Friday, February 12, 2016

How teachers are getting it wrong on climate change



There is, sadly, nothing surprising in the results of “a major new survey of U.S. middle school and high school science teachers” regarding the teaching of climate change.

While it is being taught, most teachers don’t understand that there is an overwhelming (greater than 95%) consensus that it is due to human activities, many are teaching it as if it is or might be “a natural process,” and some “science” teachers are teaching the line of the oil companies.

One of the most striking findings: 30 percent of teachers said in the survey that they tell students that the current warming “is likely due to natural causes” — contradicting major scientific assessments of the matter. Thirty-one percent of teachers also said that they include both the scientific consensus position — that global warming is human-caused — but then also a “natural causes” position that contradicts it, thus presenting “both sides,” in the study’s words.

…  The study also found that most teachers are unaware of the strength of the scientific consensus about the human causes of climate change. The survey asked them “what proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities?” For middle school teachers, 30 percent chose the option “81 to 100%,” which the researchers identified as the correct answer. High school teachers were only a little better, at 45 percent.

In addition, many teachers seemed misinformed about the subject matter. When asked what they would include in their courses on climate change, almost half selected off-topic items like “pesticides, ozone layer, or impacts of rocket launches.”

A key problem, (lead author Eric) Plutzer emphasizes, is how many teachers are presenting climate change as something to be debated in class.

“I think the message that students take away is that this is unsettled, that this is a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinion, and the details of evidence are not being presented in a way that is consistent with the scientific record,” he says.

If we paid teachers to teach well, this problem would likely go away. The problem is that we pay teachers to just stick around, even if they never go in a classroom


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Relying on BMI as a health metric is a bad idea



While it may be generally true that an exceedingly high body-mass index score suggests poor health, it is not always true, and a UCLA study, according to an LA Times story, suggests relying on BMI as a health metric is a bad idea:

“A new study from UCLA finds that some 54 million Americans who are labeled as obese or overweight according to their body mass index are, when you take a closer look, actually healthy. The findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity, reveal that employers could potentially saddle people with unfairly high health insurance costs based on a deeply flawed measure of actual health.”

The article explains BMI:

“Body mass index is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of the person’s height in meters. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “healthy” BMI is 18.5-24.9, an overweight BMI is 25-29.9 and an obese BMI is 30 or higher.”

The problem with using that number for “health” is that it can mask serious ailments — like high blood pressure — in people with a low BMI and wrongly presume that individuals who are overweight or obese also have those sorts of ailments. They may be true in general, but wrong in a lot of specific cases. BMI is, the research suggests, too crude a measure to apply to any one individual.

“Researchers have begun to suspect that people with so-called “healthy” BMIs can be very unhealthy, and those with high BMIs can actually be in very good shape.”

The inaccuracy of BMI on an individual basis might have actual financial consequences:

“… the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently proposed rules that would allow employers to penalize employees for up to 30% of their health insurance costs if they don’t meet 24 health criteria — which include meeting a specific BMI. If body mass index doesn’t accurately reflect health, then those with high BMIs potentially could be overcharged for no reason.”

After examining data from more than 40,000 individuals, here is what was discovered:

“(The UCLA researchers) found that nearly half (47.4%) of overweight people and 29% of obese people were, from a metabolic standpoint, quite healthy. On the flip side, more than 30% of individuals with “normal” weights were metabolically unhealthy.” 

My own belief is that a better, or maybe just a less crude measure of body size is a person’s waist-to-height ratio. Generally, the number of inches around your waist (at its widest point) should be under half the number of inches you are tall. 

In my case, I weigh 200 pounds, my waist is 33.5 inches and I am 74 inches tall. So my waist-to-height ratio is .453. That is in the healthy category. A man who is my same height and weight, but has a 39 inch waist is overweight, because his waist-to-height ratio is .527. Yet the two of us would have the same BMI score, and that would be misleading.

The basic idea behind waist-to-height ratio is that it does not matter so much how much you weigh relative to your height. What matters is where you are carrying that weight, and to that extent whether your weight is muscular or lipidic. 

From WebMD: 

“This visceral fat in your middle makes toxins that affect the way your body works, says Samuel Dagogo-Jack, MD, president of the American Diabetes Association. Among them are chemicals called cytokines that boost your chances of heart disease and make your body less sensitive to insulin, which can bring on diabetes.

“Cytokines also cause inflammation, which can lead to certain cancers, says Eric Jacobs, PhD, a researcher at the American Cancer Society. In recent years, he says, scientists have uncovered links between belly fat and cancers of the colon, esophagus, and pancreas.”

If you are slim all over but fat in your gut, you are probably much less healthy than a person who is the same height and weight but carries his weight in thick, muscular legs, butt, back, chest and arms with a slim waist. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We cannot “Take control of Davis’ mean streets,” if we don't “Take control of Davis’ mean labor costs”



Quin Denvir, a lawyer who lives in Davis and became nationally famous when he defended Ted Kaczynski, wrote a letter to The Davis Enterprise today titled, “Take control of Davis’ mean streets.”

After expressing outrage that “the streets of downtown Davis have become dangerous on weekend and holiday nights, including a murder, stabbings, beatings and sexual assaults,” Mr. Denvir makes two suggestions:

“First, impose a 10:30 last drink and 12:30 closing for drink establishments on those nights.”

I have no idea why anyone thinks closing earlier will make any difference. If the problem is the admixture of insobriety and a predisposition to violence, criminal mayhem can break out at any time. It’s not as if no one can get drunk by 10:30 pm; or that a propensity to misbehave does not start until 1 am.

“Second, the mayor should direct the police chief to increase patrols in those areas on those nights.”

This is a more sensible suggestion. However, there is a problem. The Davis City Councils that Davis residents have repeatedly elected have overpaid all city employees by so much that there is no money to “increase patrols.” 

Mr. Denvir needs to qualify his call for increased patrols by calling for a halt to increases in employee compensation.

The City is now operating with about 75% of a full staff, because employee compensation increases keep breaking the budget. And yet, every year the City Council keeps raising employee compensation more and more, always faster than tax revenues can grow.

Among the most overpaid employees are our police officers. They cost taxpayers around $200,000 to $250,000 a year. So it is no wonder that our police department is understaffed.

Yet Mr. Denvir ignores that crucial point in his suggestion. And oddly enough, he calls for “the mayor” to request more cops on this beat, when it is the current mayor (along with his hand-picked city manager) who has been so friendly to city workers, jacking up their compensation without any regard to how we can afford those hikes.


Friday, January 29, 2016

Stopping Lou Gehrig's Disease in its tracks?



Another day, another disease cured? Not quite. However, it sounds like researchers at Oregon State University, in a study of mice implanted with ALS, may have found something which will lead to a useful therapy for human patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The breakthrough is not a cure. Rather, it is, if it works in people, something which might stop the progression of this deadly disease.


Researchers at Oregon State University have announced that they have essentially stopped the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, for nearly two years in one type of mouse model used to study the disease -- allowing the mice to approach their normal lifespan.

The findings, scientists indicate, are some of the most compelling ever produced in the search for a therapy for ALS, a debilitating and fatal disease, and were just published in Neurobiology of Disease.

"We are shocked at how well this treatment can stop the progression of ALS," said Joseph Beckman, lead author on this study, a distinguished professor of biochemistry and biophysics in the College of Science at Oregon State University, and principal investigator and holder of the Burgess and Elizabeth Jamieson Chair in OSU's Linus Pauling Institute.
In decades of work, no treatment has been discovered for ALS that can do anything but prolong human survival less than a month. The mouse model used in this study is one that scientists believe may more closely resemble the human reaction to this treatment, which consists of a compound called copper-ATSM.


It's not yet known if humans will have the same response, but researchers are moving as quickly as possible toward human clinical trials, testing first for safety and then efficacy of the new approach.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Why don't we kick out immigrants after they are convicted of felonies?



There is something I don’t get about the case of Hossein Nayeri, the alleged leader of a group of three brutal felons who escaped recently from the Orange County Jail: Why wasn’t he exiled from the United States after his first felony conviction?

It seems to me, as an immigrant to the United States, once he killed his friend while driving drunk, he should have been stripped of all rights to reside in this country. After serving his jail time for that crime — which sadly was minimal — he should have been sent back to Iran and never again allowed back into the U.S.


Nayeri was born in Iran and as a child emigrated to the U.S. with his family. … Nayeri had no felony record in 2005 when he was charged in a drunken-driving accident that killed his high school friend, Ehsan Tousi. … While free on bail, Nayeri fled but eventually was arrested in Washington and extradited to California in 2009. … He was sentenced to less than a year in county jail and four years of probation, in part because of his lack of felony history. … Nayeri moved from Madera County to Orange County and violated probation several times, court records show.

That was our government’s first mistake in this case: he kills his friend, skips bail, flees out of state, gets a lenient sentence, violates his probation and nothing happens. It makes no sense. He should have gotten 5 years hard time in prison for killing his friend, and then he should have been put on a plane back to Iran and never allowed back in the U.S.

No one who immigrates to the United States has a right to remain in this country if they commit felonies while here. If they had been granted citizenship — it is not said if Nayeri is a U.S. citizen — that privilege needs to be stripped the day they go to prison as a felon.

In 2011, he was charged with domestic battery, false imprisonment and making criminal threats but the case was dismissed after he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor. That same year, a woman — one of the friends who wrote the judge on his behalf in 2005 — filed a request for a protective order against him, according to court records.

Clearly, Nayeri’s criminality did not stop after he killed his high school friend.

He was still on probation in 2012 when, prosecutors say, he fled during a traffic stop in Orange County and led police on a high-speed chase. Nayeri managed to get away on foot after ditching the car, which had surveillance devices, video footage and GPS trackers inside. About a week later, prosecutors say, Nayeri and three others kidnapped a medical marijuana distributor, bound him with zip ties and drove him to desert where they believed he had buried a large sum of cash. There, the man was tortured with a blow torch and his penis severed, according to court files.

That crime never would have happened if he had been exiled as he should have been a long time ago. Yet now he is running around free, because another Iranian immigrant who worked at the jail helped Nayeri and two other immigrant criminals escape. It is completely asinine that we don’t exile these “guests” who want to live in our country but don’t want to live by the law.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Scientists open the ‘black box’ of schizophrenia with dramatic genetic discovery



Every few days, it seems like there is a story of a major scientific "breakthrough" in the news. Yet the reality of science is that most pathways which look promising at first eventually close up or peter out. However, if there are enough potential breakthroughs developed, one or more will eventually prove itself to be useful, either in solving a problem or leading to the right direction were the solution will eventually be found.

In the past few weeks I have read -- and posted to this blog -- stories regarding gene editing using the new CRISPR9 technology which I think portend well to solving a lot of serious genetic maladies. Today, the Washington Post reports that there has been a "dramatic genetic discovery" which might lead to solving schizophrenia:

For the first time, scientists have pinned down a molecular process in the brain that helps to trigger schizophrenia. The researchers involved in the landmark study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature, say the discovery of this new genetic pathway probably reveals what goes wrong neurologically in a young person diagnosed with the devastating disorder. ... The researchers, chiefly from the Broad Institute, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, found that a person's risk of schizophrenia is dramatically increased if they inherit variants of a gene important to "synaptic pruning" -- the healthy reduction during adolescence of brain cell connections that are no longer needed. In patients with schizophrenia, a variation in a single position in the DNA sequence marks too many synapses for removal and that pruning goes out of control. The result is an abnormal loss of gray matter.

This seems to explain for the first time why autopsies of the brains of schizophrenics show a big loss in gray matter -- their DNA is ordering far too much "synaptic pruning."

There have been hundreds of theories about schizophrenia over the years, but one of the enduring mysteries has been how three prominent findings related to each other: the apparent involvement of immune molecules, the disorder's typical onset in late adolescence and early adulthood, and the thinning of gray matter seen in autopsies of patients. "The thing about this result," said McCarroll, the lead author, " it makes a lot of other things understandable. To have a result to connect to these observations and to have a molecule and strong level of genetic evidence from tens of thousands of research participants, I think that combination sets [this study] apart."

Now that scientists seem to know what is going on for the first time, they will need to develop a cure, a way to fix the DNA sequencing in these patients. That might be a long way off:

The study offers a new approach to schizophrenia research, which has been largely stagnant for decades.  ... "We now have a strong molecular handle, a pathway and a gene, to develop better models," he said. Which isn't to say a cure is right around the corner. "This is the first exciting clue, maybe even the most important we’ll ever have, but it will be decades" before a true cure is found," Hyman said. "Hope is a wonderful thing. False promise is not."





Saturday, January 23, 2016

Is a hole opening up in the center of American politics?



Although Hillary Clinton (51.2%) still leads Bernie Sanders (38%) in the most recent national polls among Democratic primary voters, according to Real Clear Politics, Sen. Sanders is now well ahead in New Hampshire (51.6% to 36.8%), closing the gap in Iowa (41.5% to 47.9%) and ripe with momentum just about everywhere. 

In mid-November, Sanders had trailed Clinton in Iowa by 25%. He has narrowed that to just 6.4%. In early December, Sanders was ahead by just 2% in New Hampshire. That lead has now grown to 14.8%. And Mrs. Clinton was ahead nationally by 27.4%. She now leads by half that, 13.2%. 

If Sanders could keep up this momentum and win the Democratic nomination, a great void would open up in the middle of the political spectrum. 

Sanders is far to the left of the American center on most issues. The Republicans will likely nominate someone who is either far right and unlikeable (Cruz) or simply too extreme (Trump) for the comfort of centrist voters.

That suggests that we may have a serious independent challenger who will run as a middle-of-the-road centrist. Normally, that’s a losing proposition for the person who tries. He won’t have a party backing him, helping get out the votes. And the two major party nominees normally moderate their views in order to draw as much as they can from the center in the general election.

But, if it is Sanders and Cruz, they each have very little appeal to the center. Each has always been on the extremist fringe. They have long records of not compromising their views. They are ideologues. No matter how much they might try, they will never win over the American mainstream.

Trump is a slightly different story than Cruz. His problem in the general election is less about him being too conservative. He does not seem to have a fixed point of view. Some times he is pro-choice, other times pro-life. He has been against guns and for the NRA. He has been in favor of single-payer healthcare and completely against it. His flip-floppy ideology has made him unpopular among dyed-in-the-wool conservative intellectuals, who see Trump as a philosophical fraud, not one of their own.

Insofar as Trump is just seen as an egomaniacal oddball, Trump will probably have trouble winning votes in the center in the general election.  Most middle-of-the-road Americans don’t agree with Trump on kicking out all 12 million illegal aliens; they don’t like his prejudicial views toward all Muslims; and Trump will very likely not be able to win the votes of the largest growing bloc of American voters, Latinos. 

Additionally, in trying to win the votes of Republicans, Trump has adopted a very right-wing view on all social policies, including a strong opposition to abortion, gay marriage and gun control. Those positions are not popular in the American center. Trump may or may not change those positions after he wins the GOP nod. However, if he does, it will only alienate him from the right-wing. A last-minute conversion is unlikely to win him votes from the center.

So if it is Trump or Cruz against Sanders, look for someone to fill the middle. A possibility for that spot is Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor.


“Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire and former New York mayor, is considering making an independent bid for the presidency, a move that could mark yet another wild turn in a 2016 race that has already seen more than its share of them.

Three associates said that several factors have convinced him that a run outside of the Republican and Democratic party process is worth another look.

One is the possibility that the Republican ticket may be headed by a polarizing figure, such as his fellow New York billionaire Donald Trump or Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), the two leaders of the race at this stage.

The other is that the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, may turn out to be a far weaker candidate than was once expected — and might even lose the nomination to Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist whose mainstream appeal is in question.

If the right combination of those possibilities begins to look likely — something Bloomberg thinks could be clear in March, after the first big round of state primaries — it is possible they could create an opening for him to make a credible run as an independent.  …

In addition to his considerable financial resources, Bloomberg has a reputation as a skilled manager and political bridge builder. The onetime Republican has moderate views on social issues.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Does this signal an unbridgeable schism in the Republican Party?



The conservative magazine, National Review, has published a very long, multi-authored piece ranting against the candidacy of Donald Trump. In general, the various authors oppose the billionaire real estate magnate because he is not, in their views, a real conservative, and some question his character. He is likened to a Hitler or a Mussolini.

The problem with this line of attack from this group of conservative writers and thinkers is that Donald Trump’s supporters are not readers or thoughtful or in an intellectual sense conservatives. His increasingly large base likes Trump’s “give ‘em hell” style. They like his appeals to prejudice. They love Mr. Trump’s off-the-cuff unconventionality. None of them gives a damn what National Review thinks.

This sort of right-wing populism in the Republican Party goes back to 1964, when Strom Thurmond and several other racist Democrats became Republicans. It took a few decades, but eventually all of the white South became Republicans.

The vast majority of white, southern Republicans are not conservatives. They are populists who feed off of prejudice. Thurmond and other racists knew that 50 years ago. Trump seems to know that, today.

The big question is, if the Republican Party nominates a populist like Trump as president, will the religious and pro-business conservatives break away? And if they do, will it really matter? 

Here is a sampling of the conservative arguments in the NR piece againt Trump:

When conservatives desperately needed allies in the fight against big government, Donald Trump didn’t stand on the sidelines. He consistently advocated that your money be spent, that your government grow, and that your Constitution be ignored. … If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, there will once again be no opposition to an ever-expanding government.
—Glenn Beck

He’s effectively vowing to be an American Mussolini, concentrating power in the Trump White House and governing by fiat. It’s a vision to make the last 16 years of executive abuse of power seem modest.
—David Boaz

Until he decided to run for the GOP nomination a few months ago, Trump … was too distracted publicly raising money for liberals such as the Clintons; championing Planned Parenthood, tax increases, and single-payer health coverage; and demonstrating his allegiance to the Democratic party.
—L. Brent Bozell

The man has demonstrated an emotional immaturity bordering on personality disorder, and it ought to disqualify him from being a mayor, to say nothing of a commander-in-chief. Trump has made a career out of egotism, while conservatism implies a certain modesty about government. 
—Mona Charen

He doesn’t know the Constitution, history, law, political philosophy, nuclear strategy, diplomacy, defense, economics beyond real estate, or even, despite his low-level-mafioso comportment, how ordinary people live. 
—Mark Helprin

Trump’s brawling, blustery, mean-spirited public persona serves to associate conservatives with all the negative stereotypes that liberals have for decades attached to their opponents on the right. 
—Michael Medved

Trump’s vitriolic—and often racist and sexist—language about immigrants, women, the disabled, and others ought to concern anyone who believes that all persons, not just the “winners” of the moment, are created in God’s image.
—Russell Moore

Trump has made a living out of preying on and bullying society’s most vulnerable, with the help of government. He isn’t an outsider, but rather an unelected politician of the worst kind. He admits that he’s bought off elected officials in order get his way and to openly abuse the system.
—Katie Pavlich

The actual track record of crowd pleasers, whether Juan PerĂ³n in Argentina, Obama in America, or Hitler in Germany, is very sobering, if not painfully depressing. … A shoot-from-the-hip, bombastic showoff is the last thing we need or can afford.
—Thomas Sowell


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Were Tivet and Wilber, the first operators of a movie house in Davis, gays?



In his latest Davis History Today blog, John Lofland posts a long story regarding the history of movie houses in Davis. The piece was published in The Davis Enterprise in 1950, and, Lofland thinks, was likely written by former Enterprise editor and publisher William H. Scott, just a year before his death.

The occasion at hand in 1950 was the opening of the second version of the Varsity Theatre. That Streamline Moderne building, a City of Davis Landmark, is now used as an art house cinema. It replaced an older Varsity Theatre building located on Second Street, a block east of the current structure.

Here is the article’s opening:

“The very first regular movie house in Davis was established about 1909 or early in 1910. The event attracted little attention at the time and was not recorded in the paper, although it is well remembered by many of our older citizens. The site was a one-story brick building on the west side of Main Street at the corner now occupied by the Truffini Gas Station.”

I’m not exactly sure where this version of the Truffini Gas Station was. I’ve read later references to Joe Truffini (1907-1984) owning a station on B Street. If I had to guess, it was probably between 1st and 2nd on G Street (then known as Main informally and OIive Street formally).

The sentence in the article which caught my attention was this: 

“The promoters were Tivet and Wilber, two baby-faced gentlemen who were promptly nicknamed Pansy and Violet by the children of the town. The names stuck, and many never knew them by any others.”

Of note, it seems likely that Tivet and Wilber either were a couple of gay men or they were perceived to be. The reason that seems probable to me is that “pansy” is a derogatory term for a gay or effeminate male. I don’t know if “violet” had that same connotation. However, since pansies are in the violet family of flowers, pairing those two terms together may have been used for “a couple of gays.”




Regardless, Mr. Tivet and Mr. Wilber had a rather primitive operation in 1910 which, according to the 1950 article, only lasted a couple of months in Davis:

“Their equipment consisted of a projector and screen, some backless wooden benches and an ancient phonograph with a large horn. Their stock of records was strictly limited. Many who attended some of the shows still laugh about the song, ‘Over the Waves,’ which was played and replayed at every performance.

“The show did not last long — some say not more than a month or two — and the only distinction of the promoters is that they started something. While there may have been transient movie exhibitions in some of the village halls previous to them, none could lay claim to the intention, or at least the hope, of permanency.”


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Trump, while now more popular with Republicans, may not be electable with the rest of US voters



In a piece in The Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein reports that Donald Trump today is much more popular among Republican voters than he was several months ago. However, he remains widely unpopular among Democrats and independents, and were he to win the Republican nomination his inability to gain the votes of non-Republicans would likely lead to his defeat:

A widen­ing dis­tance between per­spect­ives about Don­ald Trump among Republicans and all oth­er voters—the “Trump gap”—presents GOP lead­ers with a conun­drum as the primar­ies approach. The phe­nomen­on can be charted across a series of na­tion­al polls, from which a con­sist­ent pat­tern has emerged in at­ti­tudes toward the GOP front-run­ner since he entered the race last sum­mer.

Re­pub­lic­an par­tis­ans and some oth­er con­ser­vat­ive-lean­ing con­stitu­en­cies are demon­strably warm­ing in their at­ti­tudes to­ward the blustery busi­ness ex­ec­ut­ive. But views of Trump gen­er­ally re­main stag­nant, or are even de­teri­or­at­ing, among adults who identi­fy as Demo­crats or in­de­pend­ents.

While Trump’s inability thus far to please non-Republicans looks costly, the leading Democrat, Hillary Clinton, has her own favorability problems, though they are not as bad as Trump’s:

What makes this pat­tern es­pe­cially fraught for GOP strategists is that Hil­lary Clin­ton, the overwhelming  fa­vor­ite for the Demo­crat­ic nomination, also faces very sticky negative perceptions among voters out­side of her par­tis­an base. Yet for all of Clin­ton’s dif­fi­culties with in­de­pend­ent voters and oth­er swing con­stitu­en­cies, Trump’s stand­ing among the same groups usu­ally ranks lower in the same polls.

Brownstein reports that Trump has been increasing his popularity among GOP voters:

The mag­nitude of the change among Re­pub­lic­ans is even more ap­par­ent when con­sid­er­ing Trump’s net fa­vor­ab­il­ity: that is, the dif­fer­ence between the share of Re­pub­lic­ans who view him fa­vor­ably and un­fa­vor­ably. In the CNN/ORC poll, Trump’s net fa­vor­ab­il­ity has jumped from 9 to 43 per­cent­age points; in Quinnipiac polls, he’s moved from a net neg­at­ive rat­ing of 18 points to a net positive of 33; and even in the NBC/WSJ sur­vey, his net pos­it­ive rat­ing has nearly tripled from 9 to 25 per­cent­age points.

Because Hillary is hardly beloved, the contest in November may come down to which candidate can get his or her voters to show up in the polls, while those who don’t like either choose the lesser of two evils:


A race between two can­did­ates la­bor­ing un­der such cloudy pub­lic as­sess­ments might turn on which could do more to re­verse the neg­at­ive judg­ments evid­ent today. But it might also prove a uniquely neg­at­ive and bruis­ing con­test de­cided by which con­test­ant can more ef­fect­ively re­in­force the gap between their op­pon­ent’s strong stand­ing among their par­tis­ans—and far more tenu­ous po­s­i­tion with everyone else.


Friday, January 8, 2016

The CDC needs to take a good look at the scientific evidence on salt



A publication called Healthline has a CDC report up which claims, “Americans are consuming too much salt.” The trouble, according to the CDC, is that Americans eat a lot of processed foods which are loaded with sodium.

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that roughly 90 percent of people in the United States — regardless of age, race, or gender — consume more than the 2,300 mg daily recommended amount of sodium. That’s only a teaspoon of table salt.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden called it “alarming” that nine out of 10 adults and children consume too much salt. “The evidence is clear: too much sodium in our foods leads to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke,” Frieden said in a press release.

The evidence is clear? Really? Let’s see it. The CDC study assumes that evidence is there. However, its study only counts how much salt people are consuming. It never bothers to prove that salt consumption causes heart disease, strokes or even high blood pressure.

CDC director Tom Frieden may be alarmed, but he presents zero evidence whatsoever that “too much sodium in our foods” leads to any negative health consequences. The science is simply not there. If anything, there is a modest amount of evidence which suggests the opposite — a diet too low in sodium may cause health problems.


This week a meta-analysis of seven studies involving a total of 6,250 subjects in the American Journal of Hypertension found no strong evidence that cutting salt intake reduces the risk for heart attacks, strokes or death in people with normal or high blood pressure. 

In May European researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.

More from Scientific American:

Intersalt, a large study published in 1988, compared sodium intake with blood pressure in subjects from 52 international research centers and found no relationship between sodium intake and the prevalence of hypertension. In fact, the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams a day, had a lower median blood pressure than the population that ate the least, about 7.2 grams a day. 

In 2004 the Cochrane Collaboration, an international, independent, not-for-profit health care research organization funded in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, published a review of 11 salt-reduction trials. Over the long-term, low-salt diets, compared to normal diets, decreased systolic blood pressure (the top number in the blood pressure ratio) in healthy people by 1.1 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by 0.6 mmHg. That is like going from 120/80 to 119/79. 

The review concluded that "intensive interventions, unsuited to primary care or population prevention programs, provide only minimal reductions in blood pressure during long-term trials." A 2003 Cochrane review of 57 shorter-term trials similarly concluded that "there is little evidence for long-term benefit from reducing salt intake."

Despite a lack of evidence, the CDC has continued its campaign against salt. Here is more from the Healthline report:

The CDC says that 86 percent of people with hypertension still consume too much sodium even though they ingest less salt than people without the condition.

Although this finding by the CDC seems to contradict the notion that it is beneficial to reduce salt intake, it raises a related question: Is a person who does not have hypertension, but consumes more than the recommended amount of sodium in his diet, more likely to acquire high blood pressure down the road if he keeps eating “too much” salt? If the answer is no — and the evidence suggests it is — then why is the CDC recommending a low salt diet to people who don’t have high blood pressure?

Because sodium is so ubiquitous in the American diet, the CDC says a key strategy in lowering sodium intake is to reduce the sodium in the food supply, which some food companies have already begun doing. Many processed foods are now available in lower sodium versions.

This sounds a lot like the long-accepted, but purely bogus idea that it is better to eat a low-fat diet. There is no good evidence for that, either, and there never has been any.





A common example of how crazy our system of justice can be

The president of the United States stole his dog's football?


You know you are a leftist if you think we should not be holding unmedicated psychotic people in locked psychiatric facilities. You know you are a rightist if you think crazy people who commit crazy crimes belong in prison. You know you are sane if you think our system is crazy.

A fairly good example of a crazy person who is going to go to prison but should have been kept in a locked psychiatric facility is Scott D. Stockert of Dickinson, North Dakota. Here is what the Washington Post reports he is accused of doing

Officials in Washington say they’ve arrested a North Dakota man who allegedly traveled to the nation’s capital to kidnap a dog belonging to President Barack Obama.

D.C. Superior Court documents say Secret Service agents interviewed Scott D. Stockert of Dickinson, North Dakota, at a Washington hotel after receiving information that he was on his way to the capital to kidnap a “pet” owned by the first family. The first family has two Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny. Officials arrested Stockert after finding weapons in his car. … Agents searched the truck and found a shotgun and rifle as well as a machete, a billy club and ammunition. 

… Stockert told agents that he was “Jesus Christ” and that his parents were President John F. Kennedy and actress Marilyn Monroe and that he came to Washington to announce he was running for president.

The great mystery to me is what ever happened to the notion of “not guilty by reason of insanity.”


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Might this open up an avenue to cure a whole host of genetic diseases and disorders?

Members of the UT Southwestern team whose research successfully halted progression of a form of muscular dystrophy in mice included (l-r) Dr. Chengzu Long, Dr. Eric Olson, Dr. Rhonda Bassel-Duby, Dr. Leonela Amoasii, John Shelton, and Alex Mireault.



If this really results in a cure for a disease — in this case Duchenne muscular dystrophy — and not just a reduction in symptoms, the breakthrough reported by Science Daily is huge news:

Using a new gene-editing technique, a team of scientists from UT Southwestern Medical Center stopped progression of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) in young mice. … In the study published in Science, UTSW researchers used a gene-editing approach to permanently correct the DMD mutation that causes the disease in young mice.

In 2014, Dr. Eric Olson's team first used this technique -- called CRISPR/Cas9-mediated genome editing -- to correct the mutation in the germ line of mice and prevent muscular dystrophy. This paved the way for novel genome editing-based therapeutics in DMD.

Although there are not too many cases of DMD — about 1 in 5,000 boys — there are a large number of highly debilitating genetic disorders, and I wonder if the same type of approach with a CRISPR/Cas9 system might be able to find cures for all of them.

The CRISPR genome-editing technology, which was developed by a researcher at University of California at Berkeley, was picked as the "Breakthrough of the Year" scientific development by Science.




"The recent groundbreaking discoveries from the Olson laboratory using genome editing to correct the genetic mutation that causes DMD have accelerated the race to find a cure for this deadly disease," said Dr. Pradeep Mammen, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Co-Director of the UTSW Wellstone Center. "The challenge now lies before Wellstone Center researchers to translate these discoveries in the mouse model of DMD into a therapy for patients with DMD."

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UPDATE:


Only three days after I posted this information about possibly curing DMD with CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing and suggesting that it could be used in a similar way to cure other genetic disorders, it is being reported here that inherited blindness might also be cured by the same genome editing technique:


A research team at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute focused on inherited retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease with no known cure that can lead to blindness. The researchers used a technique known as CRISPR/Cas9 to remove a genetic mutation that causes the blindness disease. CRISPR/Cas9 is adapted from a strategy used by bacteria to fight invading viruses.