Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Low IQ kills?

February 11, 2010

Continuing the recent purely coincidental series of posts on morbidity, via Steve Sailer, we find that low intelligence is a top health risk:

Research by Britain’s Medical Research Council (MRC) found that lower intelligence quotient (IQ) scores were associated with higher rates of heart disease and death, and were more important indicators than any other risk factors except smoking …

The MRC study, which analysed data from 1,145 men and women aged around 55 and followed up for 20 years, rated the top five heart disease risk factors as cigarette smoking, IQ, low income, high blood pressure, and low physical activity.

The researchers, led by David Batty of the MRC and Social and Public Health Science Unit in Glasgow, Scotland, said there were “a number of plausible mechanisms” which might explain why lower IQ scores could raise the risk of heart disease — in particular a person’s approach to “healthy behaviour.”

Those who ignored or failed to understand advice about the risks of smoking or benefits of good diet and exercise for heart health would be more likely to be at higher risk, they wrote in a study in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention

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The crypto-communist conspiracy to deindustrialise the world?

January 14, 2010

But the need for more research should not be an excuse for delaying much needed action now. There is already a clear case for precautionary action at an international level. The IPCC tells us that we can’t repair the effects of past behaviour on our atmosphere as quickly and as easily as we might cleanse a stream or river. It will take, for example, until the second half of the next century, until the old age of my grandson, to repair the damage to the ozone layer above the Antarctic. And some of the gases we are adding to the global heat trap will endure in the Earth’s atmosphere for just as long.

The IPCC tells us that, on present trends, the earth will warm up faster than at any time since the last ice age. Weather patterns could change so that what is now wet would become dry, and what is now dry would become wet. Rising seas could threaten the livelihood of that substantial part of the world’s population which lives on or near coasts. The character and behaviour of plants would change, some for the better, some for worse. Some species of animals and plants would migrate to different zones or disappear for ever. Forests would die or move. And deserts would advance as green fields retreated.

Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently; it’s sensible to develop alternative and sustainable and sensible … it’s sensible to improve energy efficiency and to develop alternative and sustainable sources of supply; it’s sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it’s sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it’s sensible to tackle the problem of waste. I understand that the latest vogue is to call them ‘no regrets’ policies. Certainly we should have none in putting them into effect.

And our uncertainties about climate change are not all in one direction. The IPCC report is very honest about the margins of error. Climate change may be less than predicted. But equally it may occur more quickly than the present computer models suggest. Should this happen it would be doubly disastrous were we to shirk the challenge now. I see the adoption of these policies as a sort of premium on insurance against fire, flood or other disaster. It may be cheaper or more cost-effective to take action now than to wait and find we have to pay much more later

~ The Iron Lady, 6 November 1990

Link via John Quiggin (yes my title was ironic)

Interview with a ‘high functioning’ schizophrenic

January 7, 2010

From a fascinating interview with law professor and McArthur grant winner Elyn Saks who has to manage her schizophrenia along with her daily responsibilities:

COOK: Can you sum up the subjective experience of breakdown, so that people might understand what a person with schizophrenia is going through?

SAKS: Subjectively, the best comparison I can make is to a waking nightmare. You have all the terror and confusion and the bizarre images and thoughts that you have in a nightmare. And then with the nightmare you sit bolt upright in bed in utter terror. Only with a nightmare you then wake up, while with psychosis you can’t just open your eyes and make it all go away.

That’s subjectively. Objectively, I have delusions (irrational beliefs like that I have killed hundreds of thousands of people with my thoughts); infrequent hallucinations (like watching a huge spider walk up my wall); and disorganized and confused thinking (e.g. what are called “loose associations,” like “my copies of the cases have been infiltrated. We have to case the joint. I don’t believe in joints but they do hold your body together”). These are called “positive symptoms” of schizophrenia. Except for my first two years at Oxford, I have been spared the so-called “negative symptoms”: apathy, withdrawal, inability to work or make friends.

Mental imagery and personality

December 23, 2009

Via Steve Sailer, some rather eclectic research which finds surprising correlations between mental imagery and personality:

In “Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic” (M.I.T. Press, 2007), Dr. Hurlburt, 64, presents the case of Melanie, a young woman who was fitted with a beeper that randomly prompted her to record everything in her awareness several times a day. In later interviews, she reconstructed these moments, often under rigorous cross-examination …

After hundreds of introspective interviews, Dr. Hurlburt still hesitates to generalize from his findings. But he has observed that the basic makeup of inner life varies substantially from person to person.

“My research says that there are a lot of people who don’t ever naturally form images, and then there are other people who form very florid, high-fidelity, Technicolor, moving images,” he said. Some people have inner lives dominated by speech, body sensations or emotions, he said, and yet others by “unsymbolized thinking” that can take the form of wordless questions like, “Should I have the ham sandwich or the roast beef?”

In a 2006 book, “Exploring Inner Experience,” Dr. Hurlburt suggests that these differences may be linked to personality and behavior. Inner speakers tend to be more confident, for example, and those who think in pictures tend to have trouble empathizing with others.

Differences in thinking style may also help explain some aspects of mental illness. In studies conducted with Sharon Jones-Forrester and Stephanie Doucette, Dr. Hurlburt found that bulimic women experienced a clutter of simultaneous thoughts that could often be cleared by purging.

“Why is that? I have no idea,” Dr. Hurlburt said. “But I haven’t found anything about it in the bulimia literature.”

The usual caveats apply here if not with more force given that we are talking about self-reporting. But I’ve often thought about the question myself. How do most people think? In words or concrete pictures or some hybrid of both? I find my own thinking to be a running verbal commentary interpersed with abstract imagery.

More fanciful physics models

December 22, 2009

This is all very fun but is it science?

What’s the difference between the past and the future? Not a great deal, if you take a purely relativistic view of the universe, say George Ellis from the University of Cape Town in South Africa and Tony Rothman from Princeton University in New Jersey.

The standard spacetime diagrams used in relativity accord no special status to the past, the present or the future. That’s because they assume that everything evolves from time-reversible local physics.

In fact, it is possible represent such a universe using a kind of spacetime diagram in which space and time merge into a single entity. “The universe just is: a fixed spacetime block,”say Ellis and Rothman. In this view, no instant has any special status: “All past and future times are equally present, and the present “now” is just one of an infinite number.”

This kind of “block universe” has indeed been studied by various physicists in recent decades with limited impact.

Today, Ellis and Rothman introduce a significant new type of block universe. They say the character of the block changes dramatically when quantum mechanics is thrown into the mix. All of a sudden, the past and the future take on entirely different characteristics. The future is dominated by the weird laws of quantum mechanics in which objects can exist in two places at the same time and particles can be so deeply linked that they share the same existence. By contrast, the past is dominated by the unflinching certainty of classical mechanics.

What’s interesting is that the transition between these states takes place largely in the present. It’s almost as if the past crystallizes out of the future, in the instant we call the present. Ellis and Rothman call this model the “crystallizing block universe” and go on to explore some of its properties.

Roll over von Clausewitz

December 18, 2009

Scientists claim to be able to use power laws to model insurgencies.

… a mathematical model published today in Nature (see Nature 462,911–914; 2009) suggests that insurgencies have a common underlying pattern that may allow the timing of attacks and the number of casualties to be predicted.

“We found that the way in which humans do insurgent wars — that is, the number of casualties and the timing of events — is universal,” says team leader Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami in Florida. “This changes the way we think insurgency works.”

Johnson and his colleagues argue that the pattern arises because insurgent wars lack a coherent command network and operate more as a “soup of groups”, in which cells form and disband when they sense danger, then reform in different sizes and composition. The timing of attacks, the authors say, is driven by competition between insurgent groups for media attention.

Johnson, who has presented preliminary versions of the work to the US military, says that the findings allow a glimpse into the heart of insurgency behaviour. “We can get a sense of what is going on and what might happen if we intervened in certain ways,” he says. He is now working to predict how the insurgency in Afghanistan might respond to the influx of foreign troops recently announced by US President Barack Obama.

Scientific American on climate contrarianism

December 18, 2009

It looks like I’ve already violated one of the tenets of this blog by posting a link to this but I am actually increasingly finding the science behind AGW more interesting than the politics. Thus I welcome any contributions from informed parties in the comments section on any of these specific refutations of climate contrarians set out in the article.

Math and gender

December 17, 2009

More contrarian research, this time on mathematical aptitude and culture:

Five years ago, then Harvard president Lawrence Summers’s suggestion that women lack an ”intrinsic aptitude” for math and science drew a firestorm of protest, but he was drawing on a century-old hypothesis that males exhibit greater variability in many features, math included …

This, Summers said, is one reason there are fewer women in tenured science and engineering positions at top universities and research institutions. ”I would like nothing better than to be proved wrong,” he added.

A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences might make him happy. In it, psychologists Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, used data from math aptitude tests to show that among top math performers, the gender gap doesn’t exist in some ethnic groups and in some countries. The researchers conclude that culture is the main reason more men excel at the highest math levels in most countries.

”When parents are asked to estimate their child’s math talent, they estimate higher numbers for their sons than their daughters despite similar grades in school,” Hyde says. Teachers and guidance counselors share this bias, which is why math has served as a filter to keep young women out of science, technology, and engineering …

But what of the statistics that seem to back up the hypothesis that males have greater variability? Hyde and Mertz found there are more girls in the top tier in countries such as Iceland, Thailand, and the United Kingdom–and even in certain U.S. populations, such as Asian-Americans. Furthermore, they noted that a small math gender gap correlated with a higher rank on the World Economic Forum’s 2007 measures of gender equality, in which the United States ranked 31st, between Estonia and Kazakhstan. A similar correlation was found for the number of girls on International Mathematical Olympiad teams.

So how does culture shape how women do in math? Hyde says that in many countries, especially those in Asia, excellence at math is considered a result of hard work. By contrast, in the United States it is more commonly believed that people are born with or without a gift for math, a subject that in any case is thought to be hard, and not only for girls. Then there’s the cultural perception of math achievers–the nerds who are heckled in one society are exalted in another. Irina Mitrea, a math professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts, who finished high school in Romania, says she never felt discouraged there: ”In fact, being good at math made you popular.” Romania’s International Math Olympiad team has had one of the highest ratios of females of all top-ranked teams in the past decade.

Testosterone and fair play

December 17, 2009

Via FuturePundit, a study that comes up with quite unexpected results on the effects of testosterone:

New scientific evidence refutes the preconception that testosterone causes aggressive, egocentric, and risky behavior. A study at the Universities of Zurich and Royal Holloway London with more than 120 experimental subjects has shown that the sexual hormone with the poor reputation can encourage fair behaviors if this serves to ensure one’s own status.

Popular scientific literature, art, and the media have been attributing the roll of aggression to the arguably best known sexual hormone for decades. Research appeared to confirm this – the castration of male rodents evidently led to a reduction in combativeness among the animals. The prejudice thus grew over decades that testosterone causes aggressive, risky, and egocentric behavior. The inference from these experiments with animals that testosterone produces the same effects in humans has proven to be false, however, as a combined study by neuroscientist Christoph Eisenegger and economist Ernst Fehr, both of the University of Zurich, and economist Michael Naef of Royal Holloway in London demonstrates. “We wanted to verify how the hormone affects social behavior,” Dr. Christoph Eisenegger explains, adding, “we were interested in the question: what is truth, and what is myth?”

For the study, published in the renowned journal Nature, some 120 test subjects took part in a behavioral experiment where the distribution of a real amount of money was decided. The rules allowed both fair and unfair offers. The negotiating partner could subsequently accept or decline the offer. The fairer the offer, the less probable a refusal by the negotiating partner. If no agreement was reached, neither party earned anything.

Before the game the test subjects were administered either a dose of 0.5 mg testosterone or a corresponding placebo.

The study’s results, however, contradict this view sharply. Test subjects with an artificially enhanced testosterone level generally made better, fairer offers than those who received placebos, thus reducing the risk of a rejection of their offer to a minimum.

So the next time a guy doesn’t play fair, just accuse him of lacking cojones?