Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Mindfulness Against Stress and Racism

July 30, 2017

This post is inspired by an article titled “Stress of poverty, racism raise risk of Alzheimer’s for African Americans, new research suggests” by Frederick Kunkle in the 17 July 2017 Issue of the Washington Post.

Recent research into racial disparities among people with Alzheimer’s disease suggests that social conditions, including stress of poverty and racism, substantially raise risks of dementia for Africa Americans. Four independent studies found that conditions that affect blacks disproportionately compared with other groups—such as poor living conditions and stressful events such as the loss of a sibling, the divorce of one’s parents or chronic unemployment—have severe consequences for brain health later on.

A study at the University of Wisconsin found that stress literally takes years off a person’s life in terms of brain function—an average of four years for African Americans, compared with 1.5 years for whites. A different Wisconsin study showed that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood is associated with later decline in cognitive function and even the biomarkers linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

One of the best, if not the best, means of coping with stress is meditation. Meditation places the mind and its worries at rest. It increases the ability of the mind not to focus on stress and opens up the possibilities of ideas for overcoming stress.

If mindfulness were taught universally in schools, people would already have these coping skills. Mindfulness, universally taught, has the potential for mitigating, if not defeating, racism. Research has also found that mindfulness taught in the schools can propagate up to the parents and siblings of the students. So the benefits go beyond the students themselves.

Growth mindsets, in addition to fostering healthy memories, also have the prospect of enhancing economic outcomes. To understand how, consider Scott Adams book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” Entering “Scott Adams” into the search block of the healthy memory blog will yield healthy memory blog posts based on this book.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

An AI Armageddon

July 27, 2017

This post is inspired by an article by Cleve R. Wootson, Jr. in the July 24, 2017 Washington Post article titled, “What is technology leader Musk’s great fear? An AI Armageddon”.

Before addressing an AI Armageddon Musk speaks of his company Neuralink, which would devise ways to connect the human brain to computers. He said that an internet-connected brain plug would allow someone to learn something as fast at it takes to download a book. Everytime HM downloads a book to his iPad he wonders, if only… However, HM knows some psychology and neuroscience, topics in which Musk and Kurzweil have little understanding. Kurzweil is taking steps to prolong his life until his brain can be uploaded to silicon. What these brilliant men do not understand is that silicon and protoplasm require different memory systems. They are fundamentally incompatible. Now there is promising research where recordings are made from the rat’s hippocampi while they are learning to perform specific tasks. Then they will try to play these recordings into the hippocampi of different rats and see how well they can perform the tasks performed by the previous rats. This type of research, which stays in the biological domain, can provide the basis for developing brain aids for people suffering from dementia, or who have had brain injuries. The key here is that they are staying in the biological domain.

This biological silicon interface needs to be addressed. And it would be determined that this transfer of information would not be instantaneous, it would be quite time consuming. And even if this is solved, both the brain and the human are quite complicated and there needs to be time for consolidation and other processes. Even then there is the brain mind distinction. Readers of this blog should know that the mind is not contained within the brain, but rather the brain is contained within the mind.

Now that that’s taken care off, let’s move on to Armageddon. Many wise men have warned us of this danger. Previous healthy memory posts, More on Revising Beliefs, being one of them reviewed the movie “Collosus: the Forbin Project.” The movie takes place during the height of the cold war when there was a realistic fear that a nuclear war would begin that would destroy all life on earth. Consequently, the United States created the Forbin Project to create Colossus. The purpose of Colossus was to prevent a nuclear war before it began or to conduct a war once it had begun. Shortly after they turn on Colossus, the find it acting strangely. They discover that it is interacting with the Soviet version of Colossus. The Soviets had found a similar need to develop such a system. The two systems communicate with each other and come to the conclusion that these humans are not capable of safely conducting their own affairs. In the movie the Soviets capitulate to the computers and the Americans try to resist but ultimately fail.

So here is an example of beneficent AI; one that prevents humanity from destroying itself. But this is a singular case of beneficent AI. The tendency is to fear AI and predict either the demise of humanity or a horrendous existence. But consider that perhaps this fear is based on our projecting our nature on to silicon. Consider that our nature may be a function of biology, and absent biology, these fears don’t exist.

One benefit of technology is that the risks of nuclear warfare seem to have been reduced. Modern warfare is conducted by technology. So the Russians do not threaten us with weapons; rather they had technology and tried to influence the election by hacking into our systems. This much is known by the intelligence community. The Russians conducted warfare on the United States and tried to have their candidate, Donald Trump, elected. Whether they succeeded in electing Donald Trump cannot be known in spite of claims that he still would have been elected. But regardless of whether their hacking campaign produced the result, they definitely have the candidate they wanted.

Remember the pictures of Trump in the Oval Office with his Russian buddies (Only Russians were allowed in the Oval Office). He’s grinning from ear to ear boasting about how he fired his FBI Director and providing them with classified intelligence that compromised an ally. Then he tries to establish a secure means of communication with the Russians using their own systems. He complains about the Russian investigation, especially those that involve his personal finances. Why is he fearful? If he is innocent, he will be cleared, and the best thing would be to facilitate the investigation rather than try to obstruct and invalidate it. Time will tell.

How could a country like the United States elect an uncouth, mercurial character who is a brazen liar and who could not pass an elementary exam on civics? Perhaps we are ready for an intervention of benign AI.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

Technology and Maturity

June 29, 2017

Sally Jenkins is one of my favorite writers. She writes substantive articles on sports for the Washington Post. She is an outstanding writer and what she writes on any topic is worth reading. Unfortunately, few of her articles are directly relevant to the Healthymemory blog. Fortunately, this current article “Women’s college athletes don’t need another cuddling parent, They need a couch” in the 25 June 2017 Washington Post is relevant. This article is relevant as it identifies certain adverse effects of technology.

The following is cited directly from the article. “According to a 2016 NCAA survey 76% of all Division I female athletes said they would like to go home to their moms and dads more often and 64% said they communicate with their parents at least once a day, a number that rises t0 73% among women’s basketball players. And nearly a third reported feeling overwhelmed.”

Social psychologists say that these numbers “reflect a larger trend in all college students that is attributable at least in part to a culture of hovering parental-involvement, participation trophies and constant connectivity via smartphones and social media, which has not made adolescents more secure and independent, but less.”

Since 2012 there has been a pronounced increase in mental health issues on campuses. Nearly 58% of students report anxiety and 35% experience depression, according to annual freshmen surveys and other assessments.

Research psychologist Jean Twenge wrote a forthcoming book, pointedly entitled “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us.” She writes that the new generation of students is preoccupied with safety. “Including what they call emotional safety. Perhaps because they grew up interacting online through text, where words can incur damage.”

Along with this anxiety, iGens have unrealistic expectations and exaggerated opinions of themselves. Nearly 60% of high school students say they expect to get a graduate degree. In reality, just 9 to 10% actually will. 47% of Division I women’s basketball players think it’s at least “somewhat likely” they will play professional or Olympic ball. In reality, the WNBA drafts just 0.9% of the players.

Dr. Twenge writes that if you compare IGEN to GEN-Xers or boomers, they are much more likely to say their abilities are ‘above average.’

Perhaps not all, but definitely some, and likely a large % of these problems are due to the adverse effects of technology

 

Can Democracy Survive the Internet?

April 24, 2017

The title of this post is part of the title of a column by Dan Balz in the 23 April 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  The complete title of the column is “A scholar asks, ‘Can democracy survive the internet?’  The scholar in question is Nathaniel Persily a law professor at Stanford University.  He has written an article in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Democracy with the same title as this post.

Before proceeding, let HM remind you that the original purpose of the internet was to increase communication among scientists and engineers.  Tim Berners-Lee created and gave the technology that gave birth to the World Wide Web.  He gave it to the world for free to fulfill its true potential as a tool which serves all of the humanity. The healthy memory blog post “Tim Berners-Lee Speaks Out on Fake News” related some of the concerns he has regarding where the web is going.

Persily’s concerns go much further.  And they go way beyond Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  He notes that foreign attempts to interfere with what should be a sovereign enterprise are only one factor to be examined.  Persily argues that the 2016 campaign broke down previously established rules and distinctions “between insiders and outsiders, earned media and advertising, media and non-media, legacy media and new media, news and entertainment and even foreign and domestic sources of campaign communication.”  One of the primary reasons Trump won was that Trump realized the potential rewards of exploiting what the internet offered, and conducted his campaign through new, unconventional means.

Persily writes that Trump realized, “That it was more important to swamp the communication environment than it was to advocate for a particular belief or fight for the truth of a particular story.”  Persily notes that the Internet reacted to the Trump campaign, “like an ecosystem welcoming a new and foreign species.  His candidacy triggered new strategies and promoted established Internet forces.  Some of these (such as the ‘alt-right’ ) were moved by ideological affinity, while others sought to profit financially or further a geopolitical agenda.  Those who worry about the implications of the 2016 campaign are left to wonder whether it illustrates the vulnerabilities of democracy in the Internet age, especially when it comes to the integrity of the information voters access as they choose between candidates.”

Persily quotes a study by a group of scholars that said, “Retweets of Trump’s posts are a significant predictor of concurrent news coverage…which may imply that he unleashes ‘tweetstorms’ when his coverage is low.”

Persily also writes about the 2016 campaign, “the prevalence of bots in spreading propaganda  and fake news appears to have reached new heights.  One study found that between 16 September and 21 October 2016, bots produced about a fifth of all tweets related to the upcoming election.  Across all three presidential debates, pro-Trump twitter bots generated about four times as many tweets as pro-Clinton bots.  During the final debate in particular, that figure rose to seven times as many.”

Clearly, Persily raises an extremely provocative, disturbing, and important question.

Pedestrian Deaths Soar in the Uneven Battles with Cars

April 2, 2017

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article written by Ashley Halsey III in the 30 March 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  Pedestrian deaths soared by 25% nationally between 2010 and 2015.  Pedestrians now account for 15% of all traffic deaths.  Preliminary data for 2016 indicate that a the number of pedestrian deaths increased by 11% over 2015, with 6,000 people being killed in collisions with vehicles.  A number of reasons for this increase were noted, but the one that caught HM’s eyes was the use of smartphones—both by drivers and people on foot.

The article includes engineering and safety measures that need to be undertaken to reduce pedestrian deaths.  HM applauds these efforts, but this post is devoted to the measures pedestrians need to take to protect themselves.

The first is to not use smartphones, both as drivers and pedestrians.   Many, many healthy memory posts have been written on the dangers of distracted driving.  The personal risks to smartphone use by pedestrians are even greater.  I’ve seen pedestrians walking, engrossed in their smartphones, who step into traffic without checking for oncoming vehicles.  The HM has almost hit several of these pedestrians.  Fortunately he did not.  But an accident with one of these pedestrians would have haunted him for the rest of his life even though he would not have been at fault.

There are a couple of reasons pedestrians might be so careless.  One is that they have never ever been hit by a vehicle, so they think vehicles are not going to hit them.  What they fail to realize is that drivers certainly do not want to hit drivers, but drivers need to be given sufficient time to respond to avoid a collision.

Pedestrians also seem to assume a symmetry between their perception of automobiles and the automobile drivers’ perception of them.  This problem is particularly acute at night.  Although it is easy for pedestrians to see cars with their blazing lights, pedestrians are small usually dressed in dark clothing, which can make them almost impossible to see.

When HM was in public schools there were posters that were prominently displayed, “Where white at night.”  What has happened to these signs?  They need to be resurrected and placed in many prominent places.  Today reflectors are more readily available, but why don’t pedestrians make more use of them?

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Good Example of What Tim Berners-Lee Fears

March 31, 2017

It can be found in an article by Anthony Failoa and Stephanie Kirchner on page A8 in the 25 March issue of the Washington Post titled, “In Germany, online hate stokes right-wing violence”.

The Reichsburgers are an expanding movement in Germany with similarities to what are known as sovereign citizens groups in the United States.  Reichsburgers  reject the legitimacy of the federal government, seeing politicians and bureaucrats as usurpers.  After authorities  seized illegal weapons from his home, they charged Bangert, a Reichsburger, and five accomplices with plotting attacks on police officers, Jewish centers and refugee shelters.

Jan Rathje, a project leader at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation says, “It’s an international phenomenon of people claiming there are conspiracies going on, people with an anti-Semitic worldview who are also against Muslims, immigrants, and the federal government.  He continued, we’ve reached a point where it’s not just talk.  This kind of thinking is turning violent.”

Preliminary figures for last year show that at least 12,503 crimes were committed by far-right extremists—914 of which were violent.  The worst act was the fatal shooting of a German police officer by a Reichsburger member.  The preliminary figures roughly compete with levels in 2015, but they amount to a leap of nearly 20% from 2014.

Of course, Germans are especially sensitive about this as one time they were governed by Nazis.  Officials say they last time numbers surged this high was in the early 1990s, when Germany recorded a large but short-term jump in neo-Nazi activity following reunification.  Authorities believe the the surge is due, in part, by the arrival of early, mostly Muslim, asylum seekers.   Last year, there were nearly 10 anti-migrant attacks per day, ranging from vandalism to arson, to severe beatings.  Officials say the rise of conspiracy theorist websites, inflammatory fake news, and anti-federal government/right-wing activism have thrown more factors into the mix.

The Reichsburger movement consist of nearly 10,000 individuals who reject the authority of federal, state and city governments.  Some claim that the last real German government was the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler.  Although the Reichsburger movement may be uniquely German, its type of fringe thinking is universal.  German intelligence officials describe some of the tools used by the members, such as fake passports and documents used to declare their own governments, are nearly identical to those used by American sovereign citizens groups.

In October, a 49-year old Reichsburger  declared his home an “independent state,” shot and killed a police officer assigned to seize his hoarded weapons.  Last August, a former “Mr. Germany” and 13 of his supporters tried to prevent his eviction from his “sovereign home” by shooting at police.  Police fired back, severely injuring Ursache.  Two officers were also hurt.  This raid, along with the raid of 11 other apartments found evidence against Bangert and five other people suspected of having formed a far-right extremist network  They are believed by prosecutors to have been planning armed attacks agains police officers, asylum seekers, and Jews.

As the title of the Washington Post article suggests, online hate is stoking much of this right-wing violence.  It would be interesting to compare the number of right wing hate groups in Germany with right wing hate groups in the US.  This article provides some limited information on Germany.

To find evidence about dangerous hate groups in the US go to https://www.splcenter.org
At one time the FBI monitored these dangerous groups.  HM hopes they are continuing these activities.  However, The Southern Poverty Law Center does more than just monitor these groups.  They have programs that have reformed members of these hate groups, and they continue to develop more programs for this essential service.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Infuriating Article About Alzheimer’s

February 11, 2017

And that article is “After many disappointments, the search for Alzheimer’s drugs is more urgent than ever by Melissa Bailey in the Health Section of the 7 February 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  Regular readers of the healthy memory blog should understand why HM is infuriated.  See the healthy memory post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”  The senior author of this book is Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D., Ph.D..  Dr. Whitehouse conducted research for many years into drugs for Alzheimer’s.  He came to the conclusion that effective drugs would never be found, and that research should be concentrated on activities that would prevent, mitigate, or help people suffering with Alzheimer’s.  He remains quite confident that a drug research is a dead end.  Yet it continues.

The reason for this is  money.  Money is in the drugs.  It is especially infuriating that the government is funding this research.  Congress funds this research because it has the appearance of dealing with a serious problem. However, in the highly unlikely case that drugs are found, the drug companies would charge exorbitant fees for them.  Remember that the United States is the only advanced country that does not control drug costs, so perhaps the adjective “advanced” is incorrect.

This drug research is targeted at the neurofibrillary plaque and neurofibril tangles that are the defining symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Research on the protein tau, is conducted for its role in creating tangles in the brain.  Anti-amyloid drugs  will not work.  Yet there have been many people who have these defining symptoms, but who never exhibit any of the cognitive or behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  Many people have died, mentally sharp, not knowing that they had Alzheimer’s disease.  By far this is the most significant fact about Alzheimer’s that is rarely, if ever, mentioned.  Apparently, Melissa Bailey, the author of this article, is oblivious of this fact.

The explanation offered for these individuals who have the physical markers, but none of the behavioral symptoms, is that they have built up a cognitive reserve.  Cognitive activity along with a healthy lifestyle greatly decrease the probability of cognitive symptoms.  Just having a purpose in life reduces the risk of cognitive decline by half (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Ikigai Cuts the Risk of Alzheimer’s in Half”).

Consequently the healthy memory blog strongly recommends growth mindsets throughout one’s life.  Becoming a cognitive couch potato greatly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s (enter “Stupidity Pandemic” into the healthy memory blog) to learn more about these risks.

Although there is a widespread use of technology, this technology is used in a superficial manner (see the healthy memory blog post “Notes on Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age”).  One of the best examples of this is the woman was asked what she thought of “Obamacare”?  She was against it, but when asked what she thought of “The Affordable Care Act,” she thought that was a good idea.

Given the stupidity pandemic and little critical thinking, the incidence of Alzheimer’s will likely increase.  And drugs will not come to the rescue.  People need to start thinking, thinking with purpose, and thinking more deeply.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Politics Needs Science

January 22, 2017

The article in the 21 January 2017 issue of the Washington Post by Sarah Kaplan titled “New group encourages scientists to enter politics” was good news.  STEM the Divide is a group that will push to have more scientists involved in politics.  This initiative was set up by the political action committee 314 Action.  The goal  is to connect people with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math to the expertise and money needed to run a successful campaign.   The article stated that scientists who have been interested in getting into politics were rarely encouraged and sometimes discouraged.

Shaughnessy Naughton  is the founder of this organization.  When asked whether this raised a risk of politicizing science—framing scientific questions as ideological questions, rather than matters of fact—Naughton argued that that ship has already sailed.  Her  response follows:  “People might think that science is above politics, as it should be, but increasingly we see that politics is not above bringing itself into science.  At a certain point, there’s diminishing returns to not getting involved.”  HM would change “diminishing returns” to “serious existential dangers.”

Moreover, the question she was posed, “framing scientific questions as ideological issues, rather than as matters of fact,” betrays the erroneous concept that science is simply a bunch of facts.  Science can be an ideology, an ideology that should provide the basis for governing.  Science is not a monolithic entity, but rather a set of methodologies devoted to arriving at truth in the various disciplines.  This truth is arrived at by reasoning and data.  Moreover, it is fluid in that as circumstances or facts change, truth is corrected or refined.  Science provides the basis for our standard of living, and it can be argued that social problems are due to the failure to apply scientific approaches to social problems.

A good example of this is medical care in the United States.  Medical care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, with results suitable for a third world country.  All other advanced countries provide superior medical care for all their citizens at a fraction of the costs in the United States.  The Affordable Care Act was the best that could be done given the political environment.  One party wants either to exclude the federal government entirely or severely limit its participation due to ideology.  They use fear, lies, and misinformation to destroy attempts to bring the United States into line with the truly advanced countries of the world.

A good question is why this is the case.  The general argument is against big government.  Any argument about the size of government without considering the question of  what the government can best do versus what private industry can best do is moronic.  Yet it is repeated ad nauseum.

People say that they are followers of Reaganism with great pride.  Ronald Reagan is also regarded as a great communicator, which he was.  But what is overlooked is the reason his ideas were so easy to communicate is that they were so simple.  Reagan demanded that his staff provide brief descriptions of the issues so he could formulate brief descriptions of his policy.

The problem is that simple ideas do not adequately solve complex problems. For example, people will say that they believe in free markets.  One would be hard pressed to find many economists who do not believe in free markets, but they also realize that free markets do not remain free for long.  They are manipulated and monopolies emerge.  The manipulations achieve a variety of ends, one being the financial collapse of 2008.

Moreover, there are always complaints about the excessive regulations that come from big government.  Just think back over time and consider what life would be like without government regulations.  How long would the work week be?  What would salaries be without the minimum wage?  If these are exclusively left to “market forces” they would leave the majority of people in misery.  Were it not for unions, it is quite likely that Marx’s prediction of the revolution of the proletariat would have occurred.  But Marx’s analysis was superficial and did not consider the possibility of workers organizing to achieve a decent wage and working conditions.

Government regulations have also goaded businesses into actions that benefited them.  Gas mileage standards is an example.  And God protect us from what the atmosphere would be like absent government regulations.  One of the costs that decreased the competitiveness of the US Auto Industry in the international market, were the costs of medical insurance.  Had medical insurance been provided by the government, the industry would have been more competitive.  Their ideology acted against their business interests.

One of the most disturbing actions that Trump has promised to undertake is the dismantling of financial regulations taken to prevent another market collapse.  It should be obvious by now that the financial industry does not self regulate.  Smart manipulators cash in, while everyone else in the country and the country itself collapses.

The argument here is not that business is evil and government is good.  There are ample examples of government being a monster.  The reality is that the individual citizen stands between two giants, business and government.  Either one can step on and crush the individual citizen.  The citizen needs to be watchful of both and play each against the other to get the best result.

How should this be done?  By employing science, conducting research, and analyzing data to decide what policies are, and who should do what.  This does not guarantee a good result, but science is self correcting.  So when something does not work, the reason why it didn’t work will be studied, and new approaches will be developed and evaluated.

The fundamental problem is with the individual voter.  Thee is ample evidence that voters do not vote in their own interest.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Low Information Electorate.” It is also true that voters are governed by their emotions rather than carefully considered opinions.  Previous posts have argued that decisions of most people are governed by their guts, which are System 1 processes.  That certainly is the best explanation of the results of the 2016 presidential election.  People need to invoke their System 2 processes.   System 2 processes require cognitive effort.  The vernacular term for them is thinking.  Entering “System 1” or “System 2” or “Kahneman” into the healthymemory blog search block should yield ample posts on this topic.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Example from Lies Incorporated

January 19, 2017

This example was reported in the 7 Jan 2017 issue of the Washington Post.  The title of the article by Anthony Faiolo and Stephanie Kirchner is “Breitbart report triggers a backlash in Germany.”

The article begins, “Berlin—It was every God-fearing Christian’s worst nightmare about Muslim refugees.  “Revealed”, the Breitbart News Headline screamed, “1,000-Man Mob Attack Police, Set Germany’s Oldest Church Alight on New Year’s Eve.”  The only problem:  Police say that’s not what happened that night in the western city of Dortmund.”

So what did the police say?  They did not dispute that several incidents took place that night, but nothing to the extremes suggested by the Breitbart report.  They said the evening was comparatively calmer than previous New Years Eves.

The motivation for the false report is clear, To foster the alt-right agenda to create fear of the Moslems.  And this is Breitbart’s mission—to spread propaganda for the alt-right.  This swill is harmful to peace in the world, and pollutes healthy memories.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Did Corporate PR Initiate the Post-Fact Era?

December 28, 2016

This post is based on an article published in the Washington Post by Ari Rabit-Havt titled “Big business taught politicians a better way to lie.”  The article begins, “Donald Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes recently told WAMU’s Diane Reahm that ‘there’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.’”  Rabin-Havt continues, “She’s right and that’s the problem.  We now disagree not just on our political philosophies, but on whether the facts are true.  In this world, Hughes’s  observation is the last self-evident truth:  Facts are a thing of the past. …Americans may find it impossible to debate politics clearly because of a lack of agreement on basic matters of fact; that was certainly the case during this year’s election.  And no one has taken more advantage of this than Trump…”

Rabin-Havt does not credit Trump for creating this world.  He says that this is a result of a decades-long strategy devised by a number of public affairs practitioners who recognized that lies were the most potent weapon in the fight against progress and that Trump emulated some of these disinformation techniques gleaned from big business during his campaign.

Sixty-three years ago the tobacco industry had a problem, namely the compelling evidence of the severe damage smoking did to one’s health.  John Hill, the founder of the Public Relations conglomerate Hill & Knowlton, recommended that they form a public relations institute, to argue that their products were safe.  Together with the tobacco executives Hill created public relations operation veiled as a scientific institute, to argue that their products were safe.  They created the Tobacco Industry Research Committee, a sham organization designed to spread corporate propaganda to mislead the media, policymakers and the public at large.

Rather than trying to convince the majority of Americans that cigarettes did not cause cancer, they sought to muddy the waters and create a second truth.  One truth emanated from the bulk of  the scientific community and the other from a cadre of people primarily in the employment of the tobacco industry.

Although their efforts to muddy the waters were successful for a time, truth eventually prevailed.  So it appears that Hughes’ statements and Rabin-Havt’s conclusion are a bit overstated.  Nevertheless, they are real.  And this same scene is being repeated regarding global warming.  The clear consensus is that global warming is real and the consequences a dangerous.  Unfortunately, this is portrayed on networks that include both Fox and the PBS New hours by having one representative of each position on their shows.  Although this appears to be even-handed, what is lost on the general public is that the overwhelming consensus is that global warming is real.

There is a more realistic position is that global warming is occurring, but how quickly it is occurring is debatable.  This is not arguing that it is not occurring or that it is, as Trump said, a hoax introduced by China.  Here one needs to outline both the probability of the risks of different models and the costs of delaying different remedies.
With respect to the problem global warming, it is clear what the motivation is and by whom to either deny or to downplay global warming.  And these industries have big bucks to fund questionable research.  It is interesting that certain critiques of global warming contend that scientists finding evidence of global warming are motivated by the money they receive from research grants.  Comparing the funding of these researchers against the funding of big oil is like comparing some guy in his back yard burning leaves with the Chicago fire.  But these people cannot think in terms of truth, rather they think in terms of beliefs and how to argue their beliefs.

There has been a larger victim of these science efforts funded by special interests is a general loss of confidence in science and the establishment.  Both Brexit and Trump are examples of his loss of confidence in the establishment.

Rabin-Havt’s article also mentions Sarah Palin’s “Death Panels” critique to the Affordable Care Act.  The acceptance of this critique indicates there is virtually no limit to the stink of fecal material people will swallow.  And Sarah Palin’s being a candidate for the Vice-President of the United States is an indication of the pathetic state of American politics.

The situation has worsened with the alt-Right movement (see the Healthymemory blog post, “Sick Memory).  This has become a profitable industry.   At least with the examples of bad science done by businesses for their financial industry, they actually conducted research.  One of the reasons that the alt-Right industry is so profitable is that it requires no research.  Just think of something and post it.  Build upon other lies to create even more fantastic lies.

All of the efforts are bad for our memories and contribute to the Stupidity Pandemic discussed in the previous post.  It calls for critical thinking using System 2 attentional processing.  Truth is our only hope.  It needs to be constantly sought.  Beliefs need to be periodically reconsidered for flaws and needs for correction.  Facts, true facts, need to be considered.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sleep-deprived Drivers are as Dangerous as Drunk Drivers

December 9, 2016

This post is based on an article by Ashley Halsey III titled “Sleep-deprived drivers have plenty in common with drunk drivers, on page A2 of the 7 December 2016 edition of the Washington Post.  Her article is based on a report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released 6 December.   According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about 35% of people get fewer than the needed seven hours of sleep, and 12% say that they sleep for five hours or less.

Previous research by the AAA Foundation found that 21% of fatal crashes involved a sleep-deprived driver.  This new report uses data from the National Motor Vehicle’s Crash Causation Survey to asses how much driving ability decreases based on the lack of sleep.  The executive director of the foundation, David Yang, says that the new research shows that a driver who has slept for less than five hours has a crash risk comparable to someone driving drunk.  The report says that those who slept for less than 4 of the past 24 hours had an 11.5% higher risk of getting into a crash; drivers who slept 4-5 hours had a 4.3% higher risk; 5-7 hours had a 1.9% higher risk; and 6-7 hours had a 1.3% higher risk.  The following caveat is added to these results:  “The study may underestimate the risk of driving while sleep-deprived, because data on crashes that occurred between midnight and 6 a.m. were not available, and other studies have shown that the effects of sleep deprivation…are greatest during the morning hours.”

Tom Calcagni of AAA’s Mid-Atlantic Office said, “The crash risk associated with having slept less than 4 hours is comparable to the crash risk associated with a blood-alcohol content of roughly .12 to .15.  The legal limit is .08.

So add driving while being sleepy to the other activities you should not do while driving:  texting and talking on the phone regardless of whether your hands are free or not, and drunk driving.

The importance of sleep to health in general should not be underestimated.  Our brains are very active while we sleep, consolidating memories and cleaning up junk in the brain.  By failing to get enough sleep we are effectively damaging our brains.  This damage might eventually lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Research Ties Fake News to Russia

November 28, 2016

The title of this post is identical to a front page story by Craig Timberg in the 25 November 2016 issue of the Washington Post.  The article begins, “The flood of ‘fake news’ this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump, and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.”

The article continues, “Russia’s increasingly sophisticated machinery—including thousands of bonnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts—echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers.  The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with the nuclear-armed Russia.”

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment.  The sophistication of these Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news.”

Research was done by Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute has been tracking Russian propaganda since 2014 along with two other researchers,s  Andrew Weisburg and J.M. Berger.  This research can be found at warontherocks.com, “Trolling for Trump:  How Russia is Trying to Destroy our Democracy.”

Another group, PropOrNot, http://www.propornot.com/
plans to release its own findings today showing the startling reach and effectiveness of Russian propaganda campaigns.

Here are some tips for identifying fake news:

Examine the url, which sometimes are subtly changed.
Does the photo looked photoshopped or unrealistic (drop into Google images)
Cross check with other news sources.
Think about installing Chrome plug-ins to identify bad stuff.

Does Talk By Trump Constitute a Threat?

November 7, 2016

This post is based on an article by the same title written by Colby Itkowitz in the 1 November 2016 issue of the Washington Post in the Metro Section.  This article is about a winner of a MacArthur Award, which is better known as the “Genius” Award.  She used her award to fund the Dangerous Speech Project.  Her name is Susan Benesch, a law professor at American University, who also is a Harvard University faculty associate.

As a young lawyer, she did international work in the aftermath of the ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s.  Beseech was drawn to the question of whether one could detect warning signs for genocide before one occurred.  She did her first field study for the Dangerous Speech Project in Kenya leading up to its presidential election held in March 2013.  While there she helped oversee several projects that sought to diminish the impact of dangerous-speech, including one writing four episodes of a popular Kenyan courtroom comedy in which the actors discredited inflammatory statements.  This election produced little violence.

According to Benesch, to rise to he level of dangerous speech, at least two of these five indicators must be true:

A powerful speaker with a high degree of influence over the audience.

The audience has grievances and fears that the speaker can cultivate.

A speech act that is clearly understood as a call to violence.

A social or historical context that is propitious for violence, for any of a variety of reasons, including long-standing competition between groups for resources, lack of efforts to solve grievances or previous episodes of violence.

A means of dissemination that is influential in itself, for example because it is the sole or primary sources of news for the relevant audience.

She concludes that Trump does not meet these criteria.  HM disagrees.  He thinks the first two have clearly been met, and that Fox News could constitute a third indicator.  She rightly concludes that what appear to be calls to violence have been presented in an ambiguous manner.

There will be a data point in several days, which should tell us who reached the correct conclusion.  HM sincerely hopes he is wrong.

Vote for Christian Values, Not for Trump

November 2, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Dustin Wahl, Paige Cutler, and Alexander Forbes in the 26 October, 2016 issue of the Washington Post.  The authors are  students of Liberty University who are incensed by the president of their university endorsing Donald Trump.

The article notes that Mark DeMoss, the chair of Liberty’s executive committed criticized Trump’s “politics of personal insult,” saying “It’s not Christ-like behavior that Liberty has spent 40 years promoting with its students.”  For this statement he was asked to resign from the executive committee.  Demoss left Liberty University ending his decades-long career of service to Liberty University.

Last week the students began circulating a statement titled “Liberty Against Trump” expressing their opposition to President Falwell’s endorsement and disassociating themselves from Trump.  So far, more than 2,000 Liberty students and faculty have sighed the statement.

The Post article continues, “”Evangelical conservatives who vote for Trump to get a favorable Supreme Court must realize that doing so requires trusting the words of the most unabashedly untruthful presidential candidate in modern history.  Trump has changed his position on nearly every issue of importance at least once, sometimes in mid-speech.  There is little reason to believe that he is worried about the same issue we are.  It makes more sense to believe that Trump is happy many Christians are worried because it allows him to do what all demagogues do:  offer strength in time of fear.”

They continue, “ Trump is the antithesis of our values; there is no reason to revisit his vices here.  Most non-Christians recognize Trump as amoral and self-centered.  If we ignore this fact and buy in to his promise of strength, what will it tell the world about how seriously we Christians esteem our values.”

HM applauds these students for their intelligence and their courage.  But he feels compelled to say something about many, if not most, evangelicals.  They do not understand that the First Amendment of the US Constitution guarantees, among other rights, the freedom of religion for the individual.  The Constitution makes a clear distinction between church and state to the effect that neither impinges on the other.  So we can each believe what we want and worship as we want, as long as we do not trample on the rights of others.  But what many evangelicals regard as religious freedom is their right to impose their religious beliefs on others by changing laws and the interpretation of laws of the land.  When this is done they are imposing on the religious beliefs of others as well as secular humanists, who also have beliefs.  What they are doing is identical to the Sharia they find so repugnant in Islam.  What hypocrites they are!.  They do not perceive the mote in their own eye (Matt 7:3).

A classical religious debate is which is more important: beliefs or deeds.  HM argues that it is unequivocally deeds.  Beliefs are specific to religions and religions are institutions created by human beings.  Beliefs are the special sauce, if you will, to either frighten or attract people to the particular religion.  However, GOD is eternal and predates all religions.  HM believes that deeds are important to GOD and that GOD is indifferent to beliefs.  HM believes that GOD has given us brains and expects us to use them.  These students used their brains and came to correct conclusions different from their religious leader.  I would encourage readers to do the same.  When churches are encouraging questionable practices, you can likely find a church closer to your understanding as to what GOD wants.  There are plenty of churches from which to choose.  But a church is not required.  Individuals can develop their own relationship with GOD through prayer and meditation.  A church is only required when social interactions are important.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wealth and Empathy

October 30, 2016

This post is motivated by an Opinion piece in the Outlook Section of the 23 October issue of the Washington Post by Karen Weese.  The title of the piece is “How can you tell if someone is kind?  Ask how rich they are.”

Past healthy memory blog posts have reported arguments by some who say that humans have the quality of empathy, which computers can never have.  HM has never bought these arguments.  One might argue that computers might not be able to feel empathy, computers can, and perhaps already have, shown the capacity to show empathy.  Moreover, this facility will increase over time.  If you read some of the healthymemory blog posts based on the book “Progress,” one finds scant historical evidence for empathy. Current events lead to the belief that perhaps most of the world’s problems can be attributed to a famine of empathy.

Ms. Weese begins with an anecdote about the tips she and a friend left at a Denny’s restaurant.  The bill was $11 and her friend tossed a $5 tip on the table.  Ms Weese was amazed.  Her friend worked as a caregiver and was raising two children on less than $19k a year.  Her friend explained, cocking her head at their waitress, who was visibly pregnant and speed-walking from table to table with laden platters in the busy restaurant.  “She’s been on her feet for probably six hours already and has three more to go, she has a baby on the way, you know she’s exhausted, and somehow she still took great care of us like she’s supposed to.  She needs it more than I do.”

Reese writes that “There’s little question that people find it easier to give when they see something of themselves in the recipient.”  She notes that families of cancer survivors participate eagerly in fundraising walks.  She also argues that it is also why hedge fund manager John Paulson gave $400 million last year to endowment rich Harvard University, and not to, say, Habitat for Humanity.

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that affluent people in homogeneously wealthy zip codes are less generous than equally affluent people in mixed-income communities.  People in homogeneous rich communities are less likely to see homeless people.

A study by Yale professor Michael Kraus found that when shown human faces with different expressions, lower-income participants are better than their more affluent counterparts at identifying the emotions correctly.

University of California psychology professors Paul Piff and Dacher Keltner recorded video at four way stop signs.  They found that the drivers of Toyotas and other inexpensive cars were four times less likely to cut off other drivers than the people steering BMWs and other high-end cars.  In a related experiment, drivers of more modest cars were more likely to respect the right-of-way of pedestrians in a cross-walk, while half the drivers of high-end cars motored right past them.  Other experiments have shown that lower income subjects were less likely than high income subjects to cheat, lie, and help themselves to a jar of candy meant for kids.

Other research has shown that just thinking about money can make people act more selfishly.  An experiment by University of Minnesota professor Kathleen Vohs primed some study participants with images of money or asked them to unscramble lists of words than included terms like “cash” and “bill”.  They were less likely than the unprimed participants to give money to a hypothetical charity.  And when a research assistant appeared to accidentally drop a box of pencils on the floor right beside the participants, money-primed subjects were less willing to help pick them up.

Of course, the question is why does this difference occur.  Initial evidence indicates that the difference can be found in brain activity.  When Keely Muscatell of the University of North Carolina Keely Muscatell showed high and low income subjects photos of human faces with accompanying human stories, the brains of the low-income subjects demonstrated much more activity in the areas associated with empathy than the rich subjects’ brains.

When Jennifer Stellar of the University of Toronto showed videos of children at St. Jude’s hospital undergoing medical procedures, lower-income viewers exhibited more heart-rate deceleration than their higher-income counterparts.  Scientists use heart-rate deceleration as a measure of compassion.

So, how can rich people become more empathetic?  Other research has found that rich subjects began to act more empathetically toward others when shown a vivid, emotional video about kids in poverty.

Regardless of wealth, it is well known that people respond better to the plight of a single case than that of a whole group.  This has been termed the “identifiable victim bias.”

Reese ends her piece as follows: “Perhaps all of us who do not worry about where our next meal is coming from could stand to widen our lens.”

HM believes that meditation will increase empathy.  Should it not increase empathy, then it is not being done properly.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Are Video Games Luring Men From the Workforce?

October 29, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Ana Swanson in the 24 September issue of the Washington Post.  It begins with the story of a high school graduate who has dropped out of the workforce because he finds little satisfaction in the part-time, low wage jobs he’s had since graduating from high school.  Instead he plays video games, including FIFA 16 and Rocket League on Xbox One and Pokemon Go on his smartphone.

The article notes that of last year 22% of the men between the ages of 21 and  30 with less than a bachelor’s degree reported not working at all in the previous year.  This is up from 9.5% in 2000.  These young men have replaced 75% of the time they used to spend working with time on the computer mostly playing video games.

From 2004 to 2007, before the recession, unemployed men averaged 5.7 hours on he computer, whereas employed men average 3.4 hours. This included video game time.  After the recession, between 2011 to 2014 unemployed men average 12.2 hours per week, whereas employed men averaged 4.7 hours.  With respect to video games from 2004-07 unemployed men averaged 3.4 hours per week versus 2.1 hours fro employed men.  During the period from 2011-2014 unemployed men average 8.6 hours playing video games verses 3.2 hours for employed men.

Researchers are arguing that these increases in game playing are partially  due to the games appeal having been increased. The estimate runs from one-fifth to one-third of the decreased work is attributable to the rising appeal of video games.  HM believes that prior to these games most unemployed were confronted primarily to daytime television, which provided a strong inducement to seek work.  Today video games provide an entertaining alternative to seeking work.  As the games improve and become more sophisticated, the argument is that they have become even more appealing.

The article notes that the extremely low cost makes these games even more accessible.  It states that recent research has found that households making $25K to $35K a year spent 92 more minutes a week online that households making $100K or more per year.

The article also notes that for the first time since the 1930s more U.S. men ages 18 to 34 are living with their parents than with romantic partners according to the Pew Research center.

The article argues that these men are happy.  HM feels that this happiness is likely to be short-lived, and that there is a serious risk that these men will end up as adults who are stunted intellectually and emotionally.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

2016 Labor Day Post

September 5, 2016

It is a healthymemory tradition that on or about Labor Day, HM laments about the adulthood and retirement he was promised in elementary school in the 1950s.  During this time it was highly unusual for mothers to work.  One of the primary benefits from technology was to be a large amount of leisure.  The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted in 1930 that the work week would shrink to 15 hours by 2030.  Actually, technology advanced further and faster than was predicted.  Wi fi and smart phones were never imagined, along with the internet.  Now more people, including mothers, are working more hours.  What happened?

Current economies are based on Gross Domestic Products (GDPs).  Economic growth requires increasing GDPs.  Eventually this model runs out of resources and steam.  Yet we have to work more and consume more to foster this growth.

Not only has technology advanced, product quality has improved.  An inexpensive watch has the same accuracy as a ROLEX.  People pay for more expensive products for prestige.  There is ample research showing that scotch drinkers pay substantially more for high quality scotch yet are unable to distinguish the difference when drinking blind.  Scotch drinkers are just provided as an example.  Premiums are paid for many products for prestige, not for the utility of the product.

Voters grovel at the feet of politicians for jobs.  Jobs lost to trade are a primary focus in the current elections in the United States.   However, the trade problem is minuscule compared to the lost of jobs that will be taken by technology.

The following data and projections have been taken from David Ignatius’s column in the 12 August 2016 Washington Post article titled “When robots take all the jobs.”  McKinsey & Co. estimate that  in manufacturing, 59% of activities could be automated, and that includes 90% of what welders, cutters, solderers and brazers do.  In food service and accommodations, 73% of the work could be performed by machines.  In retailing, 53% of the jobs could be lost.  If computers can be programmed to understand speech as well as humans do, 66% of jobs in finance and insurance could be replaced.  So, to use the vernacular, we ain’t seen nothing yet!

Economic security can be addressed by a greatly expanded earned-income tax credit, or by large public works programs.  But the topic of the immediately preceding post, a Universal Basic Income, is inevitable or violence will break out and public disorder will become the order of the day.

Under a Universal Basic Income, everyone would have enough income to live comfortably.   To increase one’s standard of living, or to purchase prestige, employment would be required.  But people could drop out of the economy and pursue an education, training, artistic pursuits,, travel, whatever would increase the quality of life.

The reader should be aware that this view of automation creating enormous job losses is not shared by all.  So some regard this as a pseudo problem.  But HM would still argue for changes that would provide the freedom and leisure activities that would result from technology that were promised him back in the nineteen fifties.  HM has retired, so he finally has leisure time.  His wish applies to all that there be vastly increased amount of leisure time.

Consider reading or rereading HM blog posts, “Gross National Happiness (GNH) and “The Wellbeing of Nations: Meaning, Motive, and Measurement.”

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Computers in Our Brains

August 25, 2016

This post is based primarily on an article by Elizabeth Dworkin in the 17 April 2106 issue of the Washington Post titled “Putting a computer in your brain is no longer science fiction.”  It describe the research done by Silicon technology entrepreneur Bryan Johnson at his company Kernel, website is kernel.com.  It does not appear that Johnson has already put a computer into the brain, but rather is in the process of designing a computer to put into the brain.  The article also cites work by biomedical researcher Theodore Berger who has worked on a chip-assisted hippocampus for rats.  This work has yet to advance to humans.  And it probably will be many years before any fruits from this research will be realized.

This post is filed under transactive memory, which included posts on using external technology to build a healthy memory.  Now work is progressing on moving computer technology inside the brain.  Of course, anything that assists memory health will be welcomed.

An interesting conjecture is how this new technology would be used.  The statistics reported in the immediately preceding post made HM wonder to what extent people were making use of the biological memory they had.  It may be that when some people age their cognitive activity decreases.  And it may be that this failure to use it that is the primary cause of dementia.  This appears to be even more likely when there is evidence that people who have the defining physical features of Alzheimer’s never show any of the behavioral or cognitive symptoms.

So a reasonable question is how many people would benefit from computer implants?  It would be surprising if no one benefited, but it is not a forgone conclusion that everyone would benefit.  Some people might shut down cognitively even given a computer enhancements.  Of course, this is just a conjecture by HM.

HM would hope that people would still engage in the activities advocated by HM, to include growth mindsets, meditation, and mindfulness, in addition to general practices for personal health.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Why Facts Don’t Matter

August 15, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column written by David Ignatius in the 5 August edition of the Washington Post.  Ignatius began his column by asking, “How did Donald Trump win the Republican nomination despite clear evidence that he had misrepresented or falsified key issues throughout his campaign?”  Also read or reread the healthy memory blog posts “Donald Trump is Bending Reality to Get Into the American Psyche” and “Trick or Tweet or Both?  How Social Media is Messing Up Politics.”  Trump makes outrageous statements, contradicts himself, and betrays a woeful ignorance about government and international relations, and makes claims that he is going to fix problems without providing any plans as to how he is going to fix them.  Nevertheless, people say that they are going to vote for him.  When pressed they say that are unhappy with current politics and the country is going in the wrong direction.  To this HM asks, so the bridge is crowded and slow moving, does that mean you are going to jump off the bridge, even though you don’t know that you’ll survive the jump or that you might be eaten by the crocodiles in the water?

There have been prior posts about the confirmation bias and the backfire effect.  The confirmation bias refers to our bias to believe statements or facts that are in consonance with our beliefs.  The backfire effect refers to the effect when efforts to correct misinformation actually strengthen beliefs in the misinformation.  Ignatius is referencing an article by Christopher Graves in the February 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.  Research by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifer showed the persistence of the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2005 and 2006 after the United States had publicly admitted that they didn’t exist.  They concluded “The results show that direct factual contradictions can actually strengthen ideologically founded factual belief.

Graves also examined how attempts of debunk myths can reinforce them, simply by repeating the untruth.  This study in the Journal of Consumer Research is titled “How Warnings About False Claims Become Recommendations.  It seems that people remember the assertion and forget whether it’s a lie.  The authors wrote, “The more often older adults were told that a given claim was false, the more likely they were to accept it as true after several days have passed.”

Graves noted that when critics challenge false assertions, say, Trump’s claim that thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the twin towers fell—their refutations can threaten people rather than convince them. And when people feel threatened, they round up their wagons and defend their beliefs.  Ego involvement generates large mental efforts to defend their erroneous beliefs.    Not only does the Big Lie Work, but small lies also work

Social scientists understand  why the buttons that Trump’s campaign pushes are so effective.  “When the GOP nominee paints a dark picture of a violent, frightening American, he triggers the “fight or flight’ response that is hard-wired in or brains.  For the body politic, it can produce a kind of panic attack.

So attempts to correct misinformation can backfire and have the opposite effect.  So what can be done?  Some possible approaches will be found in the next HM post.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Risks of Acetaminophen

May 27, 2016

Acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in the United States.  It is an ingredient in more then 600 medicines.  About a quarter of all Americans take acetaminophen every week.  However, there are risks to acetaminophen according to an article by Amy Ellis Nutt  in the Health Section of the May 17 2016 edition of the Washington Post, titled, “You don’t feel my pain? Blame acetaminophen.”

The article report research published online  in the journal Social  Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience conducted  by scientists from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University.  The results come from two experiments involving more than 200 college students.

In one experiment 80 participants were asked to drink a liquid.  Half the participants received something containing 1,000 milligrams of acetaminopheh.  The other half constituted the control group that drank something without the drug.  An hour later all were asked  to rate the pain experienced by characteristics in eight different fictional scenarios.  In some of the stories, the characters went through a physical trauma, whereas in others an emotional trauma.  In general, those who had taken the acetaminophen rated the pain of the characters as less severe than those who had taken the placebo.

The second experiment exposed participants to brief blasts of white noise.  As one who has experienced brief blasts of white noise, these are extremely discomforting.  They were then asked to rate the pain of another (anonymous) study participant who had also been subjected to the blasts of white noise.  Research participants who had received acetaminophen rated the pain of this anonymous individual as being less severe than those who had taken the placebo.

In another test in which participants had to judge online skits involving social rejection, they showed the same effects as in the noise experiments.  “In this case, the participants had the chance to empathize with the suffering of someone who they thought was going through a socially painful experience.  Still those who took the acetaminophen  showed a reduction in empathy.  They weren’t as concerned about the rejected person’s hurt feelings.

This research built on previous studies identifying a brain region that appears to be key to a person’s empathic response.  The anterior insula, located deep in the folds between the front and side of the brain, is a place where mind and body are integrated.  It also plays a key role in awareness, including emotional awareness.  The less pain a person feels, the less able he or she is to empathize with someone else’s pain.

The researchers note, “Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, this drug-induced reduction in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen.”

Liberator of Knowledge from Tyranny of Profit

April 11, 2016

This post is motivated by an article by Michael S. Rosenwald  in the April 6, 2016 edition of the Washington Post titled,”Thief? Or Liberator of Knowledge from the Tyranny of Profit?”  The title of this healthy memory post should indicate my position on the title of the article.  The article is about a 27-year-old graduate student from Kazakhstan Alexandra Elbakyan who is operating a searchable online database of nearly 50 million stolen scholarly journal articles.

The basis for the posts I publish on this blog come from books I have purchased.  There are additional magazines and journals that I receive on the basis of professional organizations to which  I belong  and to which I pay dues.  Sometimes I find an interesting article from a source to which I do not have free access, but discover an unjustifiable fee to purchase the article.

It is a tad ironic that one of the purposes of these scientific organizations to which I belong is to disseminate scientific knowledge.  Yet they charge for the dissemination of this knowledge, and these publications constitute a significant part of the income for these organizations.

At one time this publication process might have been justifiable when it was based on paper.  However, in the digital age this publication process is no longer justifiable.  There are annoyingly long publication delays in the print medium, whereas the dissemination of information should be fast in this new digital age.

One substantial delay is the review process in refereed journals.  This is a matter of independent reviewers reviewing articles and providing input to the journal to determine if the article should be published.  I’ve participated in this process both as an article submitter and an article reviewer.  Often the agreement among the reviewers is not high.  I’ve reviewed articles that I think made a substantive contribution to the field, yet the articles were rejected on the basis of what I regarded to be minor issues.  I don’t believe that it is ever possible to write an article to which there are no objections.  The nature of research requires certain compromises and if these compromises are raised high enough, the article is rejected.

I am of  the strong opinion that this review process is unnecessary.  Usually I can quickly tell whether an article is worth my time.  And I am curious as to what articles I am not seeing due to an unjustified rejection of a good article.  I think the strongest advocates of article reviews are tenured faculty members who must make judgments as to whether junior faculty member should be granted tenure.  The review process allows them to count the numbers of articles published in refereed journals.  Otherwise, there would be the necessity to read an evaluate articles written by these junior faculty members.

Actually, there is a much larger problem that was documented in epidemiologist Ioannidis’s landmark article “Why Most Published Research Findings are False” (PLOS Medicine, 2, 3124. Doi:101371/journal pmed, 0020124, 2005). Subsequent research has confirmed his conclusion. Many articles followed (see the AAA Tranche of Subprime Science (Gelman and Laken, 2014). The problem hit the popular press with the October 19th cover of the Economist broadcasting HOW SCIENCE GOES GOES WRONG (see the healthy memory blog post “Most Published Research Findings are False.”)

I am amazed that this conclusion has received so little public attention.  It means that should your physician give you advice or recommend certain medications or procedures, he is most likely flying by the seat of his pants.  Even if is based on published research, there is a better than even chance that the research is in error.

Moreover, it is this insidious paper publication process that underlies most of this problem.  Journals pride themselves on high rejection rates, yet many of the rejected articles might have been failures to replicate.  The problem is further exacerbated by researchers who do not even bother to submit negative findings to journals because they know that these articles are likely to be rejected.  This is known as the “file drawer” problem which refers to important results that never see the light of day and end up in the file drawer.

So it is clear to me that this conventional publication process needs to be made electronic with all articles being available and all the data on which the articles are based need to be made available.  Most of this research is based on government funding.  So it is especially infuriating that I cannot get articles or data for which I have already paid.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can Zombies Drive to Work?

March 20, 2016

The title of this post is identical to Chapter 2  of Elizier J. Sternberg’s “Neurologic:  The brain’s Hidden Rationale Behind Our Irrational Behavior.”  I believe all of us who drive have had the experience of driving someplace and having no memory of the drive itself.  We might as well been a Zombie during the drive.  So there you have the answer to the question posed in the title of the chapter.  The chapter is about how our unconscious minds perform well-trained behaviors while doing something else.  Sometimes we can perform some behaviors that have not been previously practiced.  Sternberg provides an example in which a man was able to drive to a house and murder someone without having any conscious awareness of it.  Moreover, he was acquitted of murder at his trial on the grounds that he had no conscious intention of murdering someone and that all this was the result of non conscious processing.

A large part of this chapter is devoted to multi-tasking, and how we are able to multi-task.  However, he never mentions the costs of multi-tasking, and I regard this failure as being not just highly irresponsible, but dangerously irresponsible.  There have been many healthy memory posts on the dangers of multi-tasking.  Enter “multitasking” or “Strayer” into the healthy memory blog search block to find some os these posts.  Sternberg even cites some of  Strayer’s research in the chapter, but never mentions the risk of multi-tasking that is the point of Strayer’s research.

I think a distinction can be made between intentional multi-tasking and unintentional multi-tasking.  Unintentional multi-tasking is more commonly known as distraction or mind wandering.  There was an article in the February 21 Washington Post (A14) by Michael Laris titled “Why Do Metro rail operators keep running red signals?”

Red signals indicate that a train should go no further until the signal changes, just as on the road.  But according to the Federal Transit Administration there have been at least 47 “red signal” violations since the beginning of 1912.  And some of these violations ended just short of some very severe accidents.

It is important to realize that these are not incompetent or careless individuals.  If we understand how our conscious attention works, they can be quite understandable. Under one situation in which there was single tracking, the operator responded to the red signal and stopped.  He waited for the train to pass.  In most cases only one train passes.  However, in this case there was a second train.  As the operator was expecting only a single train, he ignored the red signal and proceeded and found that a second train was coming.  Fortunately, he stopped and a collision was avoided.

In another case, a novice operator out for her first run boarded a train on the wrong track.  This was her first actual day on the job and she was overwhelmed.    She gave the controller the number of the track she was on, but the controller failed to tell her that she was on the wrong train and she proceeded.  Again, the mistake was corrected before a collision occurred.

Another operator was told that a complaint had been levied against her to which she ended to respond.  This distracted and she missed the red signal.

It is not unusual for people to respond and think that they actually performed correctly., but the documented evidence is to the contrary.  Personally, I have had many such experiences where I am virtually certain that I saw or did something, but the facts indicate that I was in error.

It should be noted that similar problems trouble Transportation Security Administration  agents gazing  at X-ray images and surgeons peering into incisions.

It needs to be realized that multitasking always entails costs.  And that cost is more the the sum of the costs of the multiple tasks being performed.  There is also a cost to switching between  between or among the multiple tasks.  If the task is important, concentrate on that task and devote all your attention to it.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Distracted Driving Increasing Pedestrian Deaths

March 17, 2016

An article in the March 8, 2016 Washington Post by Ashley Halsey III is titled “Pedestrian deaths jump, report says.”  The subtitle is “There are more drivers and more walkers, and both are distracted.”  The report is from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA).  The report estimates that the number of pedestrian fatalities jumped by 10% last year, a year-to-year increase that comes after a 19% increase from 2009 to 2014.  This projected 10% increase would bring pedestrian deaths to their highest total since 1996, when 5,449 pedestrians were killed.

Driver deaths are decreasing due to better designed cars.  There are a variety of reasons for the increased pedestrian deaths, but distracted driving is either at the top or near the top of the list.  A number that is not given is the number of pedestrian deaths caused by pedestrians being on their phones.  This is a matter of smartphones making their users dumb and dead.  I’ve seen pedestrians so engrossed in their smartphones that they step directly into traffic without looking.  One of my abiding fears is that I’ll run into one of these people.  The fact that the pedestrian was responsible  would not prevent me from my personal trauma.

Another factor bearing on pedestrian deaths is walking at night.  I see two problems here.  One is that many pedestrians seem to think that there is a symmetry between what they see and what the driver sees, but the cars are big and illuminated and the pedestrian is small and in the dark.  This problem is further exacerbated by dark clothing.  When I was in school there were posters telling us to wear white after dark. Whatever became of those posters, in particular, and wearing light clothes, in particular.

To see more posts on the problems of distracted driving enter “Strayer”  in the search block of the healthy memory blog.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

CTE Goes Beyond the NFL

March 11, 2016

CTE stands for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.  Previous healthymrmory posts titled Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), and Watching Football, Feeling Guilty have discussed this devastating brain condition.  After much legal action the NFL has set up a mechanism for compensating players who suffer from this disease.  It is estimated that at least one-third of NFL players will suffer from early onset Alzheimer’s.  Others can  suffer symptoms that border on, if not cross, insanity and this insanity causes them to commit suicide.

The Sports section of the March 4, 2016 Washington Post contained two articles on CTE.  One article ty Rick Maese is titled “Chastain will donate brain for research.”  This is Brandi Chasten who played parts of 12 years for he U.S. national soccer team, helping the American win a pair of Olympic gold medals and two World Cup titles.  She has become an advocate for making soccer a safer sport, urging youth leagues to ban heading the ball by athletes under age 14.  Her brain eventually will go to the brain bank run by the Concussion Legacy Foundation, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Boston University School of Medicine.  Currently only 4 of the 307 brains in this brain bank are from women.  This shortcoming is especially important because the female brain may be more prone to injury and adverse long-term outcome that the male brain .  Injury data  for both college and high school athletics has found that women suffer more concussions than men who compete in similar sports.

Another article by Steven Goff titled, “Concussion symptoms lead D.C. United’s Arnaud to retire” reviews how Davy Arnand is retiring because he has been unable to shake the symptoms he’s suffered from recent concussions.  He said that he had been unable to shake the “drunk, dizzy feeling” of a head injury suffered heading the ball in practice last summer.  Other  soccer players, Bryan Namoff, Josh Gros, Alecko Eskandarin, Devan McTavish, and Taylor Twellman are other players who have been forced into retirement by head injuries.

Dr. Bennet Heakandu Omalu who discovered, diagnosed, and define the condition is especially concerned about youth playing football.  Their brains are especially vulnerable at those ages.

I find it ironic when athletics, whose primary objective is, or should be, health result is serious debilitating conditions.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Too Much Carbon Dioxide May Cloud Our Thinking

March 8, 2016

The title of this post is the same as the title of an article by Marlene Cimons in the Health Section of the March 1, 2016 Washington Post.  The bottom line is that due to two recent studies, we have something new about which to be concerned, and a reason to be even more concerned about global warming.    Until recently it was thought that carbon dioxide  was harmless except at what was regarded as extremely high levels of 5,000 parts per million (PPM) or more.

In 2012 scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory decided to conduct their study after finding two small Hungarian studies suggesting that indoor carbon dioxide was harmful at levels lower than 5,000 ppm.  The study found  significant reductions on six scales to decision-making performance at carbon dioxide levels of 1,000 ppm and large reductions on seven of the scales  (that is one additional scale) at 2,500 ppm.  In other words that even at 1,000 ppm there were some adverse effects on decision making,and 2500 produced dysfunctional performance.

Outdoor concentrations of carbon dioxide in the air are around 400 ppm.  Building operators have tried to keep levels blow 1,000 ppm as an indication of adequate general ventilation, not be cause they were concerned about carbon dioxide itself.  Indoor levels can reach  several thousand ppm with concentrations in classrooms occasionally exceeding 3,000 ppm.

Researchers at Harvard and from SUNY Upstate Medical Center used similar testing methods but monitored performance over a longer period confirming the results from the 2012 study.  These researchers studied the effects of different concentration of air pollutants including carbon dioxide as well as performance under high and low ventilation.  Cognitive scores were 61% higher on days with low concentrations if pollutants, compared with the same participants’ scores when they spent  in a low-ventilation environment with elevated levels of pollutants, and 101% better on days with the most ventilation.

For seven of the nine areas of productive decision-making, the average scores decreased as the level of carbon dioxide grew higher.  Compared with the two days of high ventilation, cognitive function scores were 15% lower on the day with moderate carbon dioxide, about 945 ppm and 50% lower  on the day with carbon dioxide concentrations around 1,400 ppm.

Joseph Allen, an assistant professor of exposure assessment science at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that spending money to increase ventilation in office buildings would be very cost-effective for employers by estimating the cost of doubling indoor ventilation rates at $40 per person annually against a productivity gain of $6500 per person per year.

So there is ample justification for improving building environmentally and for being concerned by global warming.

I am curious about the long-term effects of breathing high levels of carbon dioxide.  I am also curious as to whether increased oxygen intake  can improve performance.  Perhaps there is justification for oxygen heavy rooms or for facilities where people can take an extra shot of oxygen.  s

Wealth and Leisure Go Hand in Hand—except in the U.S.

March 6, 2016

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article b Christopher Ingraham in the Business section of the 28 February 2016 issue of the Washington Post.  That wealth and leisure go hand in hand has been a belief held by many, economists included.  Quite some time ago the famous economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren would have 15-hour work weeks due in part  to increased productivity from new machines and technology.  There have been many healthy memory posts on this topic (enter “Why Are We Working So Hard” in the healthymemory search block).  I’ve mentioned many times that when I was in elementary school back in the fifties that we were told that we would have ample free time today due to technology.  At that time it was unusual for women with children to work.  Today it appears that everyone is working more hours, so what happened to the benefits to technology?

Two economists, Charles  Jones and Peter Klenow have examined the number of hours worked as a function of the fraction of per person GDP.   So the value for the U.S is 1, and the values for other country are some percentage of 1.  The average annual number of hours worked per capita in the U.S is 877.  The only countries in the study with a higher number are Malawi, India, and Mexico.  The average number of hours worked per capita in France is 535 hours.   So the average number of hours worked in France is less than two-thirds as much as the average hours worked in the U.S.  The average number of hours worked in Italy and the United Kingdom are slightly higher than in France.

The standard of living of these countries is close to that of the U.S.  Moreover, the social  amenities offered in these countries are often superior to those offered in the U.S.   For example, medical care is free in the United Kingdom.  Not only is medical care free, but statistics indicate that the quality of medical care is superior in the United Kingdom.

So why is this the case in the United States, and why do citizens in the U.S. tolerate this situation?  I think this situation in the United States is not beneficial to health, in general, and memory health, in particular.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

World Economic Forum (WEF) Projects that 5 Million Jobs Will Be Lost to New Technologies by 2020

January 26, 2016

The Washington Post article on which this blog post is based can be found in the 20th January  2016  edition on page A13 in the article written by Jena McGregor.  The theme of the 2016 gathering is the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  This is the term it uses to describe the accelerating pace of technological changes.  It emphasizes changes that are “blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres,” which is the combination of things such as artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, and 3-D printing.  It projects that by 2020, 7.1 million jobs are expected to be lost vs. only 2 million jobs gained.   The WEF study predicts different magnitudes of effects depending on gender.  The repot estimates that in absolute terms, men will face about three jobs lost for every job gained, whereas women will face more than five jobs lost for every job gained.  Now the astute reader will realized that this breakdown does not square with the overall number of jobs lost even given the difference in gender losses.  Whether this is due to the WEF report or the report on the WEF report is unknown.  My queries to the author were not answered.  Another study by Oxford University researchers estimated that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be taken by robots in the next two decades.

The good news is that about a third of the skills that will be most desirable in 2020 aren’t even considered important today.  Social skills such as persuasion and emotional intelligence are expected to be more in demand that limited technical skills.  so are creativity, active listening, and critical thinking.

So the good news means that the new jobs are likely to be more desirable that the old jobs that are being lost.  There still will likely be an increase in unemployment unless other measures are taken, such as shorter work days, many more vacation days, and opportunities for personal development.  I’ve written in previous healtymemory blog posts that when I was in elementary school in the fifties, the prediction was that there would be much more leisure today as the result of technology.  That has not materialized.  Moreover back then it was unusually for mothers to work.  And the technology that emerged is well beyond the technology that was envisioned.  So why are we working so hard.   A priority needs to be given to quality of life rather than gross domestic product (GDP) (see the healthy memory blog post, “The Well-Being of Nations:  Meaning, Motive, and Measurement”).

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ann Applebaum’s Column on Facebook

December 14, 2015

The title of her column was Undoing Facebook’s damage.  Anyone who has read any of my sixteen previous posts about Facebook should be aware that I am not a fan.  However, I must applaud Mark Zukerberg and his wife on their pledge to give away $45 billion dollars.  Nevertheless, I also applaud Anne Applebaum for her column.  Here is her advice “…use it to undo the terrible damage done by Facebook and other forms of social media to democratic debate and civilized discussion all over the world.”  She goes on to say that weak democracies suffer the most.  Given the extensive damage done in the USA, that is an extraordinary amount of damage.  Just let me cite one example, the conversion of Moslems to radical jihadism.  This is a problem most acutely felt by Moslems, in general, and by the parents of those converted, in particular.

Of course, this was not Zukerberg’s intention. Rather it is an unintended and rather extreme consequence.   Applebaum goes on to write, “The longer-term impact of disinformation is profound:  Eventually it means that nobody believes anything.”

Readers of the healthy memory blog should be aware that it is extremely difficult to disabuse people of their false beliefs.  Moreover there are organizations who produce false information.   This has become an activity with its own name, agnogenesis.

So an activity is needed to counter agnognesis. Disagnogensis?  Please help, Mr. Zukerberg.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A New School of Thoughtfulness

October 29, 2015

The title of this blog post is the title of an article in the Local Living section of the October 8, 2015 Washington Post.  It was an article about teaching thoughtfulness in the public schools. The subtitle to this article is “These educators teach kids to take their breath and practice mindfulness,” and the article is by Rachel Pomerance.  I so wish that this had been taught in the public schools when I attended them.  I would have been a better student and  better human being.  I have only been working on thoughtfulness these past several years after I started the healthy memory blog.

Research has convincingly linked mindfulness to improved focus, mood, and behavior.  The movement has ballooned and has spread from health-care institutions to Fortune 500 companies, the military and athletics.  Now it is increasingly being used at schools and with children.  It is here that mindfulness has its major impact.  Students are learning skills that will benefit them their entire lives provided they keep working at them.  And these skill will have strong benefits on learning.

Mindfulness provides a mental reset button, freeing one from a crush of distraction, swell of anger, or parade of fears and regrets that can dominate thoughts and derail behavior.  Thoughtfulness exercises  include counting breaths, focus on one of the five senses, anchors to turn to when one’s thoughts wander.

The article notes that the idea of getting squirmy kids to sit still or angst-ridden teens to meditate might seem far fetched.   But it finds that kids often do take to it, readily turning  to the practice as a way to self-soothe, and they take these techniques home with them.

One fourth grade student said, “When I’m made and get into a fight with my brother or anyone in the family, I go up to my room, and I start breathing and doing mindfulness. It calms me down a little so things get back to normal.”

A classmate says that when she has trouble sleeping, she’ll count her breaths and listen to the ticking of her watch to relax.

Another student said, “I thought it was totally weird at first., then I realized that it totally helped…with everything in my life.”

Yet another student was playing volleyball and getting angry at her losing team.  She said that she was about to yell at them them for not doing the right thing, but then she recalibrated, did not yell, and made positive suggestions.

It appears that mindfulness is being learned by the parents from their children, which they are finding is improving them as parents.

Mindfulness is not some magic switch that can be turned on.  It needs to be practiced and worked at.  Sometimes we fail, but it is important that we also forgive ourselves and work to improve in the future.

Cell Phone Distraction

September 21, 2015

I was surprised to read an article by Krystal D’Costa titled “We’ve Modified Our Behavior So We Can Walk and Talk”  in the online  August 5 Scientific American  Mind and Brain.  I don’t object to the title of the article.  Undoubtedly we have modified our behavior as the result of cell and smartphone technology.  However, I do object to some conclusions in the article.  The basic conclusion she comes to is that we’ve adapted and there are no problems.  As you shall read below, there are problems.  Please let me disabuse you of her Panglossian conclusion.

There have been many, many posts on the healthy memory blog, regarding the risks of driving while either talking or texting on a cell phone.  On May 27th, an article in the Washington Post by Ashley Halsey III summarized the result of a report from the National Safety Council.  Between 2000 and 2011 more than 11,000 people were injured while walking and talking on their cell phones.  Most of these people were women younger than 40.  Nearly 80 percent of injuries were the results of falls, and 9% of those who suffered injuries simply walked into something with enough force to hurt themselves.

Although 42% of the injured were younger than 30, these injuries were not exclusively a young person’s affliction.  20% of the injuries happened to individuals 71 years or older.

The council reported that 26% of all traffic accidents were attributable to drivers’  talking on their cell phones, while 5% of drivers involved in accidents were writing or reading text messages.  Please do not conclude from these statistics that texting is safer than talking on a cell phone.  I believe that the correct conclusion is that fortunately there are many fewer people who are foolish enough to text while driving.  It should be alarming that there are drivers foolish enough to do this.

Other research by Dr. Lee Hadlington of De Montfort University in Leicester, England and reported in the Huffington Post found that frequent users of mobile technology are more likely to experience cognitive failures, such as forgetting one’s wallet, missing an appointment, or bumping into someone in the street.  This research involved 210 British mobile phone users between the ages of 18 and 65.  Their average weekly Internet use was about 25 hours.  The participants answered questions about the amount of time they spend using the internet and mobile devices, and about their behaviors related to perception, motor function, and memory.  There was a significant correlation between the amount of time an individual spends using the internet or a mobile phone and their likelihood of experiencing cognitive failures in their rail lives.  These failures included memory error, physical blunders and daydreaming while others are talking.

The statistic I wanted to find, but could not, was the number of walkers distracted by their cell phones who were hit by cars.  I know there had to be some such cases.  I have seen people walking, distracted with their cells phones, who step out into the street or cross the street neglecting to look for traffic.  I do fear hitting one of these individuals who step in front of my car before I have time enough to stop.
© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Loneliness and Dementia

July 27, 2015

The article on which the immediately preceding healthy memory post was based, by Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post (July 21, Section A, “Too much TV could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s,” ) also reported a study on how loneliness can increase the likelihood of dementia.  This study was done by Nancy C. Donovan, an associate psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  Donovan and her team traced 8311 adults in the U.S. Healthy and Retirement Study from 1998 to 2010.  The research participants were 65 and older and were given biennial assessments of their perception of loneliness using a questionnaire.  The researchers examined the participants’ cognitive performance and factored in their health status, sociodemographic status and social network characteristics.

The researchers found that the loneliest people, about 17% of the participants, experienced the most accelerated decline in cognitive performance.  The scores of these people fell 20% faster than those who did not report being lonely.  Donovan concluded that “loneliness is a form of suffering in older people that is prevalent but undetected and untreated in medical practice.  Second, loneliness has consequences.  Our work work shows that loneliness, like depression, is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older Americans.  The finding is important because it opens up new approaches for preventing and treating Alzheimer’s Disease.”

Ideas for Increasing or Decreasing Your Risk for Alzheimer’s

July 25, 2015

An article by Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post (July 21, Section A), “Too much TV could raise the risk of Alzheimer’s, study suggests,”  provides ideas for both increasing or decreasing your risk for Alzheimer’s.  It summarizes the results of research done at the Northern California Institute for Research and Education.  The study tracked people  enrolled in the Coronary Artery Risk Development Study for 25 years beginning in young adulthood.    Their exercise and TV viewing habits were evaluated using questionnaires three times during the course of 25 years.  Low physical activity was defined as burning fewer than 300 calories in a 50-minute session three times a week, which by at least one measure is about 300 calories less than the equivalent of playing a round of golf while riding in a golf cart (See the healthymemory blog post, “Too Improve Your Memory, Build Your Hippocampus”).  A high amount of television watching was defined as more than four hours a day.  About 17 percent reported low physical activity, and about 11 percent qualified as heavy TV viewers.  3 percent reported both.

An analysis of the results showed that people who watch a lot television had a 1.5 percent higher risk of performing worse on cognitive tests compared with those who watched less television. Compared with participants with high physical activity and low television viewing, a relatively sedentary individual who exercises little and spends a lot of time in front of the television will be two times more likely to perform more poorly on cognitive tests in midlife.

You should note that the effects of television viewing are much lower than the effects of exercise.  It might be that not all television programs are bad.  True, it is likely that many are, but there are some programs that are cognitively challenging and educational, that is they likely benefit brain and memory health.

These results suggest that sedentary habits set early in life can perhaps have an impact on one’s dementia risk in midlife and later.  One of the researchers, Yaffe, said, “What’s is happening at one’s midlife is setting the stage for what’s happening over the next 20 or 30 years.”  Yet less than half the nation meets recommended exercise standards.   More that 28 million baby boomers are projected to develop Alzheimer’s by 2050.

So how does one increase risk for Alzheimer’s?  Do little or no exercise and much indiscriminate TV viewing.

How does one decrease risk for Alzheimer’s?  Exercise at least a moderate amount and be judicious in your television viewing.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

BABES: New Hope for Alzheimer’s

July 15, 2015

BABES, which stands for Beating Alzheimer’s By Embracing Science (BABES), is an organization founded by a registered nurse, Jamie Tyrone, who found out that she carries a gene that gives her a 91% chance of developing Alzheimer’s around age 65.  This account is taken from an article in the July 5th Washington Post by Franklin Kunkle title “Alzheimer’s spurs the fearful to change their lives to delay it.”

Jamie decided to fight back.  She exercised.  She changed her diet.  She began taking nutritional supplements, including fish oil, vitamin D, vitamin B12, curcumin, turmeric, and an antioxidant called CoQ10.  She started meditating and working mind-bending puzzles, such as Brain HQ.  She joined a health clinic whose regimen is shaped by a UCLA medical study on lifestyle changes that can reverse memory loss in people with symptoms of dementia.  And she started the nonprofit group BABES, to raise money and awareness about dementia.  I hope this money will also be used for assessing and documenting the effectiveness of these practices.

A Harris Poll found that worries about Alzheimer’s crosses all generations;  more than 75% of millennials, Generation Xers and baby boomers worry about what will happen to their memory as they age.  It would have been interesting to find out what these individuals are doing about it.  Just worrying?  Hoping that a drug will be found to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s?  Or taking action such as advocated by BABES and the healthy memory blog.?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association more than 5 million people are living with Alzheimer’s, and as the population ages, the number of cases is expected to increase to 13.5 million by 2050.  The risks for Alzheimer’s  can also be overstated, especially for early onset forms of dementia.  Unless one has a genetic predisposition, Alzheimer.s strikes the majority of people after they reach the age of 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.  A history of high bloom pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, or cardiovascular problems increases the risk of  dementia.

The article notes that aging itself is the biggest risk factor:  the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop Alzheimer’s  or another form of dementia.  Although this is true, the fundamental question is why aging is a risk factor.  True, there is neurological decline, but is this a factor?  A significant fact not mentioned in the article is that there have been autopsies of people who exhibited no symptoms of Alzheimer’s, yet whose brains were wracked with the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles that provide the definitive diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

I think a more significant fact is that are activity levels, both cognitive and physical, tend to decline as we age.  It is likely that these are primary factors in dementia.  Programs such as BABES and activities such as those recommended in the healthymemory blog are likely preventive.   They foster both mental and physical activity. The Washington Post article hopes that these activities will likely delay but not necessarily prevent Alzheimer’s.  This is a guarded scientific statement.  In life there are no guarantees.  Yet many manage to pass away before suffering from demential.  See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.”   This is the title of a book whose is author was a researcher who was reaping large financial rewards looking for drug treatments to fend of the amyloid plaque and neurofibril tangles.  He came to the conclusion that these research efforts were futile, that although there was dementia, and he is conducting research on coping with dementia, Alzheimer’s is not a disease.  It should also be realized that Alois Alzheimer, after whom the disease is named, was never convinced that it was a disease.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Goodbye SAT

April 8, 2015

“Goodbye SAT:  How online courses will change college admissions,” is an opinion piece by Kevin Carey in the March 19th Washington Post.  He makes a good case for the SAT either becoming absolute or a rather minor factor in college admissions decisions.  He cites research by economist Jesse Rothstein who found that, after controlling for student’s background characteristics, SAT scores predict only 2.7 percent of the variation in students’ college grades.

Through a nonprofit consortium called edX, Harvard, MIT, the University of Texas, the University of California at Berkeley, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Caltech, the Sorbonne and dozens of other elite universities offer complete online versions of their classes, free, to anyone with an Internet connection.  Topics include computer science, matrix algebra, poetry and Chinese History from Harvard; engineering, mathematics and jazz appreciation from UT;principles of economics and data analysis from Caltech.  edX is  not alone, there are other online education platforms such as Coursera, that offer thousands of additional courses from elite universities, free.  These can be the same courses offered in college courses, to include lectures, homework assignments, midterms and final exams.  Although the courses are free, the degrees are not, but more about that later.

Prospective students can build an impressive transcript before they formally enter college  This also provides a good opportunity to learn how much they like and how well they fit into different subjects.  Success in these Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) are much more likely to predict success in college classes than SAT scores, because they are courses in college.

Here are some outstanding examples cited in Carey’s article.  In 2012 when he was 15, living in Bator, Mongolia taking online course from MIT was one of only 340 students out of 150,000 worldwide to earn a perfect score in a rigorous online Circuits and Electronics course.  He’s currently enrolled at MIT.  Another student from the same class, Amol Bhave from Jabalpur, India, enjoyed the class so much that he created his own online follow-up course in signals and systems.  He was also admitted to the 2013 MIT freshman class.

If they are not already, colleges are likely to charge for certificates of completion as well as transcripts.  And it is likely that universities will recognize these courses in satisfying the requirements ford different degrees.  It is also likely that some residency requirement will be required by many schools.  Nevertheless, MOOCS offer welcome degrees of freedom in earning degrees.  And this definitely should have a positive impact on reducing the current ridiculous costs of degrees.

MOOCS are already ideal for autodidacts.  They are also ideal for older individuals who want to keep sharp and grow cognitively.  sYou can become an expert in a field, start on the road to fulfillment  and simply bypass formal degrees.  In my personal experience, I’ve found degrees to be an unreliable indication of a knowledgeable individual.  I remain incredulous that many people I know who have college degrees actually have college degrees.  I know of people with graduate degrees who don’t seem to be able to write coherently.  Seeing a transcript with courses and grades would be much more informative than a degree.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April is Distracted-Driving Awareness Month

April 1, 2015

So said the article in the March 31st Washington Post in the article by Ashley Halsey III, “Keeping their eyes on everything but the road.”  April is appropriate as it begins with April Fools Day and anyone who drives while using a cell phone or texting is indeed a fool.  They are fools who put not only themselves, but also others at risk.  I recently read a true story about a man who drove full speed into the back of a car that was waiting for the light to change.  The man said he did not see the light because he was looking for his cell phone.  The women in the car that was hit had been recovering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).  This accident sent their recovery back substantially.  I hope that driver served jail time.  I also hope he was sued into bankruptcy.   First of all, he should never use his cell while driving.  However, even if you are not using a cell phone and are trying to drive safely instances will occur,involving a child for instance, that will grab your attention.  Rather than continuing to try to drive while distracted you should safely make your way to a place where you can stop safely and deal with the crisis.

There have been many healthy memory blog posts about using a cell phone while driving.  Texting while driving is even more ridiculous.  A survey from the AAA Foundation found that 58% of teenagers involved in crashes wee distracted by something.  Another survey by the Erie Insurance Company  found people admit to a lot more than texting and talking on cell phones.  15% percent confessed to engaging in a “romantic encounter” while driving.  43 % said they sing or dance (dance !!! can you believe it!).  30% said they apply makeup.  15% said they read.  9 % said they changed clothes.  4 % said they flossed or brushed their teeth. And the same percentage said they take selfies.  And 3% said that they had relieved themselves while they were behind the wheel.

Again, if these people were only endangering themselves this could be ignored and let natural selection take place.  Unfortunately, they are placing all of us at risk.  So take April and every other month seriously avoid distracted-driving and encourage others to avoid distracted driving.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wired Millennials Still Prefer the Printed Word

March 27, 2015

This is the title to a front page article n the February 23 Washington Post written by Michael S. Rosenwald.  This took me by surprise.  I am a Baby Boomer and I am transitioning to the iPAD and loving it.  According to the article 87% of college textbooks were print books.  I can understand why there would be a preference for conventional textbooks.  But the article also said that they preferred conventional books for fiction.  The immediately preceding healthy memory blog post did state that people have a more difficult time following plots in electronic media.  My experience here is just the opposite, I prefer my iPAD for fiction.    One of my primary motivations for moving to electronic media is logistical.  There no longer are adequate  bookcases for shelving.   That plus the ease in carrying an electronic library with one strongly motivates me, but apparently most students still prefer schlepping their books in backpacks.  The more I use electronic media, the more accessible it becomes.  And I am fairly confident that electronic books in the future will develop features that make them even easier to use.

The Post article indicated that millennials tend to skim electronic media.
Apparently the vast amount of material on the web causes people to skim so they have developed bad habits.  I found this alarming as the nature of the media should not determine how fast one reads.  Rather the nature/difficulty of the content should determine reading speed so that one is processing the material to its appropriate depth.  And, when necessary, material should be reread.  I get a charge out of speed reading courses that promise reading speed of x words per minute.  These promised speeds need to include the nature of the material being read.  There is material that, no matter how slowly I read, I .  am unable to comprehend. So here are my words of advice from a Baby Boomer to all Millennials.  Regardless of the medium, adjust your reading speed to achieve the level of comprehension you want to achieve

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Another Example of Misdiagnosis of Dementia

March 18, 2015

A previous healthy memory blog post, “A Treatable Condition Misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s,”  discusses a case as being untreatable Alzheimer’s when the true diagnosis was normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH).  An article in the March 5, 2015 Health and Science of the Washington Post, by Roni Caryn Rabin titled “Mom developed dementia:  after ten years she got better” motivated me to write this post about this often overlooked diagnosis, and because the article points to  problems in the medical system of the United States.  Even though her mother was a retired psychiatrist, and even though her mother’s mother had suffered from the same malady, it took ten years for the correct diagnosis to be made followed by successful surgery that remedied the condition.

Her symptoms were gait problems with resultant falling.  Her gait tripped her up.  It became uneven.  She was unsteady and the slightest incline threw her off stride.  Sometimes she quickened her pace involuntarily, and she sometimes bent over and then straightened back up.

She went to doctor after doctor telling them that she wanted a diagnosis telling them that she is convinced that it is something organic and that it has an underlying organic cause. Remember that this is a physician, a retired psychiatrist, speaking to other physicians.  She went to an orthopedic surgeon who said that she had stenosis, or narrowing of the open spaces of the spine, and recommended surgery.  She underwent a complicated potentially back operation, and seemed to be walking more smoothly afterward.  But this lasted for only a few months.

Her mother’s dementia  had been caused by normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH), which is a buildup of cerebrospinal in that brain that causes difficulty walking, urinary incontinence, and cognitive loss.  Her mother floated the idea that she might ave NPH. She hoped that that would be the case because today it can often be treated by implanting a small shunt into the brain to drain off excess fluid.  Nevertheless, she had difficulty convincing her fellow physicians that her diagnosis was correct.  Eventually the correct diagnosis was made and her condition was remedied by the operation.  In total, it took ten years to correct her condition.

Now if it takes a knowledgeable physician with the correct diagnosis ten years to be successful, what are the chances for us laypeople???

Is It Smart to Be Tested for Dementia?

December 21, 2013

This blog post is derived from an article1 in the Health and Science section of the Washington Post. First of all, it is difficult to distinguish early dementia from mild cognitive impairment. These are those minor memory impairments we experience as we age. About one in five people older than 75 have such blips, and most cases never progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s. I would argue further that what are experienced as mild memory impairments might not even indicate mild cognitive impairment. We experience memory failures throughout our lives, but as we age we tend to attribute these failures as cognitive impairments that we fear will lead to dementia.

Moreover, some memory lapses that might seem to be like dementia might really be something else. Danish researchers reviewed the records of almost 900 patients thought to have dementia and found that 41% of them were in error. Alcohol abuse and depression were the most common reasons for the misdiagnoses.

Small strokes that damage the arteries in the brain can cause a type of memory loss known as vascular dementia which is not Alzheimer’s. Currently, an autopsy is the only definitive test of Alzheimer’s where the telltale amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangels are found. However, it should be realized that autopsies have been done and found these telltale indicators in individuals who never had any of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia while they were alive.

Recent tests using brain scanning can be misleading. If, after reading this blog post, you remain worried, the first step should be to see a gerontologist or neurologist specializing in dementia. The claim is that when a full evaluation is done by somebody who knows how to do it, the accuracy of the diagnosis is supposed to be in the range of 90%.

Absent these full evaluations done by specialists, routine screening tests can be quite misleading. Even with the best screening tests, about 20% of those who turn up positive for dementia don’t actually have it. Another 30% of the people who screen positive for dementia actually have only mild cognitive impairment, which won’t progress or cause them serious problems.

Moreover, there is even some question whether early diagnosis improves outcomes. It should be acknowledged that there is no cure or preventive vaccine for Alzheimer’s. All that drugs can do is to slow the progression of the disease. Here is where I part company with the experts. What is the point of prolonging the progression of the disease? To my mind, this is simply a matter of prolonging the suffering. Our medical system is not designed to give us the best medical care, but rather the most expensive medical care. There is a strong willingness to prolong suffering so doctors and drug companies can take advantage of their last opportunity to cash in!

Moreover, little is said about the concept of a cognitive reserve. The explanation for those who have the brain damage indicative of Alzheimer’s, but not the symptoms, have built of a cognitive reserve. This healthymemory blog is filled with posts and ideas on how to build a healthy memory and a cognitive reserve.

1Christie Aschwanden (2013). Just remember this: It may not be smart to get yourself tested for dementia. The Washington Post, December 17, E5.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Frightening News from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety

December 17, 2013

Many healthymemory blog posts have addressed the dangers of distracted driving (enter “driving” into the blog’s search block). This post will add to this list. More than 40% of people between 19 and 39 years old admit to texting while they drive, with 10% admitting that they do it regularly. More than half admit to talking on their cellphone while they drive. Now simply talking on the phone while driving quadraples the risk of being in a crash. The risk while texting is much greater.

Overall the survey found that 26% of the drivers admitted to texting and 6% said they did so frequently. 67% admitted to talking on their phones, 28% admitted to doing so regularly.

It has been estimated that 660,000 Americans use electronic devices while driving at any moment during the daylight hours. Although most people say that they recognize the risk posed by distracted driving, they seem to think that they are able to use their phones safely, but wish that others wouldn’t.

A key problem is “inattention blindness.” Although a driver might see something that should indicate caution, this realization doesn’t register in time for the driver to react by braking or swerving to safety. Research done by David Strayer and others at the University of Utah have found that voice activated devices that allow drivers to listen to or send text messages without touching their mobile device are not effective in reducing distraction. Their research has shown that when compared to other distractions inside the car, “interacting with the speech-to-text system was the most cognitively distracting, clearly suggesting that the adoption of voice-based systems in the vehicle may have unintended consequences that adversely affect traffic safety.”

There was some good news in the survey. The 16- to 18-year group talked less on the their phones while behind the wheel than any group younger than 60 and were less likely to text than drivers between the agesof 19 and 39.1

Please remember that engaging in these activities not only puts your life and health in jeopardy, but also puts the life and health of your fellow human beings in jeopardy.

1Ashley Halsey III (2013). AAA: Drivers ignore texting warnings. The Washington Post, December 17, A4.

Sleep, the Brain, and Alzheimer’s

November 24, 2013

Sleep has always presented a problem for science. It is an activity in which we humans spend approximately one-third of our lives. So there must be some justification, but what is it? Dreaming is an important area of study. The healthymemory blog has a substantial number of posts on dreaming, which will not be reviewed here (to find them, enter “dreaming” into the search block of the healthymemory blog). Recent research has identified how waste materials are removed from the brain, and how this removal increases when we sleep. A healthymemory blog reader has led me to some of this research and I do thank him for his assistance.

For most of the body there is a complex system of lymphatic vessels that cleanse tissues of potentially harmful metabolic waste products, accumulations of soluble proteins and excess interstitial fluid. Unfortunately, the central nervous system lacks a lymphatic vasculature, so the problem was to identify how waste products are removed from the brain. Research by Maiken Nedergaard and her research group at the University of Rochester has appeared to have solved this problem.1 This finding is especially important as the breakdown of the brain’s innate clearance system might underlie the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

The research team injected fluorescent tracers into the brains of living mice, and then imaged the movement of the tracers using two-photon microscopy in real time. They were able to identify a complete anatomical pathway, which they dubbed the “glymphatic system” due to its dependence on glial cells performing a “lymphatic” cleansing of the brain interstitial fluid. (enter “glial” into the healthymemory blog search block to learn more about glial cells).

“During sleep, the cerbrospinal fluid flushed through the brain very quickly and broadly,” said Rochester neuropharmacologist Lulu Xi/”2. Another experiment revealed that sleep causes the space between cells to increase by 60%, allowing the flow to increase. When the mouse was awakened, the flow in the brain was greatly constrained.

“Brain cells shrink when we sleep, allowing fluid to enter and flush out the brain,” Nedergaard said. “It’s like opening and closing a faucet.”3 The research also found that beta-amyloid protein cleans out of the brain twice as fast in a sleeping rodent as in one who is awake.

This research once again underscores the importance of getting enough sleep. It also suggests that failures in this cleansing system might contribute to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease, as well as ALS and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. So this research opens up new research avenues for studying and, possibly curing or remediating these diseases.

2Kim, M. (2013). During sleep, the brain clears up. The Washington Post, October 20, p. A5.

3ibid.

Public to Get Access to U.S. Research

May 1, 2013

This was a title of an article in the Washington Post.1 This news is long overdue. Most scientific professional publications are available through publishers and professional organizations. Usually there are discounts for members of professional organizations, but even we usually pay. I do have access to those published by societies to which I belong. Often, there is an article that I would like to read in a publication to which I don’t have access. Sometimes the fees to access these articles are $30 or higher. It is understandable that publishers, who are in the stated business of making a profit, have such charges. But the charters of most professional societies typically state that one of their objectives is to spread technical knowledge. I hope the irony is obvious here.

Bear in mind that the vast amount of this research is funded by the federal government. So we taxpayers are paying for this research. Then why don’t we have ready access to it? According to the article, agency leaders have been directed to develop rules for releasing federally backed research within a year of publication. Some argue that there should not even be a year’s delay in releasing the information. I agree with these people, but my priority is on the implementation of some policy, and I am against any lengthy debate that would delay implementation.

Aaron Swartz was a genius. He was a brilliant programmer with a list of accomplishments, one of which was the development of Reddit, one of the world’s most widely used social-networking news sites. Two years ago, he was indicted on multiple felony accounts for downloading several million articles from the academic database JSTOR. Although it is not known what his motivation was precisely, one idea is that he intended to upload them onto the Web, so that they could be accessed by anyone. Aaron Swartz was a brilliant and sensitive individual. He was indicted by the federal government and subsequently committed suicide. The March 11, 2013 New Yorker (beginning on page 48) does an admiral job of characterizing this fascinating and interesting individual.

This is more than an issue of fairness. The ready access to this information will benefit both science and the economy. An example cited in the Post article was about a teenage scientist, Jack Andraka, who relied on open access articles to develop a five-minute $3 test for pancreatic cancer.
Fortunately, he was successful, but the charged-for article were an obstacle to his progress.

It should be mentioned that progress has been made in this area. Since 2003 there has been a Public Library of Science (PloS). The healthymemory blog has cited publications from this source and finds it most useful. But this progress has been too slow. This is just another example of how extreme economics has plaques us (See the healthymemory blog post, “Extreme Economics.”)

Similar problems exist regarding the costs of books and higher education, but I’ll stop here before I begin that rant. Enter “higher education” into the search block to read previous rants.

1Vastag, B., & Brown, D. (2013). February 23, A5.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Aging and Decline: A Self-fulfilling Prophecy?

March 24, 2013

An article in the Alexandria/Arlington Local Living insert of the March 14 Washington Post titled “Getting Stronger After a Century” inspired this healthymemory blog post. This article is about a man who did not start working out until he was 98. He is now 102 and is “able to curl 40 pounds, work out vigorously on a rowing machine and deftly pluck bouncing eight-pound kettle balls from the air with the hand-eye coordination of a much younger man.” The article later states that experts say that many people don’t realize that problems they associate with old age actually are caused by poor fitness. In other words, the experts are saying that the poor fitness aging individuals experience is, in large part, a self-fulfilling prophecy. People believe that this physical decline is a natural part of aging and start declining. If people would just start exercising, they could preclude or remediate many of these problems.

I believe that the same problem occurs with respect to mental fitness. People believe that mental decline is a natural part of aging. There are data showing that the average retirement ages of countries and the age of the onset of dementia for these same countries are correlated. That is, the earlier the retirement age, the earlier the onset of dementia. It isn’t retirement per se that is responsible, but rather the decline in social interactions, cognitive activities, and challenges (problems) that result in dementia.

So if you are retired you need to keep up social interactions and cognitive activity. Use your computer and keep learning new things. Read and take classes. And you don’t want to wait until you retire to start these activities. They should be lifelong activities. Nevertheless, it is never to late to start. Consider the gentleman in the article who did not start exercising until he was 98.

As the title of this blog implies, the healthymemory blog is devoted to healthy memories. It is constantly providing new, worthwhile information for your consideration. The category of transactive memory considers how you can employ others and technology for cognitive growth and health. The mnemonic techniques category includes articles on techniques that not only improve your memory, but also provide valuable cognitive exercise. Articles on mindfulness and meditation can also be found under this category. The Human Memory: Theory and Data includes posts on this very interesting and important topic. This is a good area in which to grow cognitively.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sleep and a Healthy Memory

December 12, 2012

The Health & Science Section of the Washington Post included a piece of sleep1. Sleep is so important to a healthy memory that I feel compelled to relay the contents of that article to you. Our brains are active throughout the four stages of sleep, which are:

Stage 1: Falling asleep, which is characterized by Beta waves.

Stage 2: Light sleep, which is characterized by Alpha waves.

Stage 3: Deepest sleep, which is characterized by Theta waves.

Stage 4: Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which is characterized by Delta waves.

Memory and learning is impaired. The hippocampus is critical in transferring information into long term storage. Losing two hours of sleep in a single night can impair this information transfer. REM sleep is especially important because that appears to be when the brain filters out irrelevant information.

Missing a few hours sleep can result in accidents. This can produce “local sleep,” in which parts of the brain nod off while a person is nominally awake. One study found that middle school and high school athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 60% less likely to be injured playing sports than those who slept less.

People who sleep four hours or less a night spend a lower percentage of time in Stage 2 and REM sleep. Consequently, they feel hungrier, crave more sweet and salty foods, and consume more calories than those who sleep longer. This makes them more susceptible to obesity and diabetes.

A study involving mice found that when Alzheimer’s plaques began to build in their brains, their sleep was disrupted. This suggests that poor sleep might be one of the first signs of the disease. It has also been found that connections between areas of a network in the brain used in daydreaming and introspection are disrupted in people who are chronically sleepy during the day. Alzheimer’s damages the same network, so these shaky connections might signal a susceptibility to the disease.

So, get a good night’s sleep. It is refreshing and will keep your memory healthy.

1Berkowitz B., & Cuadra, A. (2012). The Rest of the Story on Sleep. Washington Post, Health & Science, e2, December 4.

Another Risk in Cyberspace

December 2, 2012

Victor Mayer Schoenberger noted the common and well publicized concern regarding billions of Facebook messages, the more than 300,000 daily tweets plus private e-mail accounts with their messages, photos, and videos. However the concern usually expressed regards violations of privacy and, perhaps, identity theft. Schoenberger was concerned what it can do to Thanksgiving if the warmth and joy is lost when we keep being reminded of every mistake, every quarrel, every disagreement.1 Schoenberger concern extends far beyond Thanksgiving and has written a book on the topic: Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.

In the lingo of the Healthymemory Blog, this is a problem with technical transactive memory. Technical transactive memory does not decay or transform, in contrast to human transactive memory that does decay and is modified every time it tried to recall something. People complain about what they forget. Although it is certainly true that we forget information that we want and sometimes need to recall, much forgetting is adaptive. This is especially true to relations with our fellow humans. Hurtful and embarrassing items are forgotten. This forgetting makes it much easier to forgive and forget.

It is very important to remember this when sending something into cyberspace. It could lead to embarrassing and possibly indictable information becoming public. It could reunion friendships and create new enemies. Now who needs more enemies? Unfortunately, technology frequently has the opposite effect. When there is a computer between people and the target of their animosity, sometimes the vitriol is unfortunately increased. This is what happens in flaming.

We should think and behave carefully when sending anything into cyberspace, remembering that it is literally “for keeps.” So to avoid losing friends, gaining enemies, or being indicted, be careful and circumspect about what you send to cyberspace!

1Meyer-Schoenberger, V. (2012). Washington Post, B2, Sunday November 25, B2.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Disabusing the Myth that Older People Do Not Have New Ideas

January 3, 2012

A valuable article1 by Vivek Wadhwa in the Washington Post argued against the common misconception that the best entrepreneurs are young. The article began with a quote from the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla who said, “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” This is a common misconception.

Wadhwa counters this misconception with research of his own. He and his research team explored the backgrounds of 652 chief executives and heads of product development in 502 successful engineering and technology companies established from 1995 to 2005. The median age of successful founders was 39. Twice as many founder were older than 50 as were younger than 25, and there were twice as many over 60 as under 20. Another researcher, Dane Stangler, analyzing Kaufman Firm Survey Data and the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity found that the average age of U.S. Entrepreneurs is rising, and that the highest rate of entprepreneurial activity shifted to the 55 to 64 age group.

Wadhwa provided further evidence that people do not stop being creative when they reach middle age. Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod when he was 44, discovered, electricity at 46, helped draft the Declaration of Independence at 70, and invented bifocals after that. Henry Ford introduced the Model T when he was 45. Sam Walton built Wal-Mart in his mid-40s. Ray Kroc built McDonald’s in his early 50s. Ray Kurzweil published “The Singularity is Near” in his 50’s. Alfred Hitchcock directed “Vertigo” at 59. The architectural masterpiece, Fallingwater, was built by Frank Lloyd Wright when he was 68. Wadwha goes on to note that the most significant innovations of the highly celebrated Steve Jobs, the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, came after he was 45.

Reader’s of the Healthymemory Blog should be aware that these examples of successful aging are due to their continuing to engage their attentional and System Two processes (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts “Review of the Washington Post’s The Aging Brain, More on Attention and Cognitive Control,”, “Passing 65,” “Memory and Aging,” and The Two System View of Cognition.” ) (Note that clicking on the hyperlinks will take you to other articles and not the Healthymemory Blog Posts.  To read the posts, enter the title in the blogs Search Box.)

1Wahwha, V. (2011). Who says the best entrepreneurs are young? Not the numbers. Washington Post, 11 December, G4.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Seminars: A Good Idea

March 13, 2011

Laura Nelson is a senior at the University of Virginia. She has won a Rhodes Scholarship. She was disappointed in the paltry number of students who were interested in learning outside the classroom. It seems that the general attitude regarding higher education is its utilitarian value. You go to college to get a good job so you can earn more money so you can buy more expensive things. Articles are written analyzing whether the cost of a college education warrants its benefits. So education seems to be regarded purely in materialistic terms. When I taught college classes and asked students why they were taking the class, the typical answer was to get a job. Few students seemed to be interested in the actual topic of the class. But there is substantive value in a college education in terms of intellectual growth. This can lead to better jobs, but, more importantly, it can provide the basis for personal growth and for being a better citizen.

To redress this shortcoming, Laura and her colleagues came up with the idea of “flash seminars.”1 They would invite a favorite professor to present a seminar on a topic of interest. She would publicize the seminar via e-mail and students would come. And they did come, which belies the notion that all students are attending college solely for its utilitarian value.

It occurs to me that this activity can be extended beyond university campuses. It could be conducted in meeting halls, libraries, or even individual homes. A knowledgeable speaker or moderator could be invited and an announcement could be sent to potential participants. Of course, the topic would be included in the announcement with perhaps some relevant references and websites. Then attendees could do some advance research. There are so many benefits here from the perspective of intellectual growth and building a healthy memory. Both technical and human transactive memory are involved. The benefits are both intellectual and social.

The topics need not be esoteric. They can involve sports, the theater, movies, even social topics if you are willing to risk addressing contentious issues.

1Some of this blog post is based on the following article in the Washington Post. By Daniel De Vise. A U-VA student’s bright idea. B1 February 21, 2011 

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Why I Write This Blog

December 15, 2010

Sometimes I ask myself this question, “Why DO I write this blog, Healthymemory.” Surely there are better ways I could spend my time. However, on December14th I came across an article1 in the Washington Post that provided justification for spending the time. Now the Washington Post is a newspaper I respect. I have been a subscriber ever since I moved to the D.C. Area twenty years ago.

But this article contained misinformation and, more egregiously, missed important information.

For example, it presented a test, which it called a measure of short-term memory. It consisted of a shopping list of twenty items each with a specified amount to purchase. First of all, this was not a test of short-term memory. Although there are technical disputes among experts, the most common example given of short-term memory is looking up a phone number and then needing to keep rehearsing it until the number is dialed. There are two features of short-term memory: it has a small capacity, and it needs to be actively rehearsed or the information will be lost. A shopping list of twenty items exceeds the capacity of short-term memory. And unless the plan is to keep rehearsing the information until all the items are purchased, more than short-term memory needs to be involved. The shopping list needs to be transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory. The article notes that it is good to know that if people practiced, they could improve their memory. Although this is good to know, it is even better to know that there are memory techniques that can greatly facilitate the recall of lists like this one. These techniques can be found under the mnemonic techniques category on the healthymemory blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com). Some specific blog posts bearing on this task are “The Method of Loci,” “The One Bun Rhyme Mnemonic,” “Remembering Numbers,” and “More on Remembering Numbers.”

There is also a test on associating names with faces. Again, the article states that it is good to know that practice tends to improve performance. But it is even better to know that there are specific techniques to enhance performance on this task. A specific blog post bearing on this task is “Remembering Names.”

For each of these tests norms are presented for different age groups. The justification for this is that we live in a competitive culture, and that we like to keep score. But what if a person falls below what is expected for a given age group? Does that person start to worry that she is beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s or some other type of dementia?

What is completely missing from this article is the new research that has documented the remarkable plasticity of the brain, and techniques that might not only forestall the effects of aging, but might also produce memory performance that exceeds that of her performance earlier in life. This is the news that should be reported.

1Are You Acting Your Age?, Washington Post, Health & Science Section, E1, 14 December 2010.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.