Academic research


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Life in the U.S. goes by in a blur in this photo titled “Busy New York at Dusk.” (Credit: Angelo DeSantis via Wikimedia Commons)

Next time somebody tells you they’re overworked, give them sympathy, a pat on the back — and a gold star. Overwork, it turns out, is a new sign of social status.

In many other cultures, people who have lots of leisure time on their hands are looked at in high regard. But a new paper published in the Journal of Consumer Research says that’s not the case in the U.S., where folks hold the overworked and those who say they “have no life” as being at the top of the social pecking order.

Researchers call it “humblebrag.”

“We uncovered an alternative type of conspicuous consumption that operated by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals,” write the authors, Silvia Bellezza of the Columbia Business School and Neeru Paharia and Anat Keinan of Harvard University.

“People’s social-mobility beliefs are psychologically driven by the perception that busy individuals possess desirable characteristics, leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.”

They studied groups of people from the U.S. and compared them to groups in Italy, where just the reverse is true. People there assign high prestige and status to those who lead a more leisurely life.

The paper notes a 2014 Super Bowl commercial by Cadillac that said:

“Other countries they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café, they take August off— off! Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t we like that? Because we are crazy driven hard-working believers, that’s why!”

If you really want to impress someone tell them that you are “in desperate need of a vacation.”

So yeah … Americans respect work. But are their noses really held to the grindstone?

In the movie Office Space (1999), Peter Gibbons explains his job to a pair of efficiency consultants: “Well, I generally come in at least 15 minutes late. I use the side door, that way Lumbergh can’t see me. And after that I just sort of space out for about an hour.

“I just stare at my desk. But it looks like I’m working. I do that for an hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about 15 minutes of real, actual work.”

In 1974, Bachman Turner Overdrive said: “And if your train’s on time/ You can get to work by nine/ And start your slaving job to get your pay/ If you ever get annoyed/ Look at me I’m self-employed/ I love to work at nothing all day.”

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ALSO: Americans want their vending machine snacks and they want them now!

A study conducted by Rush University Medical Center in Chicago demonstrated that people choose healthier snacks if they have to wait 25 seconds for their greasy, salty chips to roll down the chute.

The delay had the same affect as charging people more money for unhealthy choices or discounting healthy options.

“Having to wait for something makes it less desirable,” said lead author Brad Appelhans, a clinical psychologist. “Research shows that humans strongly prefer immediate gratification, and this preference influences choices and behavior in daily life.”

So much for the old saw: Good things come to those who wait.

Finally — a way to get your exercise without actually exercising.

Instead of lacing up the Skechers and carving out an hour or two for a run or strenuous walk, or heading off to the gym for a time-consuming and expensive workout, soon you may be able to just sit back and let a machine do all the hard lifting.

Just as it should be in the 21st century.

A new study in the journal Endocrinology touts the benefits of something called whole-body vibration, or WBV. With this method, you can stretch out and relax on a vibrating platform. The process transmits energy to the body and causes the muscles to contract and relax multiple times each second, according to researchers at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

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Anyway, it worked in mice and hopefully it will work in people, too.

“It’s nice to know that there are potentially other options out there, like whole body vibration, that could have some of the same beneficial effects as exercise and yet be less strenuous or something that could accommodate different schedules or levels of physical activity,” said Meghan McGee-Lawrence, lead author of the study.

In a news release, researchers noted that you can already buy a whole body vibrating device for under $100, although some deluxe models are sold for $2,500. But you can get a vibrating belt for under $20.

Researchers studied two groups of male mice, one of normal weight and one programmed to be obese. They then further divided them up into sedentary, WBV or treadmill groups.

The treadmill group exercised for 45 minutes and had to miss some of their favorite shows like The Price Is Right (wow — Drew Carey has really lost a lot of weight, hey?) and Wheel of Fortune. The WBV group chilled while being vibrated and the third group did no exercising at all.

Obese/ diabetic mice showed similar metabolic benefits from both the WBV and the treadmill. They gained muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.

“These results are encouraging,” McGee-Lawrence said. “However, because our study was conducted in mice, this idea needs to be rigorously tested in humans to see if the results would be applicable to people.”

The idea of vibrating your way to good health is not entirely new. Exercising belts were used as a method of fat reduction back in the 1950s and 1960s, and the concept goes back even further than that.

Here’s a nice collection of some of the old “fat melting” machines.

 
Image credit: A mouse gets a workout in a laboratory tunnel. Via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s yet another example of the law of unintended consequences — one that could have a harmful impact on the already-struggling U.S. health care system.

About 260 foreign medical students could lose their medical residency assignments as a result of the Trump Administration’s order banning travel to the U.S. from seven countries.

The Association of American Medical Colleges says the order could have a far-reaching effect on medical research and may also ultimately cause problems for patients in the U.S.

The organization released a statement saying that it’s “deeply concerned” about the order, which has been challenged in the U.S. courts and has been suspended — for now.

“International graduates play an important role in U.S. health care, representing roughly 25 percent of the workforce,” the statement said. “Current immigration pathways —including student, exchange-visitor, and employment visas — provide a balanced solution that improves health care access across the country ….”
Atul Grover, executive vice president at the AAMC, told Kaiser Health News: “These are doctors. They could be exceptional practitioners and I don’t know if you want to stop them from coming here and serving their patients.”

The countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

One medical student from Sudan described the turn of events as “very devastating. Because you are born in an unfortunate situation, you have to pay the price for that.”

In addition to the 260 applicants for a residency slot — the positions were set to be announced March 17 — others who are already involved in a residency program fear that they won’t be able to complete it.

About a quarter of doctors in the U.S. are foreign-born, according to KHN. AAMC projects that there will be a shortage of 94,700 physicians in the U.S. by 2025.

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CRACKING THE CANCER CODE: Certain kinds of hard-shelled nuts can help fight cancer, new research shows.

Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds and pistachios help initiate “programmed cell death” in cancer cells, researchers found, although it’s unclear whether their anti-cancer power is reduced by roasting.

That will require further study, they said.

The studies were conducted by Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany.

Image: pistachios could help in the fight against colon cancer and other types of the disease. (Credit: Wikimedia commons)

Sixty percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug, according to the Washington Post. Yet only 27 percent have a pre-existing medical condition, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis concluded.

One seems to be in conflict with the other — If you’re taking a prescription drug, aren’t you taking it for an existing condition?

It’s a hot topic now that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is being pit-bulled through Congress by the new crew in D.C.

prescription_drugsHealth insurance companies can’t reject applicants for pre-existing conditions under the ACA, and President Trump and some Congressional Republicans have suggested that that’s a good provision to keep in whatever plan they come up with.

But on the other hand they are talking about reviving high-risk pools, which were the half-baked solution to the uninsured crisis prior to the ACA’s passage in 2010. High risk pools were expensive and limited, and many states had to put people on a waiting list for coverage.

The one thing high risk pools do is allow cheaper premiums for younger people. The ACA has a spread-the-risk policy that requires younger, healthier people to sign up for insurance so that older, sicker people can access policies that aren’t off-the-charts expensive.

Here’s the thinking: Take care of numero uno, and don’t worry that maybe one day you yourself may need a more accommodative policy.

The real question is, how many people actually have a pre-existing condition? If 60 percent of Americans are taking a prescription drug — and estimates are as high as 70 percent — the problem is a lot more widespread than the Kaiser analysis claims.

It also depends on how a pre-existing condition is defined. The New York Times reported Monday that a woman diagnosed with a mild form of gastritis — basically an upset stomach — was offered an insurance policy that excluded coverage for anything related to the digestive tract.

If that’s how insurers will determine the scope of coverage once the ACA is repealed, there are going to be a lot of very unhappy Americans under President Trump’s “terrific” new health plan.

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Eat your heart out, Mary Shelley.

Scientists have frozen roundworms — solid — and brought them back to life, possibly paving the way for people to be frozen and brought back.

The Antarctic nematode, known commonly as the roundworm, was the first living organism to be frozen and revived by researchers from the University of Otago in New Zealand. The worm survives the freezing process because it has a mechanism that allows it to eliminate all of its water content, a process known as cryoprotective dehydration.

maryshelley“No other organism that we know of is able to withstand freezing in its cells with as good a survival rate,” said biologist, Michael Thorne, lead author of the study. “Once thawed from such a state it is able to produce offspring.

“To date no work has been carried out at the molecular level on any organism able to survive total freezing, and the insights provide a great starting point for a fascinating biological phenomenon.”

The paper, Molecular Snapshot of an Intracellular Freezing Event in an Antarctic Nematode, was published in the professional journal Cryobiology.

In fact, people have been frozen since 1967 in the hopes they can be revived later, when a cure is found for the disease that caused their death. The process, known as cryonics, is controversial within the scientific community.

At a cost of between $10,000 and $12,000, the blood is removed from the body and replaced with a special solution before the person is stored at -196 degrees Celsius.

Several U.S. companies do the work but cryonics is also a growing industry in Russia, according to the UK’s Financial Times, which published a profile in December 2015 about a company outside Moscow that hopes to take a global leadership role in the business.

The writer said of the company’s founder: “He has worked at an investment bank, hosted his own television show and helps run an anti-human-trafficking organization, but his day job is freezing people.”

There is actually a new “cold war” brewing between the two countries over cryonics, according to the newspaper.

What proponents have been waiting for is some proof, or at least some hint, that the process can work — that people can be reanimated after freezing and live again another day.

Is the roundworm study the first step in that direction?

Will people wake up 50 years from now to find that world peace has finally been achieved? Or will they step out of the cryonics storage building and into a brutal, raging war between humans and robots?

Stay tuned ….

Image credits: Prescription drugs, National Cancer Institute; Mary Shelley via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers these days don’t get by on coffee and donuts as they pore over pages and pages of printed data. All they need is someone to plug them into the wall in order to recharge their batteries.

The artificial intelligence bandwagon is building up a head of steam as we race toward the next decade. It’s already been well-documented that the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. has very little to do with off-shore out-sourcing and plenty to do with automation.

People waiting for a surge in high-paying manufacturing jobs with the incoming administration touting an America First strategy are whistling Dixie.

Less discussed is new AI technology that can conduct research — think paralegals reviewing thousands of words of case-law being replaced by computers that can sift through the same material in a fraction of the time and at basically zero cost.

And now AI is being successfully employed to do the heavy lifting in academic studies.

The University of Bristol in the UK used it to analyze 150 years of British history by reviewing newspaper clippings from 1800 to 1950. The material included 35 million articles and 28.6 billion words published by regional papers.

The resulting report tracked big cultural changes.

“The research team tracked the steady decline of steam and the rise of electricity, with a crossing point of 1898,” the university reported in a Jan. 9 press release. “Trains overtook horses in popularity in 1902; and the four largest peaks for ‘panic’ corresponded with negative market movements linked to banking crises in 1826, 1847, 1857 and 1866.”

The results also showed that “males are systematically more present than females during the entire period studied, but there is a slow increase of the presence of women after 1900, although it is difficult to attribute this to a single factor at the time. Interestingly, the amount of gender bias in the news over the period of investigation is not very different from current levels.”

While computers do a thorough and quick job of compiling statistics and identifying trends, interpretations are left up to the flesh-and-blood staff.

But how long will it be before even that role is gobbled up by AI?

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California red chili peppers. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Are you a fan of red-hot chili peppers? The food, I mean — not the band.

Eating chili peppers may reduce your risk of death by heart disease or stroke by 13 percent, a new University of Vermont study concludes.

“Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship,” study authors said.

Your mother used to say: “If all your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it, too?”

And now there’s evidence that the answer is yes, you’d be more likely to jump off a bridge if all of your friends were doing it.

Human beings are pack animals and if you hang out with a bunch of people who smoke, you’re more likely to smoke; if they use foul language you’re more likely to use foul language, and so on.

And unfortunately that pertains to violence as well. It can spread “like a disease,” particularly among teens, research by Ohio State University concludes.

The researchers found that teens were 183 percent more likely to commit violence if one of their friends did the same — and the tendency toward violence continues like dominoes from friend-to-friend at up to four degrees of separation.

“Acts of violence can ricochet through a community, traveling through networks of friends,” says Robert Bond, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State and lead author of the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Bond looked at data from interviews of 5,913 teens in grades 7 to 12 during the mid-1990s. They were spread across 142 schools.

They were asked to name five male and five female students at their school and how often they were involved in a fight that required medical attention. The researchers then asked the friends whether they had committed the same acts.

total_juvenile_detention_chart_for_the_usaFor each friend who had committed a violent act, the chances of the subject being involved
in similar violence increased by 55 percent.

“If we can stop violence in one person, that spreads to their social network,” Bond said. “We’re actually preventing violence not only in that person, but potentially for all the people they come in contact with.”

Interestingly, juvenile violent crime has been falling, even as the U.S. incarceration rate has skyrocketed.

A 2014 report said violent crime among youths had dropped to a 30-year low, and killings by those under the age of 18 were at the lowest point in at least three decades, according to the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Out of a juvenile population of 74 million in 2010, 1.16 million were arrested, down 21 percent from 2001.

Investigators said there was a “blip” during the 1980s and 1990s during which juvenile crime shot up, but now statistics are returning to a more historic norm.

Incarceration numbers in the U.S., meanwhile, have been rising dramatically since the early 1970s, but not because of violent crime. Instead, it’s  largely due to the war on drugs.

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Graphics: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention graphic via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to recent research, everybody now knows dogs understand everything you say, which is why so many people actually spell out words so that their dog doesn’t get upset. Like V-E-T, for example.

If you didn’t spell it out, your dog would probably hide under the bed or in a laundry basket in the back of a closet while you’re walking through the house calling his name. Then when he heard the door slam he’d come out to jump on the couch and take a nap, or hunt around the kitchen floor for stray scraps of food.

But if you’re on to this, and leave the house and then return to try to catch him in the kitchen, don’t expect that trick to work twice.

beagleBecause now it also turns out that dogs don’t forget things, either. They have long memories, according to a study reported by the New York Times last week. It was based on research by the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.

“The results of our study can be considered as a further step to break down artificially erected barriers between non-human animals and humans,” said Claudia Fugazza of MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, Hungary. “Dogs are among the few species that people consider ‘clever,’ and yet we are still surprised whenever a study reveals that dogs and their owners may share some mental abilities despite our distant evolutionary relationship.”

You’ve probably noticed this with your dog, as I have with mine.

If I go away for any length of time and not bring him along, when I come back he’ll be in his dog bed facing the wall, too enraged to even look at me. This could go on for a couple of hours, maybe until dinner time when it’s in his best interest to forgive and forget.

So this kind of canine ability may not come as a surprise to many people, although I was kind of taken aback to learn that dogs have such remarkable verbal comprehension skills.

Over the summer, a study reported in Live Science by the same university maintained that dogs understand everything you say — or almost everything.

Like if you were trying to explain the American political system to him his eyes might glaze over, but if you were talking about your trip to the delicatessen and what kinds of ham or chicken was on sale his ears would likely perk up.

Since dogs understand what you’re saying, and they remember things, it seems perfectly reasonable that you might take a stroll down memory lane with your dog,. He may enjoy reflecting on many of the same events, particularly if they involved steak, pork or poultry.

But make sure no one walks in on you while you’re reminiscing, since they might not have read the same studies you did and understand that this is something that’s perfectly normal and acceptable.

And don’t expect your dog to stick up for you because as we now know, they play things pretty close to the vest.

Photo: A beagle listens intently to a conversation and files the information away for future reference. (Credit: Jennifer Berman)

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