Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Paul Alexander spends almost every moment of the day inside his iron lung. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

This article is reproduced from Gizmodo, with thanks, and without adulteration. It deserves to be read by every anti-vaccination campaigner, and every parent frightened by their propaganda.

Martha Lillard spends half of every day with her body encapsulated in a half-century old machine that forces her to breathe. Only her head sticks out of the end of the antique iron lung. On the other end, a motorised lever pulls the leather bellows, creating negative pressure that induces her lungs to suck in air.

In 2013, the Post-Polio Health International (PPHI) organisations estimated that there were six to eight iron lung users in the United States. Now, PPHI executive director Brian Tiburzi says he doesn’t know anyone alive still using the negative-pressure ventilators. Recently, I met three polio survivors who depend on iron lungs. They are among the last few, possibly the last three.

Martha

Their locations form a line that cuts directly through the heart of the US – one in Dallas, one outside Oklahoma City, and one in Kansas City, Missouri – what some call tornado alley.

Storms have always been especially difficult for Lillard because if the iron lung loses power, she could die in her sleep. She lives alone, aside from three dogs and 20 geckos that she keeps in plastic terrariums filled with foliage and wool. “They like to sleep in the fleece, wrapped up like a burrito,” she said as she introduced me to a few of her favourites.

Lillard sleeps in the iron lung, so it is in her bedroom. Even though the tank is a dull canary yellow it pops in the room, which is painted chartreuse – like the rest of the house, inside and out – and filled with toys and dolls that she has collected throughout her lifetime. On the walls hang a crucifix, a plush Pink Panther, and mirrors strategically placed so she can see around the room and into the hallway.

Her iron lung has portholes and windows on the side; a pressure gauge at the top. The machine is actually cobbled together from two iron lungs. One, the March of Dimes gave her when she was a child. The other, she bought from someone in Utah, after she haggled him down from $US25,000 ($33,127) to $US8000 ($10,600). The body has also been modified over the years. Her grandfather invented a motorised pulley system that closes the bed tray into the tank after she climbs in. He also replaced the brushed aluminium mirror above the neck slot with a real mirror so that she could have a clear view to the rest of the room when she’s locked in the canister. A local engineer used a motor from an old voter registration device to build a mechanism that tightens the collar around her neck after she slips her head through the portal. The fan belts and half-horsepower motor have been replaced about 10 times.

“It seemed like forever because you weren’t breathing. You just laid there and you could feel your heart beating.”

When Lillard is outside of the tank, she can breathe using a positive-pressure ventilator, a smaller device that pushes air into her lungs. But that instrument doesn’t provide the same relief as when she puts her entire body into the 290kg, 2.3m-long apparatus. Plus, forcing air into the lungs can cause inflammation or damage the air sacs. When she’s sick, she can only heal if she spends full days in the iron lung. She calls herself “a human battery” because she has to recharge every day.

Lillard is 69, 145cm and weighs 44kg. Her back is arched from scoliosis. She didn’t get surgery when she was a child because doctors didn’t expect her to make it to her teenage years, and she never had an operation as an adult because polio survivors can stop breathing when they’re on anaesthesia.

She was infected with polio at her fifth birthday party at the Joyland Amusement Park on 8 June 1953. Nine days later, her neck ached so bad she couldn’t raise her head off the pillow. Her parents said it was probably just a summer cold, but Lillard could tell they were afraid. They took her in for a spinal tap, which confirmed it was polio.

floorLillard looks through a photo album on her living room floor. Photo: Jennings Brown for Gizmodo

Lillard asked me to take out a photo album so she could show me snapshots of her youth as she sat on a blanket on the floor of her living room, where it’s more comfortable for her to sit when she’s out of the machine. “I wanted to be a ballerina. That was my big wish. I started walking on my toes when I was one, and I just constantly was after ballerina dolls. We didn’t have a dance school in town until I was five and my mum was going to enrol me that year, but I got sick,” she told me. “I think now of my life as a ballet. I have to balance so many things. It’s a phenomenal amount of energy I have to use to coordinate everything in my life.”

Polio is a silver bullet

“All the mothers were just terrified because people were just getting it right and left,” Lillard said. “They didn’t know if it was a virus or bacteria or how you caught it.”

Poliomyelitis is a highly contagious disease that can cause paralysis of legs, arms and respiratory muscles. “The polio virus is a silver bullet designed to kill specific parts of the brain,” Richard Bruno, a clinical psychophysiologist, and director of the International Centre for Polio Education said. “But parents today have no idea what polio was like, so it’s hard to convince somebody that lives are at risk if they don’t vaccinate.”

When Lillard was a child, polio was every parent’s worst nightmare. The worst polio outbreak year in US history took place in 1952, a year before Lillard was infected. There were about 58,000 reported cases. Out of all the cases, 21,269 were paralysed and 3145 died. “They closed theatres, swimming pools, families would keep their kids away from other kids because of the fear of transmission,” Bruno said.

POLIO EPIDEMIC
The emergency polio ward at Haynes Memorial Hospital in Boston, 16 August 1955. Patients are using the same Emerson iron lung model that some polio survivors use today. Photo: AP

Children under the age of five are especially susceptible. In the 1940s and 1950s, hospitals across the US were filled with rows of iron lungs that kept victims alive. Lillard recalls being in rooms packed with metal tubes – especially when there were storms and all the men, women, adults and children would be moved to the same room so nurses could manually operate the iron lungs if the power went out. “The period of time that it took the nurse to get out of the chair, it seemed like forever because you weren’t breathing,” Lillard said. “You just laid there and you could feel your heart beating and it was just terrifying. The only noise that you can make when you can’t breathe is clicking your tongue. And that whole dark room just sounded like a big room full of chickens just cluck-cluck-clucking. All the nurses were saying, ‘Just a second, you’ll be breathing in just a second.'”

In 1955, Americans finally had access to the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. “It was hailed as a medical miracle and the excitement about it was really unparalleled as far as health history in the United States,” Jay Wenger, director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s polio-eradication effort told me. “No one who remembers the 1950s, in terms of polio, wants to go back there and be in that situation again.”

By 1961, there were only 161 reported cases in the US. But in 1988, there were still an estimated 350,000 cases worldwide. That year, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and the Rotary Club began an aggressive campaign to end polio everywhere. Last year there were 37 cases reported in Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

According to Bruno, if an infected person in either of those countries visited family in an area such as Orange County, California, where many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children, “then we could be talking about the definition of a polio epidemic.”

Wenger said that’s why the Gates Foundation recently joined the other organisations in the global effort to eradicate polio. “If there’s a virus anywhere in the world, it could just come back in,” Wenger said. “Some little kid could get on a plane and fly in and reinfect an area. And if the kids in that area are not vaccinated, you could start the virus circulating again.”

But even though the last wild case of polio in the US was in 1979, it still haunts the country. “A lot of people think of polio as a disease of the past and don’t realise there are people here today that are still suffering the effects of polio.” said Brian Tiburzi, executive director of Post-Polio Health International (PPHI), an advocacy group for the estimated 350,000 to 500,000 polio survivors living in the US.

Some polio survivors were only partially impaired or got better. For instance, Mia Farrow only had to spend eight months in an iron lung when she was nine, before going on to become a famous actress and polio advocate. And golfer Jack Nicklaus had symptoms for two weeks as a child, but as an adult only had sore joints.

But many polio victims have breathing difficulties for the rest of their lives, or have issues later in life when overworked neurons burn out, a condition called post-polio syndrome. “I breathe 20 per cent of what you breathe with every breath,” Lillard explained to me. “You still have the neurons that work the muscles that you breathe with.”

Let it breathe for you

Lillard offered to let me try out her iron lung about an hour after I met her. She showed me how to operate the ad hoc mechanisms that would lock me into the tank and tighten the collar around my neck like a camera shutter – tight enough that no air can escape, but loose enough that I don’t choke myself.

I climbed into the bed tray, slipped my head through the hole, tightened the collar, then flipped the switch that controls the pulley that closes the tray into the main canister. As the system locked me in, I had a quick wave of claustrophobic panic and my instinct was to take deep breaths, but a motor was controlling that. I tried to describe the feeling to Lillard, but the machine was inhaling for me, so no sound came out. I had to wait a moment for the release.

“Let the air out of your lungs and let it breathe for you,” Lillard said. “Imagine if you were real tired of breathing, how good that would feel – if you were struggling to take a breath.”

Being in an iron lung was the most relief and discomfort I have ever felt at the same time. I slowly got used to the mechanical rhythm and began feeling a little relaxed. I tried closing my mouth, and air still rushed in through my lips. I felt like a vacuum cleaner.

As I climbed out, Lillard warned me to be careful and not break any of the switches or pulleys. If I damaged anything, and she wasn’t able to get someone to repair it within a few hours, she might not have made it through the night. A few weeks earlier, the collar-opener broke and she was trapped inside. Fortunately, her housekeeper was there to help her force it open, and a friend who does custom metal fabrication for motorcycles, planes and other machines, Tony Baustert, came a few hours later to repair it.

Recently, an ice storm knocked her power out for three days and the generator malfunctioned. The fire department came over but they wouldn’t run a power line from down the street or provide a temporary generator, Lillard said. Fortunately, one of the firefighters came by when he was off-duty and fixed the generator. During the panic, Lillard thought about Dianne Odell, a polio survivor who died in her iron lung in Memphis in 2008, after she lost power during a storm. Her father and brother-in-law took turns pumping the bellows by hand but couldn’t sustain the rhythm long enough to keep her alive.

Understandably, Lillard lives in a constant state of anxiety over the functionality of her iron lung. But she said the company responsible for servicing the device, Philips Respironics, hasn’t been much help. She recalls one time when a repair person disassembled the machine to make a repair, then tried to leave before putting it back together. Another technician took it apart and couldn’t figure out how to fix it, so Lillard had to call another mechanically skilled friend, Jerry House, to help.

These days her biggest concern is the canvas spiral collar that creates the seal around her neck. She used to have to replace them every few months after they wore out and stopped keeping a seal. Back then she could get them for a few dollars each, but she recently bought two from Respironics for a little more than $US200 ($265) each. She said the company wouldn’t sell her any more because they only have 10 left. For years she’s been trying to find someone to make a new collar. She uses Scotch guard on her current supply and tries not to move her neck around, hoping to make them last as long as possible.

I asked her what happens if she runs out.

“Well, I die,” she said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

Iron lungs became the responsibility of Philips through mergers and acquisitions. The March of Dimes supplied and serviced iron lungs until the end of the ’60s, around the same time the J.H. Emerson company stopped manufacturing the product. Once Salk’s vaccine diminished the need for polio support and advocacy, March of Dimes handed off iron lung responsibilities to Lifecare Services. Medical supply company Respironics acquired Lifecare in 1996, then merged with Philips in 2007.

Over the years, Lifecare and Respironics have tried to get more polio survivors to use alternative breathing aids – devices that were newer, cheaper, easier to service, and didn’t require parts that were no longer manufactured. In 2004, Respironics gave iron lung users three options: Transition to another ventilator device, keep using the iron lung but know that Respironics may not be able to repair the device, or accept full ownership and responsibility of the iron lung and find someone else to repair it. According to the Post-Polio Health International, responses “ranged from ‘it is understandable that repairing a device made that long ago would be difficult’ to ‘a multi-million dollar company should be able to just make parts'”.

Philips Respironics denied multiple requests to comment for this story. But polio advocates believe the company can do more to help polio survivors who have struggled with the effects of polio their entire lives.

“It would be helpful if the people who are contractually responsible and morally and ethically responsible for polio survivors did something to help these people,” said International Centre for Polio Education director Richard Bruno. “It would be like if you bought a used car, you drove it a block and the car stopped working. Then you go back to the car dealer and you say, ‘Hey, the car stopped working.’ And they say, ‘Well too bad, you bought it and that’s the way life goes.’ Except instead of a car it’s a machine that you need to live.”

The iron lung’s a part of me

Like Lillard, Paul Alexander, 70, also relies on a mechanic to keep his iron lung running.

I met Alexander a few times in his small house in Dallas. He spends nearly every moment in his iron lung in the centre of his living room, which is decorated with degrees, awards, pictures of family, and a drawing of the Scottish folk singer Donovan, who had polio. When people enter the front door a few metres away from him, he usually greets them with a warm upside-down smile, reflected in the mirror above his head.

One of the times I visited Alexander, I walked in on him editing a memoir that’s set to be published in a few months. He types and answers the phone with his mouth, using a capped pen attached to a plastic wand he clenches with his teeth. During another visit, his friend and mechanical saviour Brady Richards stopped by to check in on Alexander.

Alexander, who got polio in 1952 when he was five, is almost entirely paralysed below the neck, but that hasn’t stopped him from going to law school and becoming a trial lawyer. “When I transferred to University of Texas, they were horrified to think that I was going to bring my iron lung down, but I did, and I put it in the dorm, and I lived in the dorm with my iron lung,” he told me. “I had a thousand friends before it was over with, who all wanted to find out what’s that guy downstairs with a head sticking out of a machine doing here?”

Alexander hasn’t been to a trial in a few years now as it has become nearly impossible for him to get out of the iron lung for a few hours like he used to do when he went to court and represented clients in a wheelchair.

In 2015, a friend of Alexander uploaded a YouTube video of Alexander explaining the issues he was having with his iron lung, hoping it would be seen by a machinist who knew how to repair the respirator. Finally someone connected Alexander with someone kind and skilled enough to help. “I looked for years to find someone who knew how to work on iron lungs,” Alexander said. “Brady Richards, it’s a miracle that I found him.”

Richards runs the Environmental Testing Laboratory, which does rigorous testing to make sure equipment and products meet environmental standards (everything from checking if a TV mount is earthquake proof to checking how an ambulance will handle a T-bone collision). In one of Richard’s garages, he keeps his side projects – hot rods, desert race cars, and a small collection of iron lungs and parts. This is where Richards refurbished the current machine that Alexander uses and where he is fixing up another replacement. “When we first brought the tube into the shop, one of my younger employees asked me what I was doing with these smoker grills,” Richards said. “And I was like these are not smokers, these are iron lungs. And all my younger guys had no idea what that meant.”

Alexander had been in the refurbished model for about a couple months when I first met with him in September. To him, it was like a new skin. “Once you live in an iron lung forever, it seems like, it becomes such a part of your mentality. Like if somebody touches the iron lung – touches it – I can feel that. I can feel the vibration go through the iron lung,” he said. “If there’s a slight bit of a vibration that occurs as the result of the mechanics – worn out the fan belt or it needs grease or anything like that – it tends to change the breath slightly. Yep, the iron lung’s a part of me, I’m afraid.”

My worst thought

My final visit was Mona Randolph, 81, who lives with her husband Mark, 63, in Kansas City, Missouri. When I first arrived, a helper was tucking Mona into the machine for the night. They lift Mona into the iron lung using a mechanical arm attached to their ceiling since Mark’s back problems prevent him from lifting her into the iron lung, like he used to do when they first met in the ’80s.

Mona got polio at the age of 20 in 1956. At the time, she was a skilled pianist planning her wedding. She needed an iron lung for the first year, until she went to rehab in Warm Spring, Georgia, where she was able to wean herself off. But 20 years later, in 1977, she had a series of bronchial infections – possibly due to post-polio syndrome – and her doctors told her she needed to start using an iron lung again. “The ‘yellow submarine’ is my necessary, trusted, mechanical friend,” she told me. “I approach it with relief in store at night and thankfully leave it with relief in the morning.”

Mona is covered under Mark’s insurance and Medicare, but neither of those help with the iron lung or the caretakers that Mona needs. The Randolphs opted to take full ownership of the iron lung when Respironics was making its big push to offload them. Since then, Mark, a software engineer who has many other engineer skills, and Mona’s cousin, a former aircraft mechanic, have maintained and repaired Mona’s “yellow submarine”. Mark said the medical costs are about the same as a new car every year, “But what would I spend it on if not for Mona.”

When I met with the Randolphs, Mark gave me photocopies of old service manuals and operating instructions. He filled me in on little-known history about the Emerson iron lung and its inventor, whom they met at a Post-Polio convention. I realised what each of these iron lung users have in common are the aid of generous, mechanically skilled friends and family. And that’s probably the main reason they have been able to live long and full lives, despite the hardships and anxieties of depending on ageing machinery to survive.

But another thing they all had in common is a desire for the next generations to know about them so we’ll realise how fortunate we are to have vaccines. “When children inquire what happened to me, I tell them the nerve wires that tell my muscles what to do were damaged by a virus,” Mona said. “And ask them if they have had their vaccine to prevent this. No one has ever argued with me.”

Alexander told me that if he had kids he would have made sure they were vaccinated. “Now, my worst thought is that polio’s come back,” he said. “If there’s so many people who’ve not been – children, especially – have not been vaccinated… I don’t even want to think about it.”

Lillard is heartbroken when she meets anti-vaccine activists.

“Of course, I’m concerned about any place where there’s no vaccine,” she said. “I think it’s criminal that they don’t have it for other people and I would just do anything to prevent somebody from having to go through what I have. I mean, my mother, if she had the vaccine available, I would have had it in a heartbeat.”

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Alarm as ‘super malaria’ spreads in South East Asia

The rapid spread of “super malaria” in South East Asia is an alarming global threat, scientists are warning.

This dangerous form of the malaria parasite cannot be killed with the main anti-malaria drugs.

It emerged in Cambodia but has since spread through parts of Thailand, Laos and has arrived in southern Vietnam.

The team at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit in Bangkok said there was a real danger of malaria becoming untreatable.

Prof Arjen Dondorp, the head of the malaria unit, told the BBC News website: “We think it is a serious threat.

“It is alarming that this strain is spreading so quickly through the whole region and we fear it can spread further [and eventually] jump to Africa.”

Failing treatments

In a letter, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the researchers detail the “recent sinister development” that has seen resistance to the drug artemisinin emerge.

About 212 million people are infected with malaria each year. It is caused by a parasite that is spread by blood-sucking mosquitoes and is a major killer of children.

The first choice treatment for malaria is artemisinin in combination with piperaquine.

But as artemisinin has become less effective, the parasite has now evolved to resist piperaquine too.

There have now been “alarming rates of failure”, the letter says.

Prof Dondorp said the treatment was failing around a third of the time in Vietnam while in some regions of Cambodia the failure rate was closer to 60%.

Resistance to the drugs would be catastrophic in Africa, where 92% of all malaria cases happen.

‘Against the clock’

There is a push to eliminate malaria in the Greater Mekong sub-region before it is too late.

Prof Dondorp added: “It’s a race against the clock – we have to eliminate it before malaria becomes untreatable again and we see a lot of deaths.

“If I’m honest, I’m quite worried.”

Michael Chew, from the Wellcome Trust medical research charity, said: “The spread of this malaria ‘superbug’ strain, resistant to the most effective drug we have, is alarming and has major implications for public health globally.

“Around 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections, including malaria.

“If nothing is done, this could increase to millions of people every year by 2050.”

Chuck a couple of these in tonight’s mutton curry and you’ll know all about it!

 

Hot chilli peppers have the best names. They sound dangerous and vaguely threatening. A warning for those stupid enough to actually try and eat one, if you will. “It’s not like we didn’t warn you,” they seem to say.

The previous record-holder for hottest chilli in the world, the ominous-sounding Carolina Reaper, has had to officially move aside to make way for the aptly monikered Dragon’s Breath chilli – a chilli so hot no one has actually eaten it yet, for fear it could kill you. How? By literally burning your airways, as if you were breathing fire.

Rather charmingly, the creator of this spicy beast didn’t even set out to break records. Mike Smith, a fruit grower and competitive show-gardener from Denbighshire in Wales, was aiming for an aesthetically pleasing chilli tree to enter into the UK’s famous Chelsea Flower Show, where it is now in the running for Plant of the Year.

“It was a complete accident but I’m chuffed to bits – it’s a lovely looking tree,” Mr Smith told the Telegraph.

The chilli was, however, grown in collaboration with scientists from Nottingham Trent University, who are interested in the medicinal use of chilis as an anaesthetic. It was they who verified that the Dragon’s Breath scored the highest rating ever recorded on the Scoville heat scale, 2.48 million, beating the wimpy rival Reaper, which measures just 2.2 million.

The Scoville scale measures the intensity of heat in units. The 2.48 million Scoville heat units (SHU) means that one drop of oil from this chili can be detected in 2.48 million drops of water, making it basically weapons-grade hot. For comparison, pepper spray used by the US Army is 2 million SHU.

The scientists believe that if you tried to actually eat this chilli, your airways would likely close up from the burn and you’d go into anaphylactic shock and die. Nice. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t maybe a force for good, not evil.

The capsaicin oil from it is so potent it numbs the skin, giving it excellent potential as an anesthetic, especially for those allergic to painkillers, or even for use in developing countries where access to and funding for anesthetics is limited.

Chili peppers actually have a long history of medical value, from calming the gut’s immune system to helping you live longer. Just don’t eat this one.

“I’ve tried it on the tip of my tongue and it just burned and burned,” Smith said. “I spat it out in about 10 seconds. The heat intensity just grows.”

Farmer Mike is currently waiting for the Guinness World Records to verify his world champion, but in the meantime, if anyone offers it to you in the pub for a bet, we’d err on the side of caution and just say no.

roach

 

A 42-year-old Indian woman was in deep slumber last Tuesday night until she awoke around midnight to a “tingling, crawling sensation” in her right nostril.

At first, the woman, a domestic worker named Selvi, brushed the feeling off, assuming she might be catching a cold, the Times of India reported. But she soon felt something move.

She spent the rest of the night in discomfort, waiting for the sun to rise so she could go to the hospital.

“I could not explain the feeling but I was sure it was some insect,” she told the New Indian Express. “Whenever it moved, it gave me a burning sensation in my eyes.”

As dawn arrived, with her son-in-law in tow, the woman visited the clinic closest to her home in Injambakkam, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Finally, in her fourth doctor visit — at Stanley Medical College Hospital — doctors used an endoscope to find the culprit: a blob with a pair of antennae.

“It was a full grown cockroach,” M.N. Shankar, the head of the ear, nose and throat department, told the Times of India. “It was alive. And it didn’t seem to want to come out.”

The insect was sitting in the skull base, between the eyes and close to the brain, Shankar said.

Doctors first tried to use a suction device to remove the cockroach, but the insect clung to the tissues. After a 45-minute process, using suction and forceps, doctors were able to extract the bug, still alive.

Because of the critter’s location, doctors had to first drag it to a place from which it could be extracted. It had been lodged inside for about 12 hours, the Times of India reported.

“If left inside, it would have died before long and the patient would have developed infection, which would have spread to the brain,” Shankar added.

Shankar said this was the “first such case” he has seen in his three decades of practice, the New India Express reported. In the past, the hospital’s ENT department has removed a leach, houseflies, and maggots from patients’ nasal cavities. “But not a cockroach, said S Muthuchitra, one of the doctors, “especially not one this large.”

This is by no means the first time a cockroach has crawled and nestled into a human body. A 1994 story in The Washington Post described a similar local case involving a one-inch cockroach that crawled into a George Washington University graduate student’s ear.

Shannelle Armstrong, the student, woke up screaming before dawn with a piercing pain in her left ear. She was taken by ambulance to the emergency room, where doctors flushed out the live cockroach.

One ear specialist quoted in the story said hospital doctors are sometimes called upon to remove different kinds of bugs from patients’ ears, especially in the summer. In urban areas, he said, roaches are the most common.

The graduate student’s medical report added the following advice: “Consider sleeping with hat on.”

So … the other night, Dear Reader, a cockroach climbed onto our hand in bed, causing a big yelp, a hurried leap out of bed, and frantic smashing with a slipper.

And then the other day, Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink popped her bathrobe on which had been drying on the washing line, and found a cockroach inside.

Thinking we may invest in a few cans of whatever passes for industrial-strength DDT nowadays.

Interestingly, cokroaches are much more sophisticated than we might imagine.

Collective decision-making

Gregarious cockroaches display collective decision-making when choosing food sources. When a sufficient number of individuals (a “quorum”) exploits a food source, this signals to newcomer cockroaches that they should stay there longer rather than leave for elsewhere. Other mathematical models have been developed to explain aggregation dynamics and conspecific recognition.

Group-based decision-making is responsible for complex behaviours such as resource allocation. In a study where 50 cockroaches were placed in a dish with three shelters with a capacity for 40 insects in each, the insects arranged themselves in two shelters with 25 insects in each, leaving the third shelter empty. When the capacity of the shelters was increased to more than 50 insects per shelter, all of the cockroaches arranged themselves in one shelter. Cooperation and competition are balanced in cockroach group decision-making behavior.

Cockroaches appear to use just two pieces of information to decide where to go, namely how dark it is and how many other cockroaches there are. A study used specially-scented roach-sized robots that appear to the roaches as real to demonstrate that once there are enough insects in a place to form a critical mass, the roaches accepted the collective decision on where to hide, even if this was an unusually light place.

Social behavior

Gregarious German cockroaches show different behaviour when reared in isolation from when reared in a group. In one study, isolated cockroaches were less likely to leave their shelters and explore, spent less time eating, interacted less with conspecifics when exposed to them, and took longer to recognise receptive females. Because these changes occurred in many contexts, the authors suggested them as constituting a behavioural syndrome. These effects might have been due either to reduced metabolic and developmental rates in isolated individuals or the fact that the isolated individuals hadn’t had a training period to learn about what others were like via their antennae.

But frankly, we don’t give a sh*t. They could be insect Einsteins. They ain’t coming anywhere near our ears.

trump san joseAre you in the group that says, of Donald Trump, “How can people even consider voting for that dreadful man?”

Well, we found the following article on Addicting Info, and we reproduce it in full. It should be read very carefully by anyone with the wit and critical faculty to understand the point it is making. It should specifically be sent to or read to any apparently sane person who is considering voting for him.

In our view, a tiny minority of Trump supporters are deliberately – consciously, ruthlessly – supporting his rabble-rousing rubbish because they genuinely believe in the inevitable result of what he stands for. In pursuit of their goals, they believe it’s OK to lie about virtually everything that matters and to terrify part of the population with nonsense. They believe it’s OK to be nakedly racist. They believe it’s OK to mangle the language until what comes out of your mouth means nothing. They believe it’s OK to wonder aloud why it’s not OK to use nuclear weapons. They believe it’s OK to be repeatedly loathsome about women. They believe climate change is a Chinese hoax. And that it’s OK to claim to be a successful businessman when you lose nearly a billion dollars in just one year. And that it’s just good business smarts not to pay any tax.

Why do they believe all this is acceptable? They believe this is acceptable because they are fanatically convinced that the entire panoply of government in the United States should be dismantled to pay for a new low-tax, low-government model that would transform America into an unrecognisable shadow of its former self.

And so they bite their tongue, swallow their distaste at their manic buffoon of a candidate, and pretend that Trump is a serious candidate who just exhibits a sort of folksy aw shucks anti-politics hucksterism which is essentially harmless. They know they’re lying, but they think they can control him if he gets to the White House, so they don’t care.

trump__clintonAnd before anyone says “But Hillary is a flawed candidate, too!” Yes. Yes, she is. We are not especially enthusiastic about her, and haven’t been since she showed herself to be tone deaf over healthcare reform in her husband’s first Presidency.

She’s very conservative. She’s an American interventionist. She has a moderate, at best, record in public service. (In terms of results. Her effort cannot be faulted.) And she has undoubtedly made some egregious mis-steps. Unlike Trump, though, she doesn’t bluster her way through them. She admits them, as she has with the “private email server” nonsense.

But there really is no comparison between her and Trump. Clinton is flawed, and a machine politician, but most of the accusations levelled against her are just that – accusations. Despite years of trying, for example, no one has managed to actually produce any evidence, whatsoever, of any wrongdoing or criminal lack of care over the murderous attack on Americans in Benghazi.

But Trump, conversely, is actively seeking to undermine the democratic process by trivialising the whole concept of policy, cheerfully promoting various ideas that are nakedly neo-Nazi in their formulation, and which represents the very worst in bigotry and terrifying irresponsibility that we have ever seen in a “mainstream” political context in America.

So apart from the cold-hearted realpolitik intellectuals and apparatchiks who support him, why does everyone else?

Unpleasant though it is to assert such a thing, it may well be that they are simply that they are too stupid to understand what’s going on.

We were roundly criticised recently by a good friend of a different political persuasion for “daring” to call the mass of Trump supporters “morons”. That criticism is a badge we wear with pride. The stakes are just too high to be mealy-mouthed on the issue.

In our considered view, unless they are disingenuously using him as a stalking horse for a thoroughly hateful agenda, no one with an ounce of discretion or clarity of thought could support this dangerous fool.

Yet they are. And now, we might have a perfectly clear explanation of why.

angry-trump-supportersJust as millions of people who voted for Brexit suddenly realised after the referendum that it wasn’t all a game, it wasn’t all about delivering a kick to the Establishment, and now they would have to leave the EU – and many promptly changed their minds, except there was and is no “get out” clause from the result of vote – so millions will vote for Trump and if, by some congruence of political streams they actually managed to get him elected (which is still very unlikely), they will rapidly realise they were conned, as their benefits are slashed, their schools and roads go un-repaired, the world shuns America, the race relations situation spirals downwards (possibly beyond control), and the country is continually riven by myriad divisions. And the response to the mounting chaos will, of course, be ever more authoritarian government.

And in the blink of an eye, America democracy may well be gone, replaced by something with the trappings of democracy, but without the control of the people. Because when facts don’t matter, anything can be said to be true and right. Exactly what so many of Trump’s supporters say they are railing against.

Turkeys voting for Christmas.

This article explains why. Trump-Bots are not amenable to rational dispute, because they have convinced themselves they know better. Based on … nothing at all.

What to do about this distressing state of affairs? Distasteful as some may find the proposal, the solution lies in convincing everyone with a modicum of intelligence to vote for Clinton. Because – much as the Libertarian candidate or the Green candidate may have their appeal – she is now the only person who can stop this. People with the wit and wisdom to perceive the danger simply have to hold their nose and support Clinton, even whilst they perceive her weaknesses, and hope like hell she turns out to be a decent President.

The alternative is not unthinkable. It is all too thinkable. And here is why:

”Are Trump Supporters Too Dumb To Know They’re Dumb? Science Says “Probably”

How the hell can anybody call themselves intelligent when they’re supporting Donald Trump? It’s a question that baffles people who are able to think critically, able to read and comprehend both history and current events, and able to see through Trump’s thin façade of know-it-all-ism and deep into what he is – an ignorant, narcissistic, and dangerous conman.

Says a supporter of a man who has filed for bankruptcy four times since 1991.

Says a supporter of a man who has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection four times since 1991. When questioned on it by Republican opposition during the primaries, Trump replied “”Hundreds of companies” have filed for bankruptcy, “I used the law four times and made a tremendous thing. I’m in business. I did a very good job.”

Trump supporters not only don’t see this, they’re happy that there’s someone running for president that thinks exactly like them. Take Melanie Austin, of Brownsville, Pennsylvania. She thought her beliefs about Obama being a gay Muslim from Kenya and Michelle being transgender were just fringe beliefs – right up until she started hearing similar stuff from Trump and other right-wing extremists.

Now she knows she’s right about all of this. You can’t tell her that she’s ignorant and dumb if she can’t figure this out for herself. You can’t tell her she’s delusional. You can sit there with her, and countless others like her, and present facts, figures, charts, studies, and more, all from the most reputable sources there are, and prove that her lord and saviour is wrong, and you’ll still get shot down.

There’s more to this than the problem of confirmation bias. Austin gets much of her information from fringe right-wing blogs and conspiracy sites, but that’s not all of it. Many of Trump’s supporters are seriously too dumb to know they’re dumb. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s an unshakeable illusion that you’re much smarter, and more skilled and/or knowledgeable, than you really are.

People like Austin labor under the illusion that their knowledge about things is at least as good as, if not better than, the actual facts. For these people, though, their knowledge isn’t just superior – it’s superior even to those who have intimate and detailed knowledge of the subject at hand. Trump himself has exemplified this countless times, such as when he claimed he knows more about ISISthan even our military generals do.

His fans simply take his word for it, and believe that because he knows, they know. They are literally incapable of seeing that they don’t know.

To be sure, the Dunning-Kruger effect is present everyone all across the political spectrum, and indeed, in every walk of life. We all overestimate our abilities and knowledge somewhere.However, the effect is especially pronounced in people with limited intellectual and social skills:

“People who are unskilled in [intellectual and social domains] suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realise it.”

bertrand-russell-dunning-kruger-effectSo basically, yes, it’s possible to be too dumb to realise you’re dumb.

In four separate studies, people who scored in the bottom quarter on tests involving everything from humour to logic, and even to grammar, grossly overestimated where they thought they would score. They averaged scores in the 12th percentile, while their average estimate of their own scores was the 62nd percentile.

The researchers attribute that huge discrepancy to a literal inability to distinguish accuracy from error. Or, to put it another way, those who are the most lacking in skills and knowledge are the least able to see it.

Take the case of McArthur Wheeler, a man who robbed two banks in 1995 and was caught rather easily. He thought he would get away with it because he rubbed his face with lemon juice, which is used in invisible ink. To test the theory that lemon juice would turn him invisible, he rubbed it on his face, took a Polaroid, and his face wasn’t in the picture! So he thought he was safe from security cameras because he could make his face invisible.

He was shocked when police caught him because of that, saying, “But I wore the juice.” He literally couldn’t see the ridiculousness of that line of thought.

That seems like an extreme example, but if you look at the logic of Donald Trump and his supporters, that kind of incompetence is coming out in force. Look at his debate performance. He was woefully unprepared, while Hillary was eminently prepared, and he grew more frustrated, and ultimately furious and out-of-control, while she wiped the floor with him for most of the 95 minutes.

Yet later, with breathtaking chutzpah, he claimed he won, and so did his supporters. The hashtag #TrumpWon trended on Twitter, with many of his supporters and surrogates saying he had a very good performance, and put Hillary to shame. Anyone with more than two working brain cells could see otherwise, but all of these people couldn’t see their deity’s abject failure for what it was. And when the scientific polls came in after the debate, Hillary was shown to be the strong victor.

David Dunning, one of the first to catalog the Dunning-Kruger effect (hence its name), has studied human behaviour—including voter behaviour—for decades. He penned an op-ed in Politico that explains why this effect is so pronounced in Trump’s supporters:

“It suggests that some voters, especially those facing significant distress in their life, might like some of what they hear from Trump, but they do not know enough to hold him accountable for the serious gaffes he makes. They fail to recognise those gaffes as mis-steps.

Again, the key to the Dunning-Kruger Effect is not that unknowledgeable voters are uninformed; it is that they are often misinformed — their heads filled with false data, facts and theories that can lead to misguided conclusions held with tenacious confidence and extreme partisanship, perhaps some that make them nod in agreement with Trump at his rallies.”

Trump is completely inept, and his supporters are way too poorly-informed to know that he’s inept, and too dumb themselves to know how dumb they are. That’s why Trump’s supporters are so sure they’re smart and their candidate is smart that they won’t listen to reason.

The effect is strong in these people.

Article ends …

We hasten to add, we don’t think less of those Trump supporters suffering from this affliction or look down our superior noses at them. No attempt has been made to address their lack of educated decision making by their own side of politics, or anyone. They have been wilfully led into believing things that are clearly not sustained by the facts. As a result, America has a huge (and very angry) mis-educated under-class that faithfully believes the nonsense that is shoved down its throat by both its opinion leaders and the media. Millions of Americans never leave their country, never access any media from overseas, and never hear any contrary arguments to address their prejudices. Facts become irrelevant. Only tribalism matters.

This is not a new phenomenon. Almost within living memory of the participants – certainly within living memory of their families – a terrible, bloody civil war was fought to defend racism and slavery, sold to millions in the Confederate States as a defence against a tyrannical central (and northern) Government and in favour of States’ rights. It wasn’t. It was a war to defend slavery and the economic advantage it conferred on slave owners.

When the world was plunged into a death struggle against fascism in 1939, millions of Americans blindly thought that their country should have nothing to do with it. The isolationism that represented extended the war by at least two years and led to millions of unnecessary deaths.

Decisions have consequences. And the world’s greatest democracy can do better. But it’s a long-term rectification project.

And in the meantime, Trump must be stopped. Must. Be. Stopped.

You can find another excellent article on this very frightening phenomenon here.

rubble

 

Anyone, anywhere in the world, can donate directly to the Red Cross in Italy via this link https://www.ammado.com/fundraiser/italy-eq/donate

You can donate anonymously, or attach a message, as you wish.

And we urge any readers of ours who can who are in Italy to donate blood. The need is very urgent. Locations in the area are below, or enquire at your nearest hospital.

 

blood donation

 

Facebook has set up their Safety Check feature for people in the area to let friends and family know they are safe.

You can help by sharing this information, too. Please post a link to this blog on your Facebook, Twitter or other feeds. Thank you.

amatriciana-17510_lOne of the two main towns devastated by the quake is the home of the Amatriciana recipe, shortened to Matriciana by some people, a hugely popular pasta dish enjoyed by people the world over.

Sadly, many people killed in the terrible event were actually visiting the area to enjoy a festival of the famed dish of bacon/ham, chilli and tomato.

Here’s one idea: if Amatriciana is one of your favourite dishes, then maybe donate whatever a dish of it would cost you in your local pasta restaurant? That’s what we’ve done.

Our prayers and sadness for the people of this beautiful region.

No headphone jack iPhone 7 ‘revealed’

The unverified version of the iPhone 7 on top, compared to a iPhone 6s on the bottom.

A video posted to the Chinese version of Facebook showing what looks to be the new iPhone 7 has backed rumours circulating around the tech world that the new phone will have no headphone jack.

The post, which came to light over the weekend, shows an unidentified Chinese man showing off the phone and comparing it to the iPhone 6s.

Aesthetically both phones look very similar, but there are notable changes such as the headphone jack and a larger camera hole, which suggests a bigger and better camera, too.

The iPhone 7 is rumoured to have 32GB as its entry-level storage capacity, doing away with the cheapest 16GB model, while other online posts suggest the phone will have a bigger 5.5-inch option and a camera with optical zoom.

None of the rumours have been substantiated, and the source of the video is not known.

Anyhow, Apple historically launches the phones in September and makes them available later that month.

So presumably if you want to listen to your music discretely, or watch video on the tram, or whatever, you’re going to need …. what, Bluetooth or wi-fi headsets.

Which will no doubt be sold separately and cost $200. Right.

(West Australian and others)

Fascinating new research about how the human mind works.

“Humans have a capacity to imagine scenarios, reflect on them, and embed them into larger narratives,” says evolutionary psychologist Thomas Suddendorf at the University of Queensland in Australia. “There appears to be something fundamentally distinct about human “mental time travel” when compared to the capacities of our closest-surviving animal relatives.”

At it most simple, human beings look ahead and believe they can predict their future. But this ability to forecast our futures, however inaccurately, comes at a price.

“We worry about many things we can do little about, and we can experience persistent anxiety about things that may never eventuate,” says Suddendorf.

 

Animals fear predators for good reason (Credit: Anup Shah/Naturepl.com)

Animals fear their natural predators for good reason (Credit: Anup Shah/Naturepl.com)

 

Most of us overcome these worries easily enough. Humans are different from other animals. As the Current Biology website notes, we have an in-built optimism bias, which gives us a rosier view of the future than is really appropriate.

The ability to anticipate is a hallmark of cognition. Inferences about what will occur in the future are critical to decision making, enabling us to prepare our actions so as to avoid harm and gain reward.

Given the importance of these future projections, one might expect the brain to possess accurate, unbiased foresight.

Humans, however, exhibit a pervasive and surprising bias: when it comes to predicting what will happen to us tomorrow, next week, or fifty years from now, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events, and underestimate the likelihood of negative events.

For example, we underrate our chances of getting divorced, being in a car accident, or suffering from cancer. We also expect to live longer than objective measures would warrant, overestimate our success in the job market, and believe that our children will be especially talented. This optimism bias phenomenon is one of the most consistent, prevalent, and robust behaviour or cognition biases documented in psychology and behavioural economics.

This becomes especially important where death is concerned. As far as studies can establish, we seem to be the only animal able to contemplate, understand and cope with our own mortality.

“One of the realities is that you are going to die.” But humans have an amazing ability to apparently ignore – or at least suppress – this eventuality, which Ajit Varki of the University of California dubs “an evolutionary quirk”.

For example, if animals denied the risks of death as many humans do, zebras or antelopes might knowingly graze near hungry lions. They don’t.

But this is innate optimism appears not to be the case for those with depression, for whom the future often appears very bleak. And in reality, they might well be right, at least to some extent, as they are not affected by the irrational “optimism bias”.

“Clinical psychologists are beginning to recognise and disentangle the important roles aspects of foresight play in our mental health,” says Suddendorf.

Depressed people truly appreciate reality, agrees Varki, who has written extensively about human uniqueness and our ability to deny death.

So why do “healthy” people exhibit optimism bias?

“We need that denial,” says Varki. “Otherwise we might curl up and do nothing.”

And instead of facing the transient nature of life, some us engage in apparently reckless activities such as climbing dangerous mountains, driving cars too fast and taking mind-altering drugs, content in our assumption that we’ll be fine.

So the next time you meet someone suffering from depression, don’t be too quick to dismiss their view of the world. They might just be seeing it more clearly than you.

Which is a depressing thought, eh?

epi pen

We have no words. Her supervisor needs counselling – or sacking – and the company – all companies – need to have training for their staff in how to handle these situations, not just for their staff, but for their customers.

As for the suggestion that every retail premise should have an Epi-Pen, that’s very sensible.

People can have a FIRST anaphylactic attack and die. Read the story here:

https://au.news.yahoo.com/a/31933391/take-care-all-the-best-teen-fired-via-text-after-allergic-reaction-left-her-close-to-death/#page1

And so

Seed vault

If you ever enter this place – well, it’s not a good sign, because it means something of apocalyptic proportions has happened.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a seed bank located on Spitsbergen, a remote northern island that’s part of Norway.

The vault holds multitudes of seeds in the case of a global catastrophe destroys most of the earth’s crops. Currently, it holds about 864,000 distinct seeds and has the capacity to hold up to 4.5 million. It has fully 1/3 of the world’s most important food crop seeds inside of it.

The vault is buried 390 feet into a sandstone mountain with no permanent staff and no one person has all the codes you need to get inside. For hundreds of years, these seeds will be kept safe and a study done on the feasibility of the vault suggests the seeds might be preserved safely for even thousands of years. Each seed is packaged in a three-ply foil packet sealed with heat to ensure there’s no moisture.

It’s fully automated and is remotely monitored. The vault is only open for special visitors and a few days a year when it accepts new seeds. And, also, it’s in the middle of the Arctic, very close to the North Pole.

Interesting, huh? Well, we thought so.

sick-flu

 

Spike Milligan famously inscribed “I told you I was sick” on his tombstone.

Well, Dear Reader, we apologise, but we have not posted for a while because we have been laid up in bed with flu since the middle of last week.

And trust me. We’ve been whingeing about it. To anyone who will listen. Which is, predictably, no-one.

We can’t get anyone to understand how crook we feel. “Pah! Man flu!” has been the response. Well now scientists have revealed that there is such a thing as Man Flu. It really does exist, according to research.

Men suffer more with coughs and colds because they have extra temperature receptors in the brain and so experience worse symptoms.

Children deal with colds the same way because the relevant area of the brain is the same size in boys and girls, said Durham University neuroscientist Dr Amanda Ellison.

But when boys hit puberty testosterone starts to act on the area, called the preoptic nucleus, making it larger.

Dr Ellison said: ‘When you have a cold one of the things that happens is you get an increase in temperature to fight off the bugs.

‘The bugs can’t survive at higher temperatures.

‘When your immune system is under attack the preoptic nucleus increases temperature to kill off the bugs. But men have more temperature receptors because that area of the brain is bigger in men than women.

“So men run a higher temperature and feel rougher – and if they complain they feel rough then maybe they’re right.”

Research published in 2009 which also supported the existence of man flu was criticised as inconclusive as it related to genetically engineered mice rather than humans. But Dr Ellison’s study was based on research carried out on human brains.

“It is part of the whole argument about the differences between men and women and how their behaviour can be influenced by differences in their brains,” she added.

Commenting on the fact that her findings could be seen as controversial, Dr Ellison said: “I’m just throwing it out there. The debate will rage on and quite rightly so. The trouble with man flu has always been that there is not much hard evidence that the feelings are worse in males than in females. This is just a possible cause.”

We need no more evidence, Dear Reader. Pass the Lemsip. And we can’t quite reach the remote control …

Tay Tay's girl gang at the MTV Awards in 2015

Tay Tay’s ‘girl gang’ at the MTV Awards in 2015

 

If you’ve got more than a handful of friends, it seems you may need to kick some to the kerb as science reckons our brains can’t handle more than five besties at a time.

A study by the MIT Technology Review looked at a theory by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who noticed that there was a direct correlation between people’s brains and how many friends they have – basically the bigger your brain the bigger your friendship group and the smaller your brain, the less friends you’re bound to have.

According to Dunbar, humans are only able to have FIVE best friends, with maybe another 10 close friends, 35 acquaintances, and 100 additional contacts, due to the size of our neocortex.

And if you were having doubts about his theory, Dunbar actually tested out it out recently by examining 6 billion phone calls made by 35 million people in an anonymous European country.

“The team assumes that the frequency of calls between two individuals is a measure of the strength of their relationship,” the MIT Technology Review states. The study found that Dunbar’s estimate wasn’t too far fletched: “The average cumulative layer turns out to hold 4.1, 11.0, 29.8, and 128.9 users,” researchers found — again, that’s besties, close friends, acquaintances and “contacts” respectively.

So maybe Katy Perry and Rihanna had the right idea when they chose a girl squad of two as opposed to Tay Tay’s massive army? And who are Taylor’s best besties from among the girl gang? We think the people should be told.
We reckon we’ve got at least six friends, Dear Reader. Coz we’re really, er, you know, brainy. You know who you are.

Everyone knows Australia’s legendary reputation for things that bite, sting, chew and generally act in an anti-social manner. Great White Sharks, innumerable venomous snakes, an entire nightmare full of horrid spiders, jellyfish, even an octopus that kills people paddling in rock pools.

 

Australia's redback spider

Redback spider bites are relatively common in Australia, with around 2,000 people bitten each year.

But this one takes the, er, biscuit.

An Aussie has taken himself to hospital after a venomous redback spider bit him on the penis. Yup, you read that right.

The tradesman was using a portable toilet on a Sydney building site on Wednesday morning when he was bitten.

A spokesperson for St George Hospital confirmed that a 21-year-old man was treated for a redback bite.

The redback spider, closely related to the black widow spider, is distinguished by a long red stripe on its abdomen. And its bite causes severe pain, sweating and nausea.

The BBC spoke to the owners of the property who confirmed that the man had been bitten on the penis, as described in various media reports.

He was later discharged from hospital in a stable condition.

Although there are recorded cases of deaths from redback bites, none have occurred since the development of anti-venom in 1956.

Still, no. No thanks. Nu-uh. Nope. No.

judgement

We are indebted to Vox for this brilliant little video, which apart from anything else is just very interesting. It also bears showing to everybody you know who believes in the Biblical account of Creation. The stupid is strong in many of them, of course, and literal belief in Creation is as much a tribal cultural construct as it is actually a matter of faith. So they will probably reject your good intentions out of hand. Still, such battles are won an inch at a time.

And God said: “Lo, I have given thee a brain, that thee might wonder at the beauty of my creation, and revere me for my genius.”

And man sayeth, “not only that, but you did it in seven days. You’re the real deal, God.”

And the Lord sayeth, “well actually it was over a few billion years. I used a little trick I called Evolution.”

And Man sayeth, “Fuck that’s some complicated shit Lord. Explain it all again please?”

And the Lord sayeth, “there are none so blind as those who choose not to see.”

devil

And the Devil piped up and said “You go for it Man, you argue about Creation back and forth while I fuck up the world and organise your children dying every three seconds from starvation and illness, and arrange it so you destroy the very planet, and I’ll get Kim Kardashian to be Queen of the World and take her clothes off regularly so you won’t have time or need to worry.”

And the Lord cried out, “Man, I have given you Science and Rational Thought so you can come to marvel at the Universe around you!”

And Man said, “Sod that Lord, we prefer to Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

And God saw what Man had done with his Creation, and wept.

So God despaireth of Man, and sent him Donald Trump and nuclear weapons at the same time. And as the night followers the day, soon all was silent. And God turned to the cockroaches and said, “For so it is written, in the End of Days thou shalt inherit the earth.”

And after a few more billion years, a new race stood on the Earth and marveled at God’s bounty, and it came to pass that there rose among them peoples who chose to believe the God had created the entire Breadbasket in just seven days, and had put the holes in the floorboards at exactly the right level for the cockroaches to find the leavings on the kitchen floor, and Lo was it not a miracle that the holes and the cockroaches were exactly the same size? Surely this was evidence of a great Home Design Architect?

And God did express a little frisson of irritation and sayeth unto the cockroaches, “We’re not going to do all this shit again, right?” And the cockroaches had a think and said “Er, no, Lord, sorry, and did fiercely bind the “Creationists” mouths with fly paper until their voices could no longer be heard. And peace reigned on the Earth, and everyone got on with something more important.

coffee (1)

In another confirmation of what we have always fervently believed, you can chalk up another benefit to downing your favourite morning brew: drinking coffee may protect your liver, research from the our old alma mater the University of Southampton in the U.K. has found.

After analyzing data on 432,000 people from 5 separate studies, the researchers concluded that people who drank one cup of coffee a day were 22 percent less likely to develop cirrhosis—scarring of the liver that eventually causes it to fail—than those who didn’t drink any.

But it gets better. The more coffee they consumed, the better their livers fared: People who drank two cups a day were 43 percent less likely to get the disease, while those who drank four cups a day had a 65 percent lower risk of it.

The study didn’t separate between decaf and regular coffee. But it’s likely that the caffeine does play a protective role, says study author Oliver Kennedy, M.D.

Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in your body, which are responsible for activating certain liver cells that lay down scar tissue. If this process is hindered, scar tissue—and eventually cirrhosis—may be less likely to occur, he says.

Still, it’s possible that there’s something in coffee itself that may be responsible for the beneficial effects, too.

For instance, one component called diterpenes — found in both regular and decaf coffee — may tamp down inflammation in the liver, reducing the risk of cirrhosis, Dr. Kennedy says.

So if you want to keep your liver safe, consider adding a cup or two of coffee to your day, as well as maintaining a healthy weight and limiting alcohol consumption, says Dr. Kennedy. And stick to no more than two alcoholic drinks a day.

We’re not sure about that last one, frankly, and we’d love to stay and talk, but right now we’re off to make another coffee.

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Sarah Tait (L) alongside rowing partner Kate Hornsey. Photo: Getty Images.

Olympian Sarah Tait (L) alongside rowing partner Kate Hornsey. Photo: Getty Images.

 

When it comes to breast cancer and skin cancer prevention, you know the drill: Feel yourself up to make sure there are no unwanted guests and spot check your bod for any suspicious activity. But there’s another sneaky cancer you should keep tabs on just as much — and this one’s not so easy to spot.

800 new cases are diagnosed annually, according to Cancer Australia. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted virus so common that almost all sexually active women will get it at some point in their lives.

And here’s the kicker: most women with cervical cancer have no signs or symptoms of the disease, says David Cohn, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology and director of gynecologic cancer research at Ohio State University.

 

cervical cancer postop

 

What makes this cancer super tricky is that symptoms don’t start cropping up until the disease has already progressed, and those can include watery or bloody vaginal discharge, spotting after sex or exercise, and periods that may be heavier and longer lasting than normal. And some of those symptoms can be ignored.

That’s the bad news. The good news is cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent. In fact, there are plenty of things you can do to protect yourself. Here, five prevention tips that could save your life – and the biggest one is quite simply, don’t wait till you think you may have symptoms!

1. Get Screened

The most important thing you can do is get a pap test regularly. “There’s a significant risk for the development of cervical cancer if a woman doesn’t get screened for the disease as recommended,” says Cohn. “Many women with cervical cancer have not had cervical cancer screening in the 10 years prior to diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis is made, the higher the rate of cure.”

Typically, women should start getting pap tests at age 21. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a pap test done at least every three years, while women between 30 and 65 should have both a pap and HPV test done every five years.

2. Get Vaccinated

One step before cervical cancer prevention is protecting yourself against HPV, says Cohn. Luckily, vaccines are available that can protect against the HPV subtypes that have been linked to cervical cancer. (They are now part of the standard vaccination regime for Australian teenage girls.) Women aged 13 to 26 who haven’t been vaccinated need to get “catch-up” vaccinations. That said, they don’t help combat an infection that’s already there. That’s why regular pap tests are so vitally important.

3. Have Safe Sex

Besides lack of screening, a good portion of other risk factors relate to HPV exposure, says Cohn. Statistically speaking, women who start having sex at a younger age and have multiple sexual partners will face more exposure. While more partners equals more exposure, don’t think monogamy gets you off the hook: it’s still possible to end up with HPV even if you’re only sleeping with one person.

Contracting other STDs, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, also ups your risk of HPV. It all points to the same message: the best thing you can do is practice safe sex by always – always! – using barrier protection, such as condoms. Having sex means the risk factor will always be there, but the more vigilant you are, the better.

4. Stop Smoking

Ditching cigarettes can help prevent an HPV-related infection from morphing into cervical cancer, says Cohn. When you smoke, the nasty chemicals are absorbed through the lungs and carried in the bloodstream throughout your bod. According to the ACS, women who smoke are twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Plus, smoking messes with your immune system, making it harder to fight off an HPV infection.

5. Be Aware of Your Family History

If your mother or sis had cervical cancer, your chances of developing it are two to three times higher, according to the ACS. Obviously, you don’t have control over your family history, but you do have control over how often you’re screened and how well you’re protected against HPV.

“Since there’s a long time between the development of the precursors to cervical cancer and developing the disease, detection of precursors — and then treatment— will prevent cervical cancer,” says Cohn.

Don’t die for the sake of a pap smear. That’s the essential message.

As the Australian public health message says, “A little bit of awkward for a whole lot of peace of mind.”

We are indebted to the BBC for this fascinating story. Australia is rightly famous for its scary fauna – now it appears it might have been an even scarier place to inhabit in the distant past.

 

An artist's illustration of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia's marsupial lion

Source: Museum Victoria / Artist: Frank Knight An artist’s illustration of Thylacoleo carnifex, Australia’s marsupial lion.

The discovery of claw marks in a bone-filled cave in Australia suggests an extinct, “anatomically bizarre” predator was able to climb trees and rocks, meaning it would have been a threat to humans, writes Myles Gough.

Apparently, Australia’s extinct marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex, was the continent’s top predator at the time of human arrival 50,000 years ago.

Weighing more than 100kg, the animal had sharp claws and a powerful jaw, and shearing teeth that could rip through the flesh of its prey, which included giant kangaroos, rhinoceros-sized herbivores known as diprotodon, and possibly early humans.

But while experts agreed on the marsupial lion’s fearsomeness, whether or not they could climb rocks and trees has been a source of scientific contention. Some have speculated that the lions’ anatomy would lend itself to climbing, while others argued they would have been too heavy to clamber up to high places.

Now palaeontologists at Flinders University say they have found the answer in a cave in Western Australia where marsupial lions left thousands of scratch marks.

A reconstructed skeleton of the marsupial lion, which weighed up to 100kg

Image copyright Gavin Prideaux, Flinders University A reconstructed skeleton of the marsupial lion, which weighed up to 100kg …

‘Significant threat to humans’

The scratch marks, mostly made by juveniles and clustered on a near-vertical rock surface leading to a now-sealed exit, suggest two things about the lions: they were skilled climbers, and they reared their young inside caves.

“[Our findings indicate] the [marsupial] lions were running up and down these rock piles to get out of the cave, and they weren’t using the lower-gradient, longer route,” says associate professor Gavin Prideaux, who supervised the research.

“We can be confident now and say that they could climb.

“And if they could climb really well in the dark, underground, there’s no reason they couldn’t climb trees.

“They would have been a very significant threat to people when they first arrived in Australia.

“What we’re dying for are different lines of evidence that shed light on the behaviour or ecology of these animals, and that’s what we’ve been presented with in the form of these claw marks.”

The team’s findings, which reinforce some contentious ideas about the behaviour of these “highly adapted” and “anatomically bizarre” predators, have been published in Nature’s open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Identifying the scratch marks

An almost complete skeleton of a marsupial mammal was discovered inside Western Australia's Flightstar Cave

Image copyright Gavin Prideaux, Flinders University An almost complete skeleton of a marsupial mammal was discovered inside Western Australia’s Flightstar Cave

The claw markings were found inside the Tight Entrance cave near the Margaret River.

In the mid-90s, bones inside the cave were identified as belonging to extinct megafauna, dating from 30,000 to 150,000 years old, says Prof Prideaux. Between 1996 and 2008, he went on numerous expeditions to the cave to collect fossils, and during that work discovered the scratch marks.

“We had the feeling that they were probably Thylacoleo scratch marks, but we had to test it,” he says.

Prof Prideaux and his honours student, lead author Samuel Arman, established a list of seven species of animal that could have been responsible.

It included the extinct marsupial lion, as well as Tasmanian tigers and Tasmanian devils, which used to live on the mainland, wallabies, koalas, possums and wombats.

Mr Arman left scratch pads inside zoos and wildlife parks, and collected tree bark to get sample claw markings from the living animals, which he compared to those inside the cave.

Lions and devils

This helped the researchers narrow their list to two key suspects: marsupial lions and Tasmanian devils. But they needed another clue.

 

Tasmanian Devil

Image copyright Getty Images Zoo tests helped the scientists rule out Tasmanian devils as being behind the scratches

 

“We went through the more than 10,000 bones we collected from the cave to look for evidence for bite marks or little chewed-up bones [which are] absolute hallmarks of devil dens,” says Prof Prideaux. “We found zero of that.”

“This is more consistent with what we’ve inferred about the behaviour of Thylacoleo from its dental morphology, and that is, it was primarily a meat eater and not a bone cruncher.”

Mr Arman also reconstructed a skeletal hand of the marsupial lion and made mock scratches on modelling clay that “perfectly matched” the large ones found in the cave.

The animals, which went extinct around 46,000 years ago, lived all across the vast continent. Prof Prideaux suspects similar claw markings exist in caves elsewhere, but have yet to be discovered.

Dr Judith Field, an expert in megafaunal extinctions from the University of New South Wales, says “the methods used to determine the size of the animal making the marks appear well conceived and well executed”.

“It is highly likely these marks were made by Thylacoleo,” she told the BBC. “They are probably the only animal with claws large enough to effect these scratch marks.”

Still, Dr Field expressed some reservations about the study: “Most of the conclusions are speculation,” she said. “Great discovery, and a neat story, but these assertions about their behaviour have yet to be substantiated by empirical data.”

We await more news with interest. Meanwhile, back to killing red-back spiders, swimming with sharks, being bombed by homicidal magpies, avoiding blue-ringed Octopuses, and staying away from Zika virus and Dengue fever -bearing mozzies. Sheesh.

Group of older men

Sixty-five to 79 is the happiest age group for adults, according to the British Office for National Statistics research.

The survey of more than 300,000 adults across the UK found life satisfaction, happiness and feeling life was worthwhile all peaked in that age bracket, but declined in the over-80s.

Meanwhile, those aged 45 to 59 reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction, with men on average less satisfied than women. That age group also reported the highest levels of anxiety.

Researchers said one possible reason for the lower happiness and well-being scores among this age group might be the burden of having to care for children and elderly parents at the same time, the financial pressures that places on a family, and emotional and social pressure.

The struggle to balance work and family commitments might also be a factor, they said. Meanwhile, those who were younger or retired had more free time to spend on activities which promoted their well-being, the researchers suggested.

Happiness and well-being dropped off again in those over 80, however, with researchers suggesting this could be down to personal circumstances such as poor health, living alone, poverty and feelings of loneliness.

The survey asked people to rate out of 10 how happy and how anxious they had felt the day before, how satisfied they were with their life generally, and how much they felt what they did in life was worthwhile.

 

Graffiti saying happiness

The published results have been broken down by age, ethnicity, religion, marital status, employment status, religion, and where in the country people live.

They suggested:

  • Married people reported the highest levels of happiness, averaging 7.67 out of 10, higher than people who were co-habiting, (perhaps due to perceived “security”?) followed by single, widowed or divorced people
  • Hardly surprisingly, people with jobs were happier than unemployed people, with part-time workers the happiest. Of those who were not working, retirees had the highest levels of happiness, followed by students.
  • Of those who followed a religion, Hindus were marginally the happiest on average, followed by Christians and Sikhs, while those who followed no religion reported being the least happy.
  • Women on average reported higher levels of anxiety than men, but were more likely report better well being and feel their life was worthwhile.
  • People of Arab ethnicity were found to be the most anxious ethnic group, with people of Chinese ethnicity the least anxious.

Reflecting the age-old adage “at least you’ve got your health”, researchers found a strong link between health and well-being.

People who said their health was very good reported an average life satisfaction rating of 8.01 out of 10, compared with people who said they were in very bad health, whose average rating was just 4.91.

UK life satisfaction map. The darker the green, the happier people are.

The over-90 age group reported by far the lowest levels of feeling their life was worthwhile, even though their reported levels of happiness and life satisfaction were comparable to those in their 20s and 30s.

Understanding how people of different ages rated their personal well-being could help policy makers target issues to improve lives, the study added.

“We know that the UK population is ageing. There were more than half a million people aged 90 and over living in the UK in 2014 – almost triple the number 30 years ago,” it said.

“This shift towards an older population will impact on important policies and services including the labour market, pension provision, and health and social care demand.

“Understanding more about how the oldest age groups rate their personal well-being will help focus on issues that are fundamental to a good later life.”

A woman smiling

Serves you right for being middle aged

The “U-shaped” pattern of happiness, which sees people’s happiness dip in middle age, has been observed globally.

  • It has been documented in more than 70 countries, in surveys of more than 500,000 people in developing and developed countries, although the age at which happiness is lowest differs between countries.
  • Previous studies found happiness hits rock bottom at 35.8 years in UK; the low point in the US comes a decade later; in Italy, happiness is lowest at 64.2 years.
  • Starkly, US citizens have become less happy with each passing decade since 1900, whereas in Europe, happiness declined until 1950 and has been increasing steadily ever since
  • Women are at their least happy at 38.6 years on average; males hit low point at 52.9 years
  • Apes, like humans, may also suffer from midlife melancholy – that’s according to a study of 508 apes in which their human care-givers assessed their well-being

In good news, Dear Reader, in just a year we can start feeling happy again.

death bed

Our days are filled with a constant stream of decisions. Most are mundane, but some are so important that they can haunt you for the rest of your life.

A recent study from Columbia University found that we’re bogged down by more than 70 decisions a day. The sheer number of decisions we have to make each day leads to a phenomenon called decision fatigue, whereby your brain actually tires like a muscle.

A new study from the University of Texas shows that even when our brains aren’t tired, they can make it very difficult for us to make good decisions. When making a decision, instead of referencing the knowledge we’ve accumulated, our brains focus on specific, detailed memories.

For example, if you’re buying a new car and trying to decide if you should go for the leather seats, even though you know you can’t afford it, your brain might focus on memories of the wonderful smell and feel of the leather seats in your brother’s sports car, when it should be focused on the misery you’re going to experience when making your monthly car payments. Since you don’t have memories of this yet, it’s a hard thing for your brain to contemplate.

Some decisions appear to be minor, such as what to eat, which route to drive to work, or in what order to tackle tasks. Nevertheless, they can be very significant in the overall span of our life.  Others are more obviously difficult and significant, such as choosing between two job offers, whether to move to a new city for someone you love, or whether to cut a toxic person out of your life. Regardless of the magnitude of the decision, our brains make it hard for us to keep the perspective we need to make good choices. And my word, how important those decisions can be.

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” – Stephen Covey

Bronnie Ware spent her career as a palliative care nurse, working exclusively with people who were 3 to 12 months from death. She made a habit of asking them about their greatest regrets, and she heard the same five regrets time and time again. By studying these regrets, you can make certain that you make good choices and don’t fall victim to them yourself.

#1 – They wish they hadn’t made decisions based on what other people think.

When you make your decisions based on other people’s opinions, two things tend to happen:

  1. You make a poor career choice: There are too many people out there who studied for a degree they regret or even spent their lives pursuing a career they regret. Whether you’re seeking parental approval or pursuing pay and prestige over passion, making a poor career choice is a decision that will live with you forever. So choose carefully – and if you choose wrong, change.
  2. You fail to uphold your morals: When you get too caught up in what your boss thinks of you, how much money you think your spouse needs to be happy, or how bad you will look if you fail, you are at high risk of acting while violating your own morals. Your intense desire to make yourself look good compromises your ability to stay true to yourself and, ultimately, to feel good.

The best way to avoid falling prey to the opinions of others is to realise that other people’s opinions are just that – opinions. Regardless of how great or terrible they think you are, that’s only their opinion. Your true self-worth comes from inside you.

#2 – They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.

Working hard is a great way to impact the world, to learn, to grow, to feel accomplished, and sometimes even to find happiness, but it becomes a problem when you do so at the expense of the people closest to you.

Ironically, we often work hard to make money for the people we care about without realising that they actually value our company more than money. The key is to find a balance between doing what you love and being with the people you love. Otherwise you’ll look back one day and wish you’d focused more on the latter. As the famous old saying has it, no one on their death bed ever said “I really wish I’d spent more time with the company accountant.”

#3 – They wish they had expressed their feelings.

Regrets-2-300x199We’re often taught as children that emotions are dangerous and that they must be bottled up and controlled.

This usually works to keep the world controlled at first, but boxing up your feelings simply causes them to grow until they erupt. The best thing you can do is to put your feelings directly on the table. Though it’s painful to initiate, it forces you to be honest and transparent.

For example, if you feel as though you don’t make enough money at work, schedule a meeting with your boss and propose why you think you’re worth more. As a result, she will either agree with you and give you a raise or disagree and tell you what you do need to do to become more valuable. On the other hand, if you do nothing and let your feelings fester, this will hinder your performance and prevent you from reaching your goal.

Learn how to express emotional matters un-emotionally. It will stand you in great stead.

#4 – They wish they had stayed in touch with their friends.

When you get caught up in your weekly routine, it’s easy to lose sight of how important people are to you, especially those you have to make time for.

Relationships with old friends are among the first things to fall off the table when we’re busy. This is unfortunate because spending quality time with friends is a major stress buster. Close friends bring you energy, fresh perspectives, and a sense of belonging, in a way that no one else can.

And remember, they may need your company, too.

#5 – They wish they had let themselves be happy.

When your life is about to end, all the difficulties you’ve faced suddenly become trivial compared to the good times. This is because you realise that, more often than not, suffering is a choice. Unfortunately, most people realise this far too late. Although we all inevitably experience pain, how we react to our pain is completely under our control, as is our ability to experience joy.

Learning to laugh, smile, and be happy (especially when stressed) is a challenge at times, but it’s one thing we can do in our lives that’s worth every ounce of effort.

In the Wellthisiswhatithink family this is known as “Play the Glad Game.” Or to put it another way, “Count your blessings”. Be grateful for the little things that surround us – not living in a war zone, for example, having enough to eat, the joy of having company – is excellent advice. There always are blessings to count, we just often fail to recognise them.

Don’t wait for life to be perfect, enjoy the way it is, right now.

Bringing It All Together

Some decisions have repercussions that can last a lifetime. Some of these decisions are made daily – how we conduct ourselves, our own health, our behaviour to others – and they require focus and perspective to keep them from haunting you, sooner or later.

Take time out to make important decisions, don’t make them on the run. And take time out to work on yourself. It is rarely wasted.

(Forbes magazine, with additions by us.)


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