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Friday, January 31, 2020

The European Pseudoscience Manifesto

Europe is facing very serious problems regarding public health. Over-medication, multi-resistant bacteria and the financial issues of the public systems are already grave enough, without the additional problem of gurus, fake doctors or even qualified doctors claiming they can cure any disease by manipulating chakras, making people eat sugar or using “quantic frequencies”. Europe must not only stop the promotion of homeopathy but also actively fight to eradicate public health scams…
More than 150 pseudo-therapies have been identified as being in use throughout Europe. Thousands of citizens lives depend on this being prevented. In fact, according to a recent research, 25.9 % of Europeans have used pseudo-therapies last year. In other words, 192 million patients have been deceived…
European manifesto against pseudo-therapies

Let’s be clear: pseudoscience kills. And they are being used with total impunity thanks to European laws that protect them.

They kill thousands of people, with names and families. People such as Francesco Bonifaz, a 7-year-old boy whose doctor prescribed homeopathy instead of antibiotics. He died in Italy [1]. People like Mario Rodríguez, who was 21 years old and was told to use vitamins to treat his cancer. He died in Spain [2]. People like Jacqueline Alderslade, a 55-year-old woman whose homeopath told her to stop taking her asthma medication. She died in Ireland [3]. People like Cameron Ayres, a 6-month-old baby, whose parents did not want to give their child “scientific medicine” [4]. He died in England. People like Victoria Waymouth, a 57-year-old woman who was prescribed a homeopathic medication to treat her heart problem. She died in France [5]. People like Sofia Balyaykina, a 25-year-old woman, who had a cancer that was curable with chemotherapy but was recommended an “alternative treatment”, a mosquito bite treatment.  She died in Russia [6]. People like Erling Møllehave, a 71-year-old man whose acupuncturist pierced and damaged his lung with a needle. He died in Denmark [7]. People like Michaela Jakubczyk-Eckert, a 40-year-old-woman whose therapist recommended the German New Medicine to treat her breast cancer. She died in Germany [8]. People like Sylvia Millecam, a 45-year-old woman whose New Age healer promised to cure her cancer. She died in the Netherlands [9]…
Hat tip to Science Based Medicine for the heads-up. If you're a clinician or medical scientist, sign the Manifesto. All others, please pay it forward.


I've been aware of and pushing back against this persistent medical mendacity since my late elder daughter was sick in the 1990's. 

More to come...

Saturday, January 25, 2020

The evolution of knowledge

Rethinking Science for the Anthropocene

On deck. I'm about 2/3rds through it as I post this. Read a review in my Science Magazine. Hefty, powerful book.
There cannot be any doubt: since the nineteenth century, science has dramatically changed the human condition in terms of energy provision and food production, through the introduction of new materials and new forms of transportation and communication, and with new pharmaceuticals and advances in medical care. Now the very survival of our culture in the Anthropocene may depend on the production of the appropriate scientific and technological knowledge. [pg 16]
Click the book cover image for the Amazon link. Goes to my climate change posts.


Speechless. Nine people gone in an instant.

More to come...

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Rx: Kindness?

Below, interview with David Fessler, Bedari Director.

We shall see. I applaud this effort. Lord knows we are living in increasingly unkind times.
The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute seeks to advance scientific research into kindness and the barriers to it, and to share this knowledge through courses for UCLA students, and through information shared with the public...
Quite the faculty lineup.

A first paper (Creative Commons licensed pdf):
Elevation, an emotion for prosocial contagion, is experienced more strongly by those with greater expectations of the cooperativeness of others

A unique emotion, elevation, is thought to underlie prosocial contagion, a process whereby witnessing a prosocial act leads to acting prosocially. Individuals differ in their propensity to experience elevation, and thus their proneness to prosocial contagion, but little is known about the causes of such variation. We introduce an adaptationist model wherein elevation marks immediate circumstances in which generalized prosociality is advantageous, with this evaluation of circumstances hinging in part on prior expectations of others’ prosociality. In 15 studies, we add to evidence that elevation can reliably be elicited and mediates prosocial contagion. Importantly, we confirm a novel prediction–generated by our adaptationist account–that an idealistic attitude, which indexes others’ expected degree of prosociality, moderates the relationship between exposure to prosocial cues and experiencing elevation. We discuss how our findings inform both basic theorizing in the affective sciences and translational efforts to engineer a more harmonious world, and we offer future research directions to further test and extend our model… 
"Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but it is not merely so." --Sam Harris
Hmmm... Might there be any scholarly nexus between a "science of kindness" and that of "neuroaesthetics?" After all, the expressed moral value of "kindness" is in fact a cultural "aesthetic."

Truth and Nonviolence in Post-Truth Times: An International Conference on Mohandas Gandhi
January 30 @ 8:00 am - February 2 @ 5:00 pm

The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute is a co-sponsor of Truth and Nonviolence in Post-Truth Times: An International Conference on Mohandas Gandhi, Thursday 30 January – Sunday 2 February 2020 at UCLA.

More information at
"Post-truth times." Yeah.

See also The Kindness Podcast.

BTW: My personal kindness coefficient is running at high tide this week.

Three weeks early. Momma and child doing fine.




See SBM's troubling "Is defending science-based medicine worth it?"
Pseudoscience, denialism, fake news, and disinformation about health are a bigger problem than ever, thanks to social media. As doctors and scientists join lay defenders of science on social media, will they be willing to pay the price in terms of harassment? Or will they decide it’s not worth the hassle. And what about our fellow docs who think that it’s beneath them to debunk quackery, that it is so easy as to be not worth their effort?
Read the entire post. I am a devoted daily SBM reader. I cite them frequently. From their astute commentariat:
So long as we are committed to improving the human condition and the condition of our planet it is worth standing up to the slings and arrows of quacks and profiteers. Many of us see this through the lens of science but the problem is widely pervasive. Political discourse at the highest levels of government is now little more than rabid attacks fueled with lies and innuendos leaving no oxygen for meaningful policy debate. Freedom of speech has dissolved into a sort of generalized license to say whatever one feels regardless of its grounding in fact or reality. This, my friends, is a descent into madness, into chaos.

A Cincinnati pediatrician who posted a pro-vaccine video on TikTok says she has been harassed by anti-vaxxers, including one who left the comment, “Dead doctors don’t lie.” Dr. Nicole Baldwin says the vaccine deniers deluged her office with calls and threats and gave her medical practice low ratings on Yelp. Baldwin said she won’t be cowed…

The day in Stupid.

More to come...

Friday, January 10, 2020

The 2020 Baltimore Science Fair

A call for participants, judges, and other volunteers.

Details here, including online registration and volunteer forms.

Support for the upcoming generation of scientists has never been more important or more rewarding. Join us.

Bobby Gladd, ASQ Section volunteer lead.


Monday, January 6, 2020



Apparently, that's a thing. Have to admit, I had a fleeting first reflexive, jaded reaction of "OK, stick the prefix 'neuro' on some word or phrase, and you've minimally got a VC Seed Round on Sand Hill Road."

But, wait...
"Everything is aesthetic. The environments in which we live and work, the sounds we hear, sights we see, and smells we encounter are the pathways through which we experience the world around us. And aesthetics is so much more than enjoying beautiful things. The uniquely human response to aesthetics constantly influences our mental and emotional states. We know more than ever before about the sensory systems that enable us to process and decode the world around us. Still, we are just on the cusp of understanding the potential of aesthetics to maximize those systems for improved health, wellbeing, and learning.

Today, as the incidence of chronic disease and depression, anxiety, and stress rise, and the gaps in health, wellbeing, and learning outcomes expand, we turn most frequently to the medical profession for traditional and pharmaceutical solutions. Despite great advances, these approaches still fall short in offering preventive, non-invasive, timely, and sustainable solutions. What if we could incorporate other interventions that are engaging, empowering, and affordable?

There is much promising evidence that a variety of arts approaches work to improve mobility, mental health, speech, memory, pain, and learning, potentially improving outcomes and lowering the cost and burden of chronic disease and neurological disorders for millions of people. These approaches, including visual arts, dance and movement, music, and expressive writing are timely, responsive, and cost-effective. Moreover, research suggests that other types of aesthetic experiences, including immersive and virtual reality and architecture are also associated with improved health, wellbeing, and learning outcomes. 

To date, neuroscientists, social scientists, and practitioners interested in these topics have largely operated in isolation, lacking high-quality data sets, standardized measures and implementation protocols, and statistical power to make any causal claims regarding impact or influence evidence-based practice broadly. With rising acknowledgement of the limitations of this disparate effort, researchers and practitioners are calling for an approach that brings together studies of the behavioral outcomes of arts experiences with biological markers to map the neurological bases for various aesthetic experiences. This approach would enable researchers and practitioners to document, refine, replicate, and scale successful interventions.

For this shift and collaboration to take root, research questions must be defined across diverse disciplines. The growing and interdisciplinary field of neuroaesthetics is a logical home for this work, exploring the role of the arts, music, architecture, and natural environments as they alter and shape individual brain responses. Beyond a disciplinary base and theoretical frame, this work needs an organizing mechanism that facilitates collaboration across disciplines and sectors, builds a common research vocabulary and approach, houses a centralized database for researchers and practitioners, and leads field-building and dissemination efforts..."
"Everything is aesthetic." Yeah. Assuming a sentient neurological structure via which to perceive, comprehend, and recall it. Invertebrates need not apply.

Hmmm... will AI develop aesthetic sensibili(ties?), with human-compatible ethics?

Got onto this stuff via a re-post by Danielle Ofri, MD over at LinkedIn.

As anyone who has heard “their song” can attest, the right music has the power to make you move. Now healthcare providers are trying to harness this power to help patients with a neurological motor disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Over the past three decades, researchers have begun to uncover the neural basis of music’s effect on the brain with an eye toward treating diseases like PD. A growing body of research reveals that the influence of music is far-reaching—shaping connections in the brain, improving our senses and movement, and enhancing our mood.

The Many Disharmonies of Parkinson’s Disease
As the second-most common neurodegenerative disease following Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects more than 10 million people worldwide and is projected to afflict almost 1 million Americans by 2020…
Well, I am unhappily now in that clinical cohort. And, I am "an old washed-up guitar player," one now wrestling with the anxiety attending the prospect of perhaps losing my hard-won chops of more than 60 years' acquisition (my episodic left-hand tremor is increasingly messing with me). Just at a time when I've looked forward to getting active again in the fray.

Johns Hopkins, man. They have their mitts in everything. We now live just a couple a miles from them. Wonder if this Hopkins IAM Lab needs a lab rat LOL..

Interesting history, the whole Hopkins empire. My son bought me this book for Christmas.

A compelling read. interesting town I now call home. We are now a few weeks out from the arrival of our new Grandson.

The International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab) is a multidisciplinary research-to-practice initiative from the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University that is accelerating the field of neuroaesthetics. Our mission is to amplify human potential.

IAM Lab is pioneering Impact Thinking, a translational research approach designed to solve intractable problems in health, wellbeing and learning through arts + mind approaches. IAM Lab brings together brain scientists and practitioners in architecture, music and the arts to collaborate in research and foster dialogue. We spur continued innovation by sharing these findings with a broader community.
So, yeah, "neuroaesthetics."
Impact Thinking
Developed by the International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University, Impact Thinking is a translational research approach to enhance human potential in health, wellbeing and learning through the arts...
What makes Impact Thinking different and essential?
Impact Thinking makes the translational scientific process inclusive, relevant and actionable. It moves beyond studies that begin and end in a lab to solve real-world, urgent problems and pave a path for broad implementation. For example: How can playing music ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease? How can architecture and design reduce chronic stress in the workplace?

Impact Thinking is based on the fundamental values of collaboration, transparency and follow through and the belief that applied neuroaesthetics can change the world. Impact Thinking projects are initiated by an Impact Team of a brain scientist and a practitioner in an arts discipline. Each project is facilitated by a project coordinator and supported by advisors, dissemination experts and community stakeholders…
As usual, I have much to learn.


Yeah, PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) by any other name.


Watch all of it.Seriously.

Below: of specific, direct interest to me:
Impact Thinking Projects
Guitar PD
In partnership with the Center for Music and Medicine at Johns Hopkins, this project brings together neurologists and musicians for a unique series of guitar lessons specifically designed for people with Parkinson’s disease. During an 18 week period, participants are randomly assigned to treatment and control groups and assessed at the outset and every six weeks on a variety of self-reported and performance-based measures. These include mood, social participation, cognition and arm and hand function.

Hypothesis: Moving hands, arms and fingers rhythmically on the guitar to make music will benefit arm and hand function and cognition in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
"Impact thinking," the deeper dive, here

I will be doing my own uncontrolled "research," given that I know how guitar playing benefits me (takes me "out-of-body"), and, as I've mentioned, I'm having trouble of late with some of my more difficult chords, and a bit freaked out at the prospects of losing this ability. I mostly play my jumbo 12-string these days--an imposing axe in its own right.

So, I will have to be assiduously 'shedding my guitar (and bass, for that matter) going forward as part of my PT/OT amid my new world of Parkinson's. Along with stepped-up gym rat time comprised mostly of pickup hoops and the next available class of Parkinson's "shadow boxing."

Want to eschew the PD meds as long as possible, given the side-effects and other limitations.

It's interesting. In addition to the usual online Parkinson's patient education rescources--e.g., WebMD, Mayo, Wiki, the major Parkinson's Foundations, etc--I studied four initial books coming from patient and caregiver perspectives.

Now this stuff is all "upside my head" to where I'm feeling the symptoms more acutely.

At least I know what I'm facing, from a variety of insightful perspectives.

Guess I'll have to write some more songs.



 Just saw Daniel J. Levitin on the CBS Morning News. Bought his new book.
...When I was in college, one of my favorite professors was John R. Pierce, a former director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the inventor of satellite telecommunication, a prolific sci-fi writer, and the person who named the transistor when a team under his supervision invented it. I met him when he was eighty, in the second iteration of his “retirement,” giving classes on sound and vibration. He invited me to dinner at his house once; we became friends and went out to dinner regularly. Around the time John turned eighty-seven, he grew depressed. One of the pastimes he enjoyed most was reading, but now his eyesight was failing. I bought him some large-type books and that perked him up for a few weeks, but much of what he wanted to read—technical books, science fiction—was not available in large type. I’d go over and read to him when I could, and I arranged for some Stanford students to do the same. But he still kept slipping. Then he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. His shaking bothered him. His memory was failing. He no longer found pleasure in things that he used to enjoy. And he was growing increasingly disoriented. 

I suggested that he ask his doctor about taking Prozac, which was new at the time, and just being prescribed for the kinds of age-related problems he was facing. (Prozac helps to boost levels of serotonin in the brain—one of those mood-enhancing hormones I mentioned previously.) It was transformative. Although it didn’t help the Parkinson’s specifically, his attitude changed. He felt younger. He started holding dinner parties again, and lecturing to students, something he had given up doing just a year earlier. A simple chemical change in his brain gave him a second wind. John lived to ninety-two, and much of those last five years were filled with joy and satisfaction for him...

Levitin, Daniel J. Successful Aging (pp. xv-xvi). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Interesting. I started on Sertraline HCL (Zoloft) in 2017 when Danielle was ill and dying. Weaned myself back off it earlier this year.

Just started back a week ago, after consulting my docs. We shall see.

I've cited Dr. Levitin before, some years back.


More to come...

Saturday, January 4, 2020

JUST "the facts?"

With the election cycle in full swing, it’s open season for journalists hell-bent on catching candidates out in lies and misrepresentations. In a world that has become relentlessly “truthy,” to borrow Stephen Colbert’s apt neologism, we need journalists, scientists and other experts to stand up for facts and keep the public debate honest. But when it comes to climate change

One such zone has been on display since the release of a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report entitled Global Warming of 1.5 °C, whose authors concluded that we had 12 years left (now 11) to achieve radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming. This alert has been widely cited, and politicians who have invoked it have been repeatedly fact-checked. But some of this checking makes the dialogue feel more like ice hockey—where “checking” is intended to disrupt play and establish dominance—than like an e ort to help the public understand a complex but crucial issue…

But let’s not fact-check things that aren’t facts. There is a world of interpretation—and therefore a range of justifi able readings— built into any expert judgment. We should discuss that reasonable range and fl ag claims that are obviously unreasonable. But we should not confuse judgments with facts…

- Naomi Oreskes, PhD
From Scientific American.

apropos, again, "Define Evidence." "Define Expert." Define Science."


Australia’s bushfires are a wake-up call: we must build a more humane economy before it’s too late
Economists used to admire scientists. Now they ignore them at our peril.

Back in the 1800s, scholars in the field of economics cast an envious glance at their colleagues in science.

They envied physics, with its laws of gravity. They looked with green-eyes at those studying chemistry, with its elements and atoms. And they longingly admired their biologist chums with their categorisations and evolutionary adaptation.

Now more than a century on, as we begin the third decade of the third millennium, economics no longer seems to take heed of science, let alone defer to scientific realities.

It is (invariably mainstream) economists with their contentions and blind spots that drive so much policy making, not scientists with their evidence-based models and forecasts.

The tables have well and truly turned. And nowhere is this so sorely – and painfully – acute as in Australia in the summer of 2019 and 2020.

Bushfires rage across the country, fuelled by record heat, and are now surging through acres of parched land dryer than ever after the worst drought in a generation.

In response, the Australian Prime Minister has held fast to a vision that a growing economy is the only option. He told a national TV station that "What we won't do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching [green] targets which are being sought".

What Morrison is effectively asserting is that the economy matters more than the science – in fact, that a certain model of the economy matters more, one in which the sole purpose of the environment is as an input to production and where it is assumed that growth will translate to benefits for all. This positions the economy at the top of the food chain, dropping crumbs to communities and extracting from the planet rather than something that is dependent on society which operates as a sub-set of the natural world…

More to come...

Wednesday, January 1, 2020


Happy New Year to all. Hope you had a safe and sane evening. Hope you have a great 2020.

Below, online registration for this opens today. Baltimore middle and high school students.

[Click the image.] I have agreed to serve as my technical society's local section lead volunteer for the event (ASQ Baltimore Section 0502). Should be very interesting. Towson U. is right up York Road a few miles from our house.

The Science Fair is affiliated with this organization.

Given my ongoing interest in issues of science and tech, this will go right to my wheelhouse. "Why trust science?"

More to come...