blog.
June 18, 2005
The Houston Chronicle has added another blog -- Eric Berger's SciGuy -- to its impressive and expanding Chronicle bloglist that Chronicle tech writer Dwight Silverman has spearheaded. Kudos to Dwight and the Chronicle editors for being pioneers in this emerging method of delivering their product to customers.
In this post, Mr. Berger notes the National Institutes of Health annual ranking of U.S. medical schools by the amount of research funding, which is a key indicator of a medical school faculty's research capabilities. Here is a listing of medical schools of local interest:
1. John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md., $449 million
11. Baylor College of Medicine, $248 million
21. UT Southwestern Med. Center, Dallas, $172 million
35. Cornell Univ. Medical School (Methodist Hospital) $124 million
39. UT Medical Branch at Galveston, $104 million
48. UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, $80 million
64. UT Health Science Center at Houston, $51 million
In addition, although not a medical school, UT's M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in the Texas Medical Center generated another $145 million in research last year. Consequently, as Mr. Berger notes, the institutions in the Texas Medical Center pump almost half a billion of research funds into the local economy.
By the way, the NIH list dovetails nicely with the ranking of university endowments that was noted in this earlier post. Given the size of Baylor Medical School's endowment and annual research funding, one has to respect the risk that Baylor took in ending its longtime partnership with the even better-endowed Methodist Hospital ($2.3 billion endowment). Hopefully, the competition between the two institutions for research funds will enhance the amount and quality of research being performed at the Texas Medical Center.
June 13, 2005
As noted in this earlier post, new NASA chief administrator Michael D. Griffin is shaking things up at the space agency. This Washington Post article reports on Mr. Griffin's latest moves, which include the building of a less political and more scientifically-oriented management team to implement the initiative to return humans to the moon by 2020 and eventually send them to Mars. One particularly interesting part of the article is the following:
"[Mr. Griffin] wanted to be NASA administrator for a long time and has given a lot of thought to what has been done well or badly," one congressional source said. "Because of that, he is not going to take a year or two to get to know the organization."
Instead, the sources said, he expressed dismay that NASA over the past several years had put a lot of people in top management positions because of what one source described as "political connections or bureaucratic gamesmanship -- not merit."
Several sources spoke of a corps of younger scientists and engineers, including Griffin, who had been groomed in the 1970s and 1980s as NASA's next generation of leaders only to be shoved aside during the past 15 years. They said Griffin hopes to bring them back.
"The people around him will be quite outstanding," one source said. "The philosophy is that good people attract outstanding people. This is going to be a very high-intensity environment, and NASA needs experienced, outstanding people."
May 9, 2005
This Washington Post article reports on new NASA Administrator Michael D. Griffin's ambitious plan to shave four years off the timetable for building a next-generation spaceship to replace the obsolescent space shuttle. Dr. Griffin's accelerated plan is to launch the new spaceship by 2010.
As noted in this previous post, Dr. Griffin faces entrenched opposition within the federal government and from government contractors to his efforts to revitalize NASA. This is story worth following closely, for its outcome will have a dramatic impact on the future of U.S. spaceflight, NASA, and the local Houston economy.
Update: Aerospace engineer Rand Simberg comments on Mr. Griffin's initiatives in this TCS piece.
March 24, 2005
A number of friends have asked me why I have not blogged on the Terri Schiavo case, to which I have stolen Eugene Volokh's reply that "I know nothing about the Schiavo matter, and -- despite that -- have no opinion."
As we have seen with the Enron case, when a case becomes as sensationalized in the MSM as the Schiavo case has over the past several weeks, battle lines get drawn politically, increasingly shrill views compete for the public's limited attention, and wise perspectives tend to get lost in the shuffle. Bloggers can find thoughtful views -- such as those of Professors Bainbridge and Ribstein -- but, let's face it, the vast majority of the public do not read blogs.
At any rate, I wanted to pass along a couple of informative articles on the Schiavo case that will appear in next month's New England Journal of Medicine. Timothy Quill, M.D. is a nationally-recognized expert in palliative care and end-of-life issues who is a professor of medicine, psychiatry, and medical humanities at the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry. In this article, Dr. Quill dispassionately reviews what has occurred in the Schiavo case, and then makes the following observation:
In considering this profound decision, the central issue is not what family members would want for themselves or what they want for their incapacitated loved one, but rather what the patient would want for himself or herself. The New Jersey Supreme Court that decided the case of Karen Ann Quinlan got the question of substituted judgment right:If the patient could wake up for 15 minutes and understand his or her condition fully, and then had to return to it, what would he or she tell you to do?If the data about the patient?s wishes are not clear, then in the absence of public policy or family consensus, we should err on the side of continued treatment even in cases of a persistent vegetative state in which there is no hope of recovery. But if the evidence is clear, as the courts have found in the case of Terri Schiavo, then enforcing life-prolonging treatment against what is agreed to be the patient?s will is both unethical and illegal.
In the same issue, George P. Annas, J.D., the Edward R. Utley Professor and Chair Department of Health Law, Bioethics & Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health, pens this article in which he reviews the legal precedent relating to the Schiavo case and criticizes Congress for ignoring it. In so doing, Professor Annas observes the following:
There is (and should be) no special law regarding the refusal of treatment that is tailored to specific diseases or prognoses, and the persistent vegetative state is no exception. "Erring on the side of life" in this context often results in violating a person?s body and human dignity in a way few would want for themselves. In such situations, erring on the side of liberty ? specifically, the patient?s right to decide on treatment ? is more consistent with American values and our constitutional traditions.
Hat tip to the HealthLawProf blog for the links to these articles.
March 22, 2005
Homer Hickam, the former NASA engineer and author whose brilliant October Sky was made into one of the best family films of the past decade, urges President Bush to discontinue the obsolescent Space Shuttle program in this devastating Wall Street Journal op-ed ($), in which he observes:
I left NASA in 1998 to pursue a writing career. I'm glad I did, because I could no longer stand to work on the Space Shuttle: 24 years after it first flew, what was once a magnificent example of engineering has become an old and dangerous contraption. It has killed 14 people and will probably kill more if it continues to be launched. It has also wasted a generation of engineers trying to keep it flying on schedule and safe. Frankly, that's just not possible and most NASA engineers in the trenches know it. Einstein reputedly defined insanity as repeating the same behavior and expecting different results. The Shuttle program is a prime example of this.
Mr. Hickam describes a phenomena of big governmental agencies that Robert Coram examined in regard to the Defense Department in Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War -- i.e., the tendency of power elites in governmental agencies to perpetuate their pet projects at the expense of progress and innovation. Secretary Rumsfeld is confronting much the same inertia in the Defense Department as he attempts to transform America's military, a topic that is addressed in these earlier posts. This is not a story that the MSM covers to any meaningful degree, but it remains one of the most important to America's survival as a superpower.
February 27, 2005
John and Jackie Knill of Vancouver, British Columbia were killed in Khao Lak, Thailand when the December 26, 2004 tsunami struck the resort at which they were vacationing. Afterward, their digital camera was found, and though the camera was destroyed, the photos of the oncoming tsunami on the camera's memory card were salvaged. Check out these spectacular photos.
December 11, 2004
Earlier this week, Astronaut John Young resigned from NASA. I was dismayed with the short shrift that the local newspaper gave to the retirement of this legend in spaceflight -- indeed, there is not even a mention of Mr. Young on the Chronicle's spaceflight section.
But make no mistake about it, John Young is an American hero. Mr. Young served as a NASA astronaut for an incredible 42-year career, which included spending more than 800 hours in space. His unprecedented career began with the first manned flight of the Gemini program in 1965, included two Apollo moon missions, and concluded with two flights on the space shuttle, including its first flight. John Young is the longest serving astronaut of them all.
Mr Young was a US Navy test pilot when he signed up for the second astronaut class in 1962. His first mission was to pilot the first manned voyage of the Gemini program -- Gemini 3 -- which was the first American space flight to have more than one astronaut on board. In 1966, Mr. Young commanded Gemini 10, which performed the first dual rendezvous procedures during a single mission.
Three years later, and two months before Neal Armstrong set foot on the Moon, Mr Young performed the test mission to the Moon in Apollo 10, in which he orbited the Moon in the command module. He subsequently returned to the Moon in 1972 as commander of Apollo 16 in which he piloted the lunar module to its perfect landing and drove a mooncraft 16 miles across the surface of the Moon. Including the liftoff from the Moon's surface, Mr. Young was the the first man to blast into space seven times.
In 1981, Mr. Young piloted the space shuttle?s inaugural flight and guided the Columbia to a perfect runway landing, which was also a first. Two years later, Mr. Young commanded the Columbia in his sixth and final mission. He is also the only astronaut to pilot four different kinds of spacecraft.
And although a NASA lifer, Mr. Young never compromised his aviator principles for his position in the agency. In 1987, he was abruptly removed as NASA's chief astronaut when he accused NASA's chiefs of putting "launch schedule pressure" ahead of safety in the wake of the Challenger accident. His criticism was later vindicated by the report of the Presidential Commission that investigated the Challenger accident.
Just like the late astronaut Gordon Cooper and his fellow Mercury astronauts, John Young has "the Right Stuff." Here's hoping for a long and fulfilling retirement for this local Houston and American hero.
December 7, 2004
This Washington Post article reports on how Houston congressman and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay secured NASA's $16.2 billion portion of the $388 federal omnibus spending bill that Congress passed on November 20:
NASA was identified as a major sticking point when Senate and House conferees sat down to craft the final version of the omnibus spending bill near midnight Nov. 19, but Bolten, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and DeLay were holding out for more money.
The negotiators appeared to agree on $15.9 billion for NASA, but that wasn't good enough, DeLay said later at the Space Center. "The main responsibility of the majority leader is to set the agenda for the House floor. I wouldn't schedule the bill until NASA was taken care of," he said.
And it was.
"Once you get into an omnibus bill, the leadership takes over, and you need to have an advocate in that circle," Walsh said. DeLay "was getting me more allocation every time he stepped up to the plate. He made the difference."
November 18, 2004
You can review them here.
November 17, 2004
Following on these earlier posts here and here, this Washington Post article reports on yesterday's test of the unmanned X-43A "scramjet" that broke the aircraft speed record for the second time this year. The X-43A flew at nearly 10 times the speed of sound as scientists continue their quest for "hypersonic" flight.
November 12, 2004
Commuters could soon be taking flying taxis to work instead of waiting in line for a street cab, experts suggest. British developers Avcen say Jetpods would enable quick, quiet and cheap travel to and from major cities. The futuristic machines will undergo proof-of-concept flight tests in 2006 and could be ready for action by 2010.
As well as taxis, which would use a network of specially-built mini runways, there are military, medical and personal jet versions as well.
London-based Avcen say Jetpods would be able to travel the 24 miles from Woking, Surrey, to central London in just four minutes.
And because it could make so many trips, fares for a journey from Heathrow to central London could cost about £40 or £50.
Meanwhile, this Washington Post article reviews ongoing research into scramjet technology, which is already achieving incredible speed levels:
Next week, NASA plans to break the aircraft speed record for the second time in 7 1/2 months by flying its rocket-assisted X-43A scramjet craft 110,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean at speeds close to Mach 10 -- about 7,200 mph, or 10 times the speed of sound.
The flight will last perhaps 10 seconds and end with the pilotless aircraft plunging to a watery grave 850 miles off the California coast. But even if the X-43A doesn't set the record, it has already proved that the 40-year-old dream of "hypersonic" flight -- using air-breathing engines to reach speeds above Mach 5 (3,800 mph) -- has become reality.
Under NASA's $250 million Hyper-X program, engineers at Langley Research Center here and the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., designed and built three aluminum scramjet aircraft, each one 12 feet long and weighing about 2,800 pounds. . .
[The second scamjet flight] on March 24, reached Mach 6.83 (5,200 mph), shattering the world speed record for air-breathing, non-rocket aircraft, previously held by a jet-powered missile. The highest speeds by manned aircraft were achieved by SR-71, the U.S. spy plane known as the "Blackbird," capable of flying in excess of Mach 3 (2,300 mph).
October 5, 2004
Mr. Cooper's death leaves just three of the original seven Mercury astronauts still living -- John Glenn, the former senator from Ohio, Walter M. ("Wally")Schirra, and M. Scott Carpenter. Virgil I. ("Gus") Grissom was one of three astronauts killed in a 1967 fire inside an Apollo capsule on the launching pad, and Donald K. ("Deke") Slayton and Alan B. Shepard died of natural causes several years ago.
As the pilot of the last Mercury mission, Mr. Cooper was the last American astronaut to fly alone in space. His mission on May 15-16, 1963 covered 34 hours and 20 minutes, which was more than all five of the previous Mercury flights combined. When the automatic system that was supposed to control the descent of his Mercury capsule failed, Mr. Cooper took control manually and made a bull's-eye landing just 7,000 yards from aircraft carrier that picked up the Mercury capsules.
Mr. Cooper subsequently flew a long mission in the Gemini Space Program in which he demonstrated that a trip to the moon was feasible. Mr. Cooper's second and last trip into space was on Gemini 5, a two-man, eight-day mission in August 1965 that set a space endurance record of over 190 hours.
Among the many firsts in spaceflight that Mr. Cooper achieved was that he was the first person to sleep in space (seven and a half hours like a log, he reported). He was also the first astronaut to fly twice, and the first American to be televised from space.
Mr. Cooper was also immortalized in film by former Houstonian Dennis Quaid's excellent portrayal of him in the wonderful 1983 film of Tom Wolfe's equally superb book, "The Right Stuff." For anyone who grew up during the early days of the American space program, "The Right Stuff" is a must see. I recently watched it again with one of my teenage sons, and we thoroughly enjoyed watching how the original astronauts took enormous risks to do something that is considered commonplace by many in my son's generation. I also enjoyed sharing with him many of the stories of the original Mercury astronauts that are now an essential part of Houston folklore.
Rest in peace, Gordo Cooper.
August 5, 2004
On the heels of this earlier contribution to the University of Texas Medical School, Houston businessman and philanthropist George Mitchell has made a $1.25 million gift to provide initial funding for a massive project involving both UT and Texas A&M University that has a goal of building the world's largest telescope on the Andes Mountains in Chile by 2015. If successful, the $400 million Giant Magellan Telescope is expected to collect 70 times more light than NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and could produce images that are 10 times sharper.
The telescope's six large mirrors will surround a seventh central mirror, all on a single mounting, and its light-collecting area would be twice the diameter of today's largest telescopes. The world's two largest optical telescopes ? each 33 feet in diameter ? operate at the W.M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Hawaii's dormant Mauna Kea volcano.
Mr. Mitchell donated the money to Texas A&M University, which is his alma mater, and The University of Texas at Austin -- which runs the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of far West Texas, which is the third largest telescope in the world -- will match Mr. Mitchell's contribution over the next two years. Other partners in the project are the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona and the University of Michigan.
May 18, 2004
In this Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed, novelist Herman Wouk addresses the serious implications arising from the fact that governmental funding of science research in America has become simply another political football. Mr. Wouk focuses on the poor political decisions that undermined the Texas Supercollider Project back in the early 1990's:
Back in 1993, Congress abruptly killed the largest basic science project of all time, the Superconducting Super Collider in Texas. With three billion dollars already spent, and the project pretty much on time and on budget, our lawmakers cut off all funding, and voted another billion just to shut the project down. This bizarre abort sent a shock wave through the scientific world which has never entirely subsided. The event remains in controversy, but one undeniable outcome has been the diminished international repute of American science.
The Superconducting Super Collider would have been an oval tunnel 54 miles around, where some 10,000 magnets cooled by liquid helium would accelerate protons to collide almost at the speed of light, and thus to wrest from the subatomic debris a prime secret of nature: the Higgs boson, dubbed by one Nobel laureate the "God Particle," a possible key to the final understanding of the universe. Ronald Reagan approved the project, George Bush senior sustained it, and it died under Bill Clinton. Today a powerful super collider in Geneva is being upgraded by a consortium of European physicists, intent on beating the world to the Higgs boson, with the Americans out of the picture.
* * *
Nevertheless, even Benjamin Franklin, a founding father and a one-man interface of science and politics, could not have foreseen how this loose play in American governance might one day affect world destiny, nor how the pace of scientific advancement would lethally accelerate in times to come. It is a long reach from the capture of a lightning spark in a Leyden jar in Philadelphia, to the dropping of a uranium bomb on Japan. Yet the same intellectual curiosity that moved Franklin to risk electrocution from the clouds motivated the British physicist James Chadwick to discover the neutron, and so to unlock the horrific energy in the atomic nucleus. And it motivated thousands of high-energy physicists to venture their careers and years of their lives on the Superconducting Super Collider, only to be stranded by Congress, high, dry and unemployed at a vast abandoned hole in Texas.
These scientists had been the darlings of Congressional budgeting ever since the end of World War II, when they delivered into President Truman's hands a weapon new in human history. The president, an artilleryman in World War I, said of the bomb, "It was a bigger piece of artillery, so I used it." It did stop the war at once, to be sure. The historical debate about his decision may never end, but the triumph of particle physics was brilliant, and the rise in its annual funding spectacular, until the ax rudely fell. One SSC physicist bitterly exclaimed on getting the word, "It's the revenge of the C students." A more philosophical colleague observed: "Well, our 50-year ride on the bomb is over."
And then, with the wisdom of his almost 90 years, Mr. Wouk makes an insightful observation for us to ponder:
I go through the days with good cheer and jokes, aware of dark threats looming ahead for our little global home, probably beyond my time, but close enough. The prime task of today's politicians, after getting themselves elected and re-elected, is to deal open-eyed and intelligently with those threats in the light of the best science. We who elect them bear the ultimate, inescapable responsibility to choose well.
April 27, 2004
Randall Parker over at FuturePundit has this excellent post that analyzes the Bush Administration's proposed funding of research in the 2005 budget, to which he concludes:
The Bush Administation's plans for research and development spending are short-sighted. Scientific advances can solve problems in ways that pay back orders of magnitude more than the original research will cost to fund. Budget deficits and huge unfunded liabilities for those who are going to become elderly in the coming decades combined with the threat of terrorism and the greater global competition for a limited supply of oil call for mammoth attempts to research and innovate our way to solutions.
April 26, 2004
Randall Parker over at FuturePundit points to an interesting Erin Anderssen and Anne McIlroy article in the Canadian Globe And Mail that summarizes recent research on child development and human violence. They report that Richard Tremblay has found that two year old babies are more physically aggressive than teenagers or adults but are simply too uncoordinated to do much damage to others:
Consequently, are human beings born pure, as Rousseau argued, and tainted by the world around them? Or do babies arrive bad, as St. Augustine wrote, and learn, for their own good, how to behave in society?
Richard Tremblay, an affable researcher at the University of Montreal who is considered one of the world leaders in aggression studies, sides with St. Augustine, whom he is fond of quoting.
Dr. Tremblay has thousands of research subjects, many studied over decades, to back him up: Aggressive behaviour, except in the rarest circumstances, is not acquired from life experience. It is a remnant of our evolutionary struggle to survive, a force we learn, with time and careful teaching, to master. And as if by some ideal plan, human beings are at their worst when they are at their weakest.
St. Augustine was obviously much closer to the truth.
Read the entire post, as Mr. Parker includes a number of interesting links relating to the subject of this research. Hat tip to Tyler Cowan at Marginal Revolutions for the link.
April 4, 2004
In this absolutely fascinating piece of photographic story telling, a Russian woman named Elana rides into the Chernobyl region of Russia and reports on what she finds. Don't miss this. Hat tip to Online Jounalismus via BuzzMachine for the link to this thought-provoking story.
In this post, Professor Balkin points to this NY Times article regarding the Bush Administration's use of administrative power to restructure over thirty years of federal environmental policy. Professor Balkin's post insightfully points out how the Republicans' control of the executive and legislative branches of the federal government have allowed it to reshape a generation of federal environmental policy, and it is not at all clear that such restructuring was either necessary or in the public interest.
In one of the more important parts of Ron Suskind's "The Price of Loyalty," former Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill describes how the Bush Administration undermined the common sense environmental policies that former EPA administrator, Christine Todd Whitman was advocating that the administration follow in 2001. Mr. O'Neill used this incident as an example of his primary criticism of the Administration, which is its lack of policy analysis before establishing governmental policy.
As noted several times in this blog, I am generally supportive of the Bush Administration's handling of the war against radical Islamic fascists. However, I continue to maintain that the Administration's Achille's heel is its lackluster performance on a variety of domestic issues, such as health care finance, tax policy, and environmental policy. If President Bush loses this November, my bet is that its performance on these issues will be the primary reason for the defeat.