Explainer: Where did Zika virus come from and why is it a problem in Brazil?

From October 2015 to January 2016, there were almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. Before then, there were just 150 cases per year.

From October 2015 to January 2016, there were almost 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil. Before then, there were just 150 cases per year.

The suspected culprit is a mosquito-borne virus called Zika. Officials in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador and Jamaica have suggested that women delay becoming pregnant. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised pregnant women to postpone travel to countries where Zika is active.

Countries and territories with active Zika virus transmission.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The World Health Organization says it is likely that the virus will spread, as the mosquitoes that carry the virus are found in almost every country in the Americas.

Zika virus was discovered almost 70 years ago, but wasn’t associated with outbreaks until 2007. So how did this formerly obscure virus wind up causing so much trouble in Brazil and other nations in South America?

Where did Zika come from?

Zika virus was first detected in Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947 in a rhesus monkey, and again in 1948 in the mosquito Aedes africanus, which is the forest relative of Aedes aegypti. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus can both spread Zika. Sexual transmission between people has also been reported.

Aedes aegypti. Emil August Goeldi (1859-1917).
via Wikimedia Commons.

Zika has a lot in common with dengue and chikungunya, another emergent virus. All three originated from West and central Africa and Southeast Asia, but have recently expanded their range to include much of the tropics and subtropics globally. And they are all spread by the same species of mosquitoes.

Until 2007 very few cases of Zika in humans were reported. Then an outbreak occurred on Yap Island of Micronesia, infecting approximately 75 percent of the population. Six years later, the virus appeared in French Polynesia, along with outbreaks of dengue and chikungunya viruses.

How did Zika get to the Americas?

Genetic analysis of the virus revealed that the strain in Brazil was most similar to one that had been circulating in the Pacific.

Brazil had been on alert for an introduction of a new virus following the 2014 FIFA World Cup, because the event concentrated people from all over the world. However, no Pacific island nation with Zika transmission had competed at this event, making it less likely to be the source.

celine handbags There is another theory that Zika virus may have been introduced following an international canoe event held in Rio de Janeiro in August of 2014, which hosted competitors from various Pacific islands.

Another possible route of introduction was overland from Chile, since that country had detected a case of Zika disease in a returning traveler from Easter Island.

Most people with Zika don’t know they have it

According to research after the Yap Island outbreak, the vast majority of people (80 percent) infected with Zika virus will never know it – they do not develop any symptoms at all. A minority who do become ill tend to have fever, rash, joint pains, red eyes, headache and muscle pain lasting up to a week. And no deaths had been reported.

canada goose However, in the aftermath of the Polynesian outbreak it became evident that Zika was associated with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a life-threatening neurological paralyzing condition.

In early 2015, Brazilian public health officials sounded the alert that Zika virus had been detected in patients with fevers in northeast Brazil. Then there was a similar uptick in the number of cases of Guillain-Barré in Brazil and El Salvador. And in late 2015 in Brazil, cases of microcephaly started to emerge.

At present, the link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly isn’t confirmed, but the virus has been found in amniotic fluid and brain tissue of a handful of cases.

How Zika might affect the brain is unclear, but a study from the 1970s revealed that the virus could replicate in neurons of young mice, causing neuronal destruction. Recent genetic analyses suggest that strains of Zika virus may be undergoing mutations, possibly accounting for changes in virulence and its ability to infect mosquitoes or hosts.

The Swiss cheese model for system failure

The Swiss cheese model of accident causation.
Davidmack via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

One way to understand how Zika spread is to use something called the Swiss cheese model. Imagine a stack of Swiss cheese slices. The holes in each slice are a weakness, and throughout the stack, these holes aren’t the same size or the same shape. Problems arise when the holes align.

With any disease outbreak, multiple factors are at play, and each may be necessary but not sufficient on its own to cause it. Applying this model to our mosquito-borne mystery makes it easier to see how many different factors, or layers, coincided to create the current Zika outbreak.

A hole through the layers

The first layer is a fertile environment for mosquitoes. That’s something my colleagues and I have studied in the Amazon rain forest. We found that deforestation followed by agriculture and regrowth of low-lying vegetation provided a much more suitable environment for the malaria mosquito carrier than pristine forest.

Increasing urbanization and poverty create a fertile environment for the mosquitoes that spread dengue by creating ample breeding sites. In addition, climate change may raise the temperature and/or humidity in areas that previously have been below the threshold required for the mosquitoes to thrive.

The second layer is the introduction of the mosquito vector. Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus have expanded their geographic range in the past few decades. Urbanization, changing climate, air travel and transportation, and waxing and waning control efforts that are at the mercy of economic and political factors have led to these mosquitoes spreading to new areas and coming back in areas where they had previously been eradicated.

For instance, in Latin America, continental mosquito eradication campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s led by the Pan American Health Organization conducted to battle yellow fever dramatically shrunk the range of Aedes aegypti. Following this success, however, interest in maintaining these mosquito control programs waned, and between 1980 and the 2000s the mosquito had made a full comeback.

The third layer, susceptible hosts, is critical as well. For instance, chikungunya virus has a tendency to infect very large portions of a population when it first invades an area. But once it blows through a small island, the virus may vanish because there are very few susceptible hosts remaining.

Since Zika is new to the Americas, there is a large population of susceptible hosts who haven’t previously been exposed. In a large country, Brazil for instance, the virus can continue circulating without running out of susceptible hosts for a long time.

celine handbags The fourth layer is the introduction of the virus. It can be very difficult to pinpoint exactly when a virus is introduced in a particular setting. However, studies have associated increasing air travel with the spread of certain viruses such as dengue.

canada goose When these multiple factors are in alignment, it creates the conditions needed for an outbreak to start.

Putting the layers together

My colleagues and I are studying the role of these “layers” as they relate to the outbreak of yet another mosquito-borne virus, Madariaga virus (formerly known as Central/South American eastern equine encephalitis virus), which has caused numerous cases of encephalitis in the Darien jungle region of Panama.

There, we are examining the association between deforestation, mosquito vector factors, and the susceptibility of migrants compared to indigenous people in the affected area.

In our highly interconnected world which is being subjected to massive ecological change, we can expect ongoing outbreaks of viruses originating in far-flung regions with names we can barely pronounce – yet.

Amy Y. Vittor has received funding from the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition International, NIH Fogarty International Center, NIH NIAID Global Health training grant, New York Community Trust Fund, and the University of Florida.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Not all psychopaths are criminals – some psychopathic traits are actually linked to success

Tom Skeyhill was an acclaimed Australian war hero, known as “the blind solider-poet.” During the monumental World War I battle of Gallipoli, he was a flag signaler, among the most dangerous of all positions.

Some psychopathic traits can lead to success, at least in the short term. Man in suit via www.shutterstock.com.

Tom Skeyhill was an acclaimed Australian war hero, known as “the blind solider-poet.” During the monumental World War I battle of Gallipoli, he was a flag signaler, among the most dangerous of all positions. After being blinded when a bomb shell detonated at his feet, he was transferred out.

After the war he penned a popular book of poetry about his combat experience. He toured Australia and the United States, reciting his poetry to rapt audiences. President Theodore Roosevelt appeared on stage with him and said, “I am prouder to be on the stage with Tom Skeyhill than with any other man I know.” His blindness suddenly disappeared following a medical procedure in America.

But, according to biographer Jeff Brownrigg, Skeyhill wasn’t what he seemed. The poet had, in fact, faked his blindness to escape danger.

That’s not all. After a drunken performance, he blamed his slurred speech on an unverifiable war injury. He claimed to have met Lenin and Mussolini (there is no evidence that he did), and spoke of his extensive battle experience at Gallipoli, when he had been there for only eight days.

You have to be pretty bold to spin those kinds of self-aggrandizing lies and to carry it off as long as Skeyhill did. Although he never received a formal psychological examination (at least to our knowledge), we suspect that most contemporary researchers would have little trouble recognizing him as a classic case of psychopathic personality, or psychopathy.

What’s more, Skeyhill embodied many elements of a controversial condition sometimes called successful psychopathy.

Despite the popular perception, most psychopaths aren’t coldblooded or psychotic killers. Many of them live successfully among the rest of us, using their personality traits to get what they want in life, often at the expense of others.

All psychopaths are criminals if you look for them only behind bars

Psychopathy is not easily defined, but most psychologists view it as a personality disorder characterized by superficial charm conjoined with profound dishonesty, callousness, guiltlessness and poor impulse control. According to some estimates, psychopathy is found in about one percent of the general population, and for reasons that are poorly understood, most psychopaths are male.

That number probably doesn’t capture the full number of people with some degree of psychopathy. Data suggest that psychopathic traits lie on a continuum, so some individuals possess marked psychopathic traits but don’t fulfill the criteria for full-blown psychopathy.

Not surprisingly, psychopathic individuals are more likely than other people to commit crimes. They almost always understand that their actions are morally wrong – it just doesn’t bother them. Contrary to popular belief, only a minority are violent.

Because researchers tend to seek out psychopaths where they can locate them in plentiful numbers, much research on the condition has taken place in prisons and jails. That’s why until fairly recently, the lion’s share of theory and research on psychopathy focused on decidedly unsuccessful individuals – such as convicted criminals.

But a lot of people on the psychopathic continuum aren’t in jail or prison. In fact, some individuals may be able to use psychopathic traits, like boldness, to achieve professional success.

A profoundly disturbed core

The very existence of successful psychopathy has been controversial, perhaps in part because many scholars insist they have never seen it. Some say the concept is illogical, with others going so far as to term it an oxymoron.

Successful psychopathy is a controversial idea, but it’s not a new one. In 1941, American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley was among the first to highlight this paradoxical condition in his classic book “The Mask of Sanity.” According to Cleckley, the psychopath is a hybrid creature, donning an engaging veil of normalcy that conceals an emotionally impoverished and profoundly disturbed core.

In Cleckley’s eyes, psychopaths are charming, self-centered, dishonest, guiltless and callous people who lead aimless lives devoid of deep interpersonal attachments. But Cleckley also alluded to the possibility that some psychopathic individuals are successful interpersonally and occupationally, at least in the short term.

In a 1946 article, he wrote that the typical psychopath will have often:

outstripped 20 rival salesmen over a period of 6 months, or married the most desirable girl in town, or, in a first venture into politics, got himself elected into the state legislature.

Charming, aggressive and looking out for number one

In 1977, Catherine Widom published a study about “noninstitutionalized psychopaths.” To find these individuals, she placed an advertisement in underground Boston newspapers calling for “charming, aggressive, carefree people who are impulsively irresponsible but are good at handling people and looking out for number one.”

The individuals she recruited exhibited a personality profile similar to those of incarcerated psychopaths, and about two-thirds of them had been arrested.

celine handbags What’s the difference between the psychopaths who get arrested and the ones who don’t? Research from Adrian Raine, now at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted in the 1990s sheds some light.

Raine and his colleagues recruited men from temporary employment agencies in the Los Angeles area. After first identifying those who met the criteria for psychopathy, they compared the 13 participants who had been convicted of one or more crimes with the 26 who had not. Raine provisionally regarded these 26 men as successful psychopaths.

Each man gave a videotaped speech about his personal flaws. Raine and his colleagues found that the men they considered successful psychopaths displayed significantly greater heart rate increases, suggesting an increase in social anxiety. These men also performed better on a task requiring them to modulate their impulses.

The bottom line: having a modicum of social anxiety and impulse control may explain why some psychopathic people manage to stay out of trouble.

The psychopath at the stock exchange

canada goose More recently, some researchers, ourselves included, have speculated that people with pronounced psychopathic traits may be found disproportionately in certain professional niches, such as politics, business, law enforcement, firefighting, special operations military services and high-risk sports. Most of those with psychopathic traits probably aren’t classic “psychopaths,” but nonetheless exhibit many features of the condition.

Perhaps their social poise, charisma, audacity, adventurousness and emotional resilience lends them a performance edge over the rest of us when it comes to high-stakes settings. As Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, the world’s premier psychopathy expert, quipped, “If I weren’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange.”

Our lab at Emory University, and that of our collaborators at Florida State University, are investigating whether some psychopathic traits, such as boldness, predispose to certain successful behaviors.

What do we mean by boldness? It encompasses poise and charm, physical risk-taking and emotional resilience, and it is a trait that is well-represented in many widely used psychopathy measures.

celine bags For instance, in studies on college students and people in the general community, we have found that boldness is modestly tied to impulsive heroic behaviors, such as intervening in emergencies. It’s also linked to a higher likelihood of assuming leadership and management positions, and to certain professions, such as law enforcement, firefighting and dangerous sports.

Want to be president? Having some psychopathic traits could help

canada goose There’s one job in particular in which boldness may make a difference: president of the United States.

In a study of the 42 American presidents up to and including George W. Bush, we asked biographers and other experts to complete a detailed set of personality items – including items assessing boldness – about the president of their expertise. Then, we connected these data with independent surveys of presidential performance by prominent historians.

We found that boldness was positively, although modestly, associated with better overall presidential performance. And several specific facets of such performance, such as crisis management, agenda setting and public persuasiveness, were associated with boldness too. This may be something to keep in mind the next time you see presidential candidates talk about how bold they’ll be in the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt, the boldest of them all.
National Archives and Records Administration

In an interesting coincidence, the boldest president in our study was the one who said he was proud to share a stage with Tom Skeyhill. Theodore Roosevelt was described by a recent biographer as possessing a “robust, forceful, naturalistic, bombastic, teeth-clapping, animal-skinning, keen-eyed, avalanche-like persona.”

The boldest presidents were not necessarily extreme or pathological on this dimension, but boldness was markedly elevated relative to the average person.

Although boldness was tied to some successful actions, we generally found that other psychopathic features, such as callousness and poor impulse control, were unrelated or negatively related to professional success.

Boldness may be associated with certain positive life outcomes, but full-fledged psychopathy generally is not.

Where’s the line between success and criminality?

Could psychopathic traits be adaptive? Few investigators have explored this “Goldilocks” hypothesis. Moreover, we know surprisingly little about how psychopathic traits forecast real-world behavior over extended stretches of time.

The charm of the psychopath is shallow and superficial. With that in mind, we would argue that boldness and allied traits may be linked to successful behaviors in the short term, but that their effectiveness almost always fizzles out in the long term. After all, Tom Skeyhill was able to fool people for only so long.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Take a chill pill if you want to avoid the flu this year

Along with snow and frigid temperatures, the winter months also bring coughs, colds and the flu. Lower respiratory tract infections, the ones that cause feelings of chest congestion despite the deepest coughs, are one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States and around the world.

Avoiding stress could help stave off the flu. Sick woman via www.shutterstock.com.

Along with snow and frigid temperatures, the winter months also bring coughs, colds and the flu. Lower respiratory tract infections, the ones that cause feelings of chest congestion despite the deepest coughs, are one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States and around the world. In the U.S. the flu alone kills thousands of people each year.

Besides causing poor health, the flu and other respiratory illness also have a huge impact on the economy. A study published in 2007 suggests that flu epidemics account for over US$10 billion per year in direct medical care costs, while lost earnings due to illness account for an additional $16.3 billion per year. And that doesn’t cover run-of-the-mill colds and coughs. The total economic impact of non-influenza viral respiratory tract infections is estimated at another $40 billion per year.

Avoiding the flu or catching a cold in the winter months can be tough, but there is something you can do in addition to getting the flu shot and washing your hands.

Relax. There’s strong evidence that stress affects the immune system and can make you more susceptible to infections.

Big doses of stress can hurt your immune system

Health psychologist Andrew Baum defined stress as “a negative emotional experience accompanied by predictable biochemical, physiological, and behavioral changes that are directed toward adaptation.” Scientists can actually measure the body’s stress response – the actions the body takes to fight through arduous situations ranging from difficult life events to infections.

In most stress responses, the body produces chemicals called pro-inflammatory cytokines. They activate the immune system, and without them the body would not be able to fight off bacteria, viruses or fungi. Normally the stress response is helpful because it preps your body to deal with whatever challenge is coming. When the danger passes, this response is turned off with help from anti-inflammatory cytokines.

However, if the stress response cannot be turned off, or if there is an imbalance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, the body can be damaged. This extra wear and tear due to the inflammation from a heightened stress response has been termed allostatic load. A high allostatic load has been associated with multiple chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. This partly explains the focus on taking anti-inflammatory supplements to prevent or treat disease.

Short-term stress hurts too

An inappropriate stress response can do more than cause chronic illness down the road. It can also make you more susceptible to acute infections by suppressing the immune system.

For example, when mice are subjected to different environmental stressors, there is an increase in a molecule in their blood called corticosterone, which is known to have immunosuppressive effects on the body. This type of response is mirrored in research on humans. In a study of middle-aged and older women, stress from being instructed to complete a mental math or speech test was associated with higher levels of similar immunosuppressive molecules.

A similar response has been documented among medical students. A 1995 study showed that the students who reported “feeling stressed” the most during exam periods also had the highest levels of molecules with immunosuppressant characteristics.

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Stress won’t make you healthier.
Stressed out man image via www.shutterstock.com.

Stress makes it easier to get sick

There is also direct evidence that stress can increase risk of infection. For instance, a group of scientists in Spain used surveys to assess stress in 1,149 people for a year and then measured how many colds occurred within the group. They found that every dimension of stress they measured was associated with an increased risk for getting the common cold. While this study’s large sample size and design make it particularly noteworthy, the relationship between colds and stress has been reported since the 1960s.

More recently, we presented a study that calculated allostatic load scores in over 10,000 people that were a part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2002. We searched for associations between those allostatic load scores and the likelihood of having reported symptoms of a communicable disease, like the common cold. We found that the higher the score, the more likely an individual was to have reported symptoms of illness.

While causality cannot be completely confirmed in the type of analysis we conducted, our calculations included multiple biological and clinical markers that would not likely have been significantly impacted by short-term illnesses alone. This suggests that the correlation between allostatic load score and disease symptoms was not simply due to the stress of having an illness.

Our results mirror what is generally accepted in the field. There are whole book chapters dedicated to describing the impacts of stress and infection risk. All this evidence seems to suggest that stress reduction might lead to a healthier cold and flu season.

A prescription for relaxation

While there are medications that can treat the flu, the latest evidence suggests they are only marginally effective at relieving symptoms and may have no impact on reducing the rate of hospitalizations. And Vitamin C, which is often touted as an over-the-counter cold remedy, has little impact on the incidence of the common cold according to the latest compilation of studies from the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent network of scientific researchers.

So keeping stress at bay might be a better bet for staying healthy. But besides just remembering to take deep breaths, participating in activities to reduce stress during the winter months has been shown to help reduce the burden of respiratory illnesses. This may include making good on that New Year’s resolution to get to the gym. In fact, a recent randomized controlled trial concluded that those who exercised or meditated had fewer severe acute respiratory illnesses than did a control group that did neither.

canada goose It may also help to talk to somebody, such as your physician or a psychologist, about techniques to manage stress. In a clinical trial done with children between the ages of 8-12, those who talked with therapists about relaxation management had improved mood and decreased frequency of colds. On a cellular level, those in the therapist group had increased levels of secretory immunoglobulin A, one of the molecules that is responsible for protecting mucosal surfaces, like the lung, from infection. These types of relaxation techniques are not just for kids. Review articles conclude relaxation techniques are an important therapeutic strategy for stress-related diseases.

canada goose Cold and flu season is here, but getting worried about it might only hurt your chances of staying healthy. Instead, consider how stress hurts your immune system, and write yourself a prescription for relaxation.

celine handbags The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

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Why isn’t learning about public health a larger part of becoming a doctor?

Chronic conditions, such as Type II diabetes and hypertension, account for seven in 10 deaths in the United States each year. And by some estimates, public health factors, such as the physical environment we live in, socioeconomic status and ability to access health services, determine 90% of our health.

Public health isn’t a standard part of medical school curricula. Medical school class images via www.shutterstock.com.

Chronic conditions, such as Type II diabetes and hypertension, account for seven in 10 deaths in the United States each year. And by some estimates, public health factors, such as the physical environment we live in, socioeconomic status and ability to access health services, determine 90% of our health. Biomedical sciences and actual medical care – the stuff doctors do – determine the remaining 10%.

Clinical medicine can treat patients when they are sick, but public health provides an opportunity to prevent disease and poor health. But too often, medical students don’t get to learn about public health, or how to use it when they become doctors. That means many of today’s students aren’t learning about health care in a broader context.

Why doctors need to know about public health

What should a physician do if patients are unable to visit a physician because their workplace doesn’t give them sick days? What about an obese individual who has trouble following healthy eating recommendations because their neighborhood doesn’t have a grocery store?

If we want the next generation of medical professionals to understand why some patients have an easier time following a care plan than others, or understand what causes these conditions so we can prevent them, medical schools need to look toward public health.

Epidemiology, a core discipline within public health, emphasizes the study and application of treatment to disease and other health-related issues within a population. It is focused on prevention, which means understanding what makes people sick or unwell.

You might hear about epidemiologists who work on figuring out how infectious diseases spread. But they also study obesity, cancer, how our environments affect our health and more.

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Medical schools recognize that their students should learn more about public health. But according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), about one-fourth of 2015 medical school graduates report that they intend to participate in public health-related activities during their career, and nearly one-third of graduates report that training related to community health and social service agencies was inadequate.

Putting public health into medicine

But this is slowly starting to change.

For instance, the Medical College Acceptance Test (MCAT), which all medical school applicants in the US take, used to focus on just physical and biological sciences and verbal reasoning. But in 2014 the MCAT added a new section on the psychological, social and biological foundations of behavior. The idea is to provide students with a foundation learn about what public health scholars call the social determinants of health. These are conditions and environments in which we are born, work, live and interact with others.

Students are expected to know more about public health.
Medical students image via www.shutterstock.com.

Expectations for students transitioning from medical school to their postgraduate residency are also starting to change.

The AAMC has a list of 13 activities that medical school graduates are expected to be able to do on their first day of residency. The activities (called Entrustable Professional Activities, or EPAs) integrate, among other core competencies, principles of public health into everyday practice. They include guidelines for working with individuals who have different belief systems, patient-centered practice and understanding how to access and use information about the needs individuals have and the community resource available to them.

Having students make house calls

At the University of Florida, where I teach, population health-based topics are integrated into our medical school curriculum, and also into curricula for other health professions.

Each fall, 700 first-year health science students studying everything from dentistry to clinical psychology, health administration, pharmacy, nursing and more take part in a service learning project with local families.

Students complete coursework about public health, but they are also assigned to work with a family through the year. Students make a series of home visits, which means that they can see, firsthand, how the family’s home environment shapes their health. Because the project includes students from all the health professions, it helps them understand each other’s roles and responsibilities in providing care.

In these visits, students get a chance to see the myriad factors that can make it easier or harder for a patient to follow the care plan their doctor prescribes. Students may learn that their patients have priorities in life that come before monitoring their own health. And for many students, this may be the only home visit that they make during their entire career.

For instance, a team of our students were humbled to learn that one of the patients they visited, a woman with severe hypertension and Type II diabetes, put her desire to provide Christmas presents for the six grandchildren she was raising over her medication adherence or her glucose monitoring. She was more focused on her grandchildren than spending time on monitoring her health and taking medications.

These home visits show students how complex their patients’ lives really are. And that give these future doctors a perspective on their patients that they may never get in a clinical visit.

Other medical schools putting public health on the agenda

The University of Florida isn’t the only medical school investing time and energy to explore new methods to teach students about public health.

Some are adopting dual-degree models that allow medical students to earn degrees in both public health and medicine. Often, these programs extend students’ training by 12 months, but some institutions, like the University of Miami and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, have developed four-year dual-degree programs.

Other institutions, such as the University of Illinois and Florida International University, are integrating population and public health perspectives throughout their curricula, to make sure that all students learn about public health.

Erik Black does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Measuring up: this year, aim for fitness over fat loss for long-term success

Getting fit and losing weight are consistently among the top New Year’s resolutions, and January is the boom period for the billion-dollar gym industry.

January is the boom period for the billion-dollar gym industry. Hotel Der Oeschberghof – Golf – Spa – Tagung/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Getting fit and losing weight are consistently among the top New Year’s resolutions, and January is the boom period for the billion-dollar gym industry. While any attempt to incorporate more exercise into our lives should be welcomed, it’s time to rethink the reasons for joining the gym. And, in particular, the way we measure success when it comes to exercise.

Weight loss is one of the most common reasons why people start an exercise program, linking sweating it out with reduced fat. Sadly, they’re setting themselves up to fail because there’s good evidence that exercise in the absence of dietary modification is not all that effective for weight loss. In other words, “you can’t outrun a bad diet.”

In fact, the idea that exercise will lead to weight loss is potentially dangerous because it acts as a disincentive for people who stick to their exercise goals to only find the scales haven’t turned in their favour – and throw in the towel.

A better measure

Research published a few months ago shows the likelihood of an obese man achieving normal weight without surgery is one in 210. And the chances are only a little better for women, at one in 124. Among those who manage to lose significant weight (at least 5% of bodyweight), at least half will regain it within two years.

Weight loss is very important for improving health and reducing risk of chronic disease. But when focusing on the reasons people should be physically active and engage in regular exercise, fitness, as opposed to fatness is a better focus.

Exercise can directly improve fitness independent of changes in weight. And it may be protective of developing chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, even for people who are overweight or obese. But the importance of trying to lose weight through broad lifestyle change shouldn’t be ignored.

A recent study of over 1.3 million Swedish men found that when it comes to risk of dying early, high fitness isn’t protective for people who are obese. But it showed fitness was an important factor nonetheless and didn’t measure other key health outcomes. Most importantly, improving fitness is a tangible and achievable outcome, so it’s more motivating.

Poor fitness is a modifiable factor associated with heart disease. Other benefits people may gain from exercise, apart from weight loss, include improved mental health, improved sleep and reduced risk of conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Helpful hints

Joining a gym may work for some, but it’s not the only way of getting the benefits of regular exercise. Here are some practical tips to get moving.

You can’t outrun a bad diet.
liebeslakritze/Flickr, CC BY-SA

1. Avoid a “all-or-nothing” mentality and remember that every bit of time spent exercising instead of being sedentary counts.

When you’re in the habit of exercising regularly, it’s easier to keep going and find the motivation to continue. But when you’ve been inactive for a while, such as over the holiday season, it’s often difficult to overcome the mindset of feeling overwhelmed and out of touch with exercising. This often leaves people feeling unsure about where to begin.

To avoid feeling lost, try setting some realistic, and achievable goals that can be written down and achieved every day. Plan for the worse-case scenario (such as those extra long lunches). Even one set of squats, five minutes of yoga, or a brief walk around the block may be enough to avoid the build-up of post-holiday exercise fear.

2. Seek help getting active, especially if you have a chronic or complex medical conditions. Australia has one of the most progressive physical activity referral schemes in the world, which means people with chronic conditions can be referred to accredited exercise physiologists or physiotherapists to receive individualised exercise programs.

If weight loss is your primary aim, seek help from an accredited practising dietitian to help modify your diet.

3. When it comes to exercise, forget the scales and focus on moving more and sitting less. Wearable technology can help with monitoring and goal setting.

Use other ways of measuring progress, such as how breathless you feel after walking up that set of stairs or how much easier it is to carry the groceries, as well.

4. Don’t forget resistance training (muscle building exercise). Working muscles is not only for young men; it has considerable benefits for men and women of all ages.

Most importantly, the best exercise program is the one that’s realistic for your situation, enjoyable and progressively more challenging. And it’s not necessarily one limited to the gym.


This article is part of our series about New Year’s resolutions, A Fresh Start.

Simon Rosenbaum is funded by a Society for Mental Health Research Early Career Fellowship. He is a National Director of Exercise and Sports Science Australia.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Stored fat is a feat of evolution – and your body will fight to keep it

In spite of the bad press, stored fat is actually a really wonderful thing. Without the capacity to store energy in the form of fat, we would have been unlikely to survive through millions of years of evolution and we would certainly look very different to the way we look today.

Know why stored fat is bad for modern humans? kurhan/www.shutterstock.com

In spite of the bad press, stored fat is actually a really wonderful thing. Without the capacity to store energy in the form of fat, we would have been unlikely to survive through millions of years of evolution and we would certainly look very different to the way we look today. We needed the capacity to store energy to survive periods of famine, and fat is a very sensible way to do this.

Even a relatively lean 75kg man typically has over 100,000kcal stored in the form of fat. If we had to store this energy in other forms – for example as glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrate – our weight would increase by 40-60kg (because glycogen is less energy dense and also stored in combination with water). Imagine dragging around two packed suitcases while hunting or gathering and you’ll get the idea of why it has been so useful to package stored energy in the form of fat.

So, while fat is often demonised, it has also been our friend through millions of years of evolution. It makes sense for our bodies to store energy in this way and to develop systems to cling on to it just in case there is a famine around the corner.

But, our relationship with fat has changed. While some fat is essential and healthy, accumulating too much body fat has a detrimental impact on our health by increasing the risk of chronic diseases. So, storing too much energy in the form of fat is clearly not a good thing. Sadly, most people are now storing too much energy as fat and many people in the developed and developing world are now considered overweight or obese.

Difficult to let go

Excess stored fat is a particularly difficult problem to solve in part because we have evolved such sophisticated processes to protect fat stores once we have them.

One of the best-characterised physiological systems involves leptin, a protein secreted by our fat stores (adipose tissue) – that tells the brain that there is plenty of energy available stored in the form of fat. When discovered, there was a great deal of excitement about whether leptin could be administered as a treatment for obesity – perhaps in an injection that would trick the body into thinking that there were large amounts of fat available so that we do not eat as much. Sadly, these potential treatments were not effective and we now understand why.

As we store more and more fat the leptin level in our blood will increase in proportion to the increase in stored fat. Our brains get used to this higher level of leptin, so administering more leptin over and above this higher level of leptin does not seem to help. Instead, it is when leptin levels fall that leptin becomes a very important signal. When we try to lose weight, there is a disproportionately large fall in circulating leptin in spite of only modest fat loss.

A fall in leptin is an attempt to defend fat stores with leptin functioning as the signal to the brain in a negative feedback loop that maintains the stability of fat mass. A fall in leptin is associated with increased sensations of hunger and an increase in “reward-related” behaviours. Reduced leptin is also a trigger for depressive symptoms in animals. So, when we try to lose weight, our fat tissue sends signals to the brain to try to resist any further loss of fat; we feel hungry, we seek rewards, and we might feel a little down or depressed.

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Not guaranteed to work if your hormones have anything to do with it.
Weight loss by Shutterstock

What can we do about this? Well, a recent study indicated that fat tissue may have some other properties that we might be able to manipulate to help. Some specialised types of fat cells (adipocytes) have the ability to burn energy to help keep us warm (a process called thermogenesis). The authors showed that this type of thermogenesis is normally turned off by a specific protein called sLR11. This makes sense because for millions of years we have been striving to store fat and only use it when there is a very good reason.

Interestingly, in this study, mice created without sLR11 did not gain weight when overfed because they burned more of the energy that was consumed. The authors also showed in a small number of patients undergoing bariatric surgery that the fall in sLR11 was related to the decrease in fat mass. Based on these observations, they suggested that sLR11 stops energy from being wasted via thermogenesis in fat tissue. By inference, if we can turn this off in humans then we might be able to get the body to use (waste) energy rather than clinging on to it.

Before we get too carried away, a caveat here is that this type of thermogenesis is mostly confined to certain types of fat cells (brown adipocytes or “brown fat”) and these cells are more rare and probably less important in humans than in rodents. We can also achieve thermogenesis through other means such as burning energy through movement. We know that increasing thermogenesis through movement leads to a fall in leptin and that this probably explains why an exercise programme causes people to eat more and not lose as much weight as they should. Whether burning energy through increased adipose thermogenesis will have the same effect in humans still also needs to be established.

So, for now, it is important to remember that when you feel yourself gaining a few pounds, your body will see this as a success and it will fight hard to keep any extra weight.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

Dylan Thompson receives funding from BBSRC, MRC, British Heart Foundation, Diabetes UK, and Unilever.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Five key findings from 15 years of the International Space Station

The International Space Station is the longest-running continuously inhabited human outpost in space – this year it celebrated its 15th anniversary. As the ISS orbits the Earth it is essentially in a state of free fall, counteracting the Earth’s gravity and providing an ideal platform for science in space.

NASA/wikimedia

The International Space Station is the longest-running continuously inhabited human outpost in space – this year it celebrated its 15th anniversary. As the ISS orbits the Earth it is essentially in a state of free fall, counteracting the Earth’s gravity and providing an ideal platform for science in space.

Science aboard the ISS is decidedly cross-disciplinary, including fields as diverse as microbiology, space science, fundamental physics, human biology, astronomy, meteorology and Earth observation to name a few. But let’s take a look at some of the biggest findings.

1. The fragility of the human body

The effects of the space environment on the human body during long duration spaceflight are of significant interest if we want to one day venture far beyond the Earth. A crewed journey to Mars, for example, may take a year, and the same time again for the return leg.

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Astronaut Frank De Winne.
NASA/wikimedia

Microgravity research on the ISS has demonstrated that the human body would lose considerable bone and muscle mass on such a mission. Mitigation technology, involving the use of resistive exercise devices, has shown that it is possible to substantially alleviate bone and muscle loss. Coupled with other studies into appropriate nutrition and drug use, these investigations may lead to improvements in the treatment of osteoporosis, a condition affecting millions of people across the globe.

2. Interplanetary contamination

A long-term goal of many space agencies is to fly humans to Mars. The red planet is of particular interest because it is one of the most accessible locations in which past or present extraterrestrial life may exist. It is imperative, therefore, that we do not inadvertently contaminate Mars with terrestrial organisms. Likewise, we must be careful not to back-contaminate Earth with any possible Martian life forms during a sample return mission.

Tough fellow: Bacillus subtilis.
Allonweiner/wikimedia

Certain hardy bacterial spores, such as the Bacillus subtilis in the picture were exposed to space aboard the ISS, but shielded from solar UV-radiation, and demonstrated a high survival rate. The space vacuum and temperature extremes alone were not enough to kill them off. These remarkable bugs could be capable of surviving an interplanetary space flight to Mars and live there, under a thin layer of soil, were they to be accidentally deposited by a spacecraft.

This finding has huge implications; if microorganisms, or their DNA, can survive interplanetary spaceflight, albeit by natural means, it leaves open the possibility that life on Earth may originally have arrived from Mars, or elsewhere .

3. Growing crystals for medicine

A key challenge in developing effective medicines is understanding the shape of protein molecules in the human body. Proteins are responsible for a huge range of biological functions, including DNA replication and digestion – and protein crystallography is an essential tool for understanding protein structure. Crystal growth within a fluid on Earth is somewhat inhibited by gravity-driven convection and the settling out of denser particles at the bottom of the fluid vessel.

Crystals in a microgravity environment may be grown to much larger sizes than on Earth, enabling easier analysis of their micro-structure. Protein crystals grown on the ISS are being used in the development of new drugs for diseases such as muscular dystrophy and cancer.

4. Cosmic rays and dark matter

Space is permeated by a constant flux of energetic charged particles called cosmic rays. When cosmic rays encounter the Earth’s atmosphere they disintegrate, producing a shower of secondary particles which can be detected at ground level. Some cosmic rays may emanate from explosive events such as supernovae or, closer to home, flares on our own sun. But in many cases their source is unknown.

In order to better understand these enigmatic particles, we need to catch them before they reach the atmosphere. Mounted on the ISS is the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), the most sensitive particle detector ever launched into space. This device collects cosmic rays and measures both their energy and incoming direction.

In 2013, early results showed that cosmic ray electrons and their anti-matter counterparts, positrons, emanated from all directions in space, rather than from specific locations.

Approximately one quarter of the mass-energy of the universe is believed to be comprised of dark matter, a substance of unknown composition, which may be a source of cosmic rays. The theorised presence of dark matter envisages a halo of the material surrounding the Milky Way (and other galaxies), and is thus supported by the isotropic nature of the cosmic ray electrons and positrons detected by AMS, essentially coming at us from all directions in space.

It has never been detected directly and it’s true nature is one of the greatest unanswered questions in modern astrophysics.

5. Efficient combustion

Deliberately starting a fire on an orbital space station does not sound, initially, like a good idea. It turns out, however, that the physics of flames in microgravity is quite interesting. The flame extinguishment study is an understandably carefully designed facility whereby tiny droplets of fuel, which form into spheres under microgravity, are ignited.

Flames on Earth assume their familiar shape because gravity-driven convection results in an updraught of air, drawing the burning mixture of fuel and gas upwards. In microgravity there is no updraught and so a flame assumes a diffuse spherical shape around the combustion source. Further, the yellow colour of a flame is produced by the incandescence of tiny soot particles. Soot forms from incomplete burning of the fuel and is a pollutant.

In microgravity, the combustion of a fuel is more complete and hence more efficient. A candle flame that would appear yellow on Earth, actually burns with a blue colour in microgravity and produces much less smoke. This kind of research enables the study of soot formation processes which has negative impacts on the environment and human health, and how droplets of fuel in a combustion engine transition from a liquid to a gas as they burn. This may one day lead to more efficient designs for combustion engines on Earth.

Gareth Dorrian receives funding from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

We asked young people about their depression – here’s what they said

Depression affects over 80,000 young people in the UK every year. It can have a devastating impact on their daily lives, social and academic functioning, and family.

New study looks into depression in adolescence and getting help. www.shutterstock.com

Depression affects over 80,000 young people in the UK every year. It can have a devastating impact on their daily lives, social and academic functioning, and family. As one young person in our research project put it: “I felt like I was missing out on being a teenager”.

A team of researchers at the Anna Freud Centre and University College London, led by Nick Midgley and Mary Target, have been exploring young people’s experiences of having depression and receiving therapy.

We recently came together with a group of professional filmmakers, seven young people, and three parents, to create two short films about the experience of having depression in adolescence and getting help.

Varied experiences

The first, Facing Shadows, is a short animated film about the young people’s experiences, while the second, Journey Through the Shadows, is told from the parents’ perspectives.

In Facing Shadows, the young people describe their experiences of depression, symptoms of which can include feelings of irritability and anger; sadness and tearfulness; emotional numbness; a loss of interest in doing things previously enjoyed, and suicidal thoughts.

Facing Shadows

But, ultimately, depression is experienced by young people in many different ways. As one young person put it:

Depression is a range of different things, a range of different feelings, and it’s important for people to understand that.

Another young person alluded to how difficult it was to describe what depression is:

If I was trying to describe depression to someone who has never experienced it ever, it’s like trying to explain a colour that they can’t see.

It is also difficult to pinpoint the factors that cause depression in young people – there may be no single identifiable cause or there may be several potentially contributing factors acting at the same time.

From a parent’s perspective, the onset of depression in their teenage child can be a bewildering experience and may be particularly confusing given the emotional and behavioural changes that are associated with general adolescence.

Journey Through the Shadows

The impact on their families is often significant, too. As one parent put it: “You want your children just to lead normal teenage lives and when they can’t, it hurts”. It can also be difficult for parents to know how to respond to what their child is going through and to know where to seek relevant help.

A taboo topic

As the young people describe in Facing Shadows, therapy for depression can involve speaking to a professionally trained therapist. This enables them to get things off their chest and helps them deal with their feelings. “You’ve got to take the risk and tell someone”, and “remember that you’re not alone”.

In addition, as one of the parents in Journey Through the Shadows indicates, parents often want and can benefit from being given support from a mental health professional, to help them to understand what their child is going through and how to help them. “It was a good time for me to explore what was going on because it affects the whole family and people don’t realise that.”

Does therapy help eradicate adolescent depression?
www.shutterstock.com

So why is it important to hear these accounts? One of the young people, who also spoke about her reasons for getting involved in the film project, said:

I want to get awareness of depression out there, because of what I went through. I know so many people going through the same thing and they don’t get help or recognise it or they think their parents and teachers won’t understand. Depression needs to stop being a taboo subject. People don’t realise they’re whispering when they talk about it. People need to be educated so that it is not something hidden behind closed doors.

Bringing the topic of youth depression out of the shadows will help other young people and families to seek help and communicate their difficulties.

Emily Stapley and the IMPACT-ME study received funding from the Monument Trust. Emily is a PhD student at UCL, based at the Anna Freud Centre.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Streaming Movie A Cure for Wellness (2017)

As the days get shorter and the nights grow longer, sometimes it can seem like we barely get a chance to see the sun.

Watch Full Movie Online A Cure for Wellness (2017)
  • A Cure for Wellness (2017)

  • Duration
    146 mins
    Genre
    Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller.
  • In Cinemas
    February 15, 2017
    Language
    English, Deutsch.
  • Country
    Germany, United States of America.
  • Watch and Download Full Movie A Cure for Wellness (2017)

Plot For A Cure for Wellness

‘A Cure for Wellness’ is a movie genre Drama, was released in February 15, 2017. Gore Verbinski was directed this movie and starring by Dane DeHaan. This movie tell story about An ambitious young executive is sent to retrieve his company’s CEO from an idyllic but mysterious “wellness center” at a remote location in the Swiss Alps but soon suspects that the spa’s miraculous treatments are not what they seem.

DIRECTOR

Gore Verbinski.

Producer

Gore Verbinski, Arnon Milchan, David Crockett.

Production Company

Studio Babelsberg, Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, TSG Entertainment, Blind Wink Productions.

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Here’s how we can learn to fall in love with shocking buildings

Shocking new buildings often threaten to invade our cities. Sometimes, they simply land like alien spaceships, giving us very little warning. Foreign in form, colour and texture, these statement structures seem far removed from the reality of our daily lives.

techboy_t/Flickr, CC BY

Shocking new buildings often threaten to invade our cities. Sometimes, they simply land like alien spaceships, giving us very little warning. Foreign in form, colour and texture, these statement structures seem far removed from the reality of our daily lives. We feel they do not belong to our present; we know they are not related to our past. We moan and complain, and we suffer the sight of them. But we struggle to pin down exactly what makes them seem so “ugly” to us.

Indeed, the UK goes so far as to have an annual award for Britain’s worst building, called the Carbuncle Cup. The 2015 recipient – the Walkie Talkie building in London – was unanimously voted to be “the ugliest and most hated building in Britain”. The judges described it as “a gratuitous glass gargoyle graffitied on the skyline”. Strong words. So where do these sentiments come from?

In some ways, it’s down to human nature. We understand and perceive the world through the multiple stimuli we receive through our senses. When our environment changes naturally, at a slow pace, we have time to find ways of handling the new sensations and emotions that these changes trigger. For example, when the seasons change, we see changes in colour and vegetation, and our bodies adjust to cope with different levels of light and temperature.

But if environmental changes are too drastic or too rapid, or we’re exposed to a higher level of stimuli than what we can naturally cope with, then we can suffer from shock. Sudden changes can alter our heart beat, raise our blood pressure and increase our adrenaline levels, which ultimately takes its toll on our health and well-being. Research shows that when we’re forced to leave the environments we know and love – whether through displacement or dispossession – the upheaval can trigger what’s known as “root shock”.Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

Strong emotions

Bad omen.
rejectreality/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Given the strong emotional attachment we have to our neighbourhoods, it’s not surprising that we feel unsettled when unfamiliar buildings spring up on our skylines and disrupt the sights we’re used to seeing every day. What’s more, when communities are bound by particularly strong social ties, this can reduce our willingness to embrace new ideas and innovations, leading us to resist change.

But if human nature explains why we resist new and ambitious architecture, it can also account for how we grow to accept it. As social beings, our identities as individuals and as groups are defined by shared moral standards and social norms. To agree on and communicate these norms, we attribute social meaning to every component in our lives. We construct symbols, ideas, tastes, and preferences – what theorists have labelled “cultural capital”.

As a society changes, so does its cultural capital. Gradually the negative ideas we associate with shocking buildings can morph into something more positive. Once the “shock” factor has dissipated, these buildings have a chance to settle into the urban fabric. As our lives go on around them, they become part of the community’s collective memory. Charged with new symbolic values, the building we once hated might begin to reflect our dreams and aspirations. As we gradually become accustomed to it, we start to accept it and, eventually, even love it.

Tale as old as time

There are plenty of historic examples of this gradual shift from rejection to acceptance; from love to hate. The best-known case is perhaps the Eiffel Tower. When the plans were revealed back in 1887, local residents and artists signed a petition to protest against the “useless” and “monstrous” structure, labelling it the “dishonour” of Paris. But over the years, the tower became a symbol of love and romance, mystery and adventure. Today the building is one of the most renowned monuments in the world, packed with identity and meaning.

Once hated; now a symbol of love.
Aucunale TNT/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

The same thing happened with Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim museum in New York. In 1946, building works were delayed by a decade when local residents and artists instigated a furious fight to prevent its construction. Initially, the design received an assortment of derogatory nicknames: “toilet bowl”, “potty”, “snail shell”, “marshmallow”, “corkscrew”, and – perhaps less searingly – “upside down washing machine”. Nevertheless, soon after completion, the museum became popular worldwide, partly due to its controversial appearance: a white purist form in a forest of glazed skyscrapers; a statement against the norm.

Of course, one can still question whether these buildings are worth the toll that they take on those with a strong emotional attachment to the locality. Some would say that it’s immoral for designers and developers to spend fortunes making personal statements at the expense of societal well-being. But others will argue that these bold gestures are the product of genius, and the driver of human progress.

Ultimately, architectural design is a matter of taste. It gives societies a licence to build up and tear down, to accept and reject, to love and to hate. Shocking buildings push our boundaries, they bring our identities and place emotions to the surface. They challenge our understanding of ourselves and our society, forcing us to evolve. They acclimatise our senses to the latest technological advances. They make us deal with the notion of a new reality. They make us confront our future.

Laura Alvarez receives funding from EPSRC. She is affiliated with the Urban Design Group and is a local representative of the Place Alliance.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

The life-changing love of one of the 20th century’s greatest physicists

One of the great short stories of the 20th century is Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Spinoza of Market Street.
It tells of an aged scholar who has devoted his life to the study of Spinoza’s great work, Ethics.

Love is for everyone. mawazeFL/Flickr, CC BY-NC

One of the great short stories of the 20th century is Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s The Spinoza of Market Street.
It tells of an aged scholar who has devoted his life to the study of Spinoza’s great work, Ethics. Protagonist Dr Fischelson has lost his library job and, like his hero, been expelled from his religious community for his heretical views. Looking down from his garret with disdain at the crowded street below him, he devotes his days to solitary scholarship. At night he gazes up through his telescope at the heavens, where he finds verification of his master’s wisdom.

Then one day Dr Fischelson falls ill. A neighbor, an uneducated “old maid,” nurses him back to health. Eventually, though the good doctor never understands exactly how or why, they are married. On the night of the wedding, after the unlikeliest of passionate consummations, the old man gazes up at the stars and murmurs, “Divine Spinoza, forgive me. I have become a fool.” He has learned that there is more to life than the theoretical speculations that have preoccupied him for decades.

The history of modern physics boasts its own version of Fischelson. His name was Paul Dirac. I first encountered Dirac in physics courses, but was moved to revisit his life and legacy through my service on the board of the Kinsey Institute for the Study of Human Sexuality and teaching an undergraduate course on sexuality and love.

A brilliant but very strange man

Born in Bristol, England, in 1902, Dirac became, after Einstein, the second most important theoretical physicist of the 20th century. He studied at Cambridge, where he wrote the first-ever dissertation on quantum mechanics. Shortly thereafter he produced one of physics’ most famous theories, the Dirac equation, which correctly predicted the existence of antimatter. Dirac did more than any other scientist to reconcile Einstein’s general theory of relativity to quantum mechanics. In 1933 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, the youngest theoretical physicist ever to do so.

Paul Dirac in 1933.
Nobel Foundation via Wikimedia Commons

At the time Dirac received the Nobel Prize, he was leading a remarkably drab and, to most eyes, unappealing existence. As detailed in Graham Farmelo’s wonderful biography, The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, on which I rely heavily in this article, Dirac was an incredibly taciturn individual. Getting him to utter even a word could prove nearly impossible, leading his mischievous colleagues to introduce a new unit of measure for the rate of human speech, the Dirac, which amounted to one word per hour.

Dirac was the kind of man who would “never utter a word when no word would do.” Farmelo describes him as a human being completely absorbed in his work, with absolutely no interest in other people or their feelings, and utterly devoid of empathy. He attributes this in part to Dirac’s tyrannical upbringing. His father ruthlessly punished him for every error in speech, and the young Dirac adopted the strategy of saying as little as possible.

Dirac was socially awkward and showed no interest in the opposite sex. Some of his colleagues suspected that he might be utterly devoid of such feelings. Once, Farmelo recounts, Dirac found himself on a two-week cruise from California to Japan with the eminent physicist Werner Heisenberg. The gregarious Heisenberg made the most of the trip’s opportunities for fraternization with the opposite sex, dancing with the flapper girls. Dirac found Heisenberg’s conduct perplexing, asking him, “Why do you dance?” Heisenberg replied, “When there are nice girls, it is always a pleasure to dance.” Dirac pondered this for some minutes before responding, “But Heisenberg, how do you know beforehand that the girls are nice?”

Love finds the professor

Then one day, something remarkable entered Dirac’s life. Her name was Margit Wigner, the sister of a Hungarian physicist and recently divorced mother of two. She was visiting her brother at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, where Dirac had just arrived.

Known to friends and family as “Manci,” one day she was dining with her brother when she observed a frail, lost-looking young man walk into the restaurant. “Who is that?” she asked. “Why that is Paul Dirac, one of last year’s Nobel laureates,” replied her brother. To which she replied, “Why don’t you ask him to join us?”

Thus began an acquaintance that eventually transformed Dirac’s life. Writes Farmelo:

His personality could scarcely have contrasted more with hers: to the same extent that he was reticent, measured, objective, and cold, she was talkative, impulsive, subjective, and passionate.”

A self-described “scientific zero,” Manci embodied many things that were missing in Dirac’s life. After their first meeting, the two dined together occasionally, but Dirac, whose office was two doors down from Einstein, remained largely focused on his work.

After Manci returned to Europe, they maintained a lopsided correspondence. Manci wrote letters that ran to multiple pages every few days, to which Dirac responded with a few sentences every few weeks. But Manci was far more attuned than Dirac to a “universally acknowledged truth” best expressed by Jane Austen: “A single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

She persisted despite stern warnings from Dirac:

I am afraid I cannot write such nice letters to you – perhaps because my feelings are so weak and my life is mainly concerned with facts and not feelings.Watch Full Movie Streaming Online and Download

When she complained that many of her queries about his daily life and feelings were going unanswered, Dirac drew up a table, placing her questions in the left column, paired with his responses on the right. To her question, “Whom else should I love?” Dirac responded, “You should not expect me to answer this question. You would say I was cruel if I tried.” To her question, “Are there any feelings for me?” Dirac answered only, “Yes, some.”

Realizing that Dirac lacked the insight to see that many of her questions were rhetorical, she informed him that “most of them were not meant to be answered.” Eventually, exasperated by Dirac’s lack of feeling, Manci wrote to him that he should “get a second Nobel Prize in cruelty.” Dirac wrote back:

You should know that I am not in love with you. It would be wrong for me to pretend that I am, as I have never been in love I cannot understand fine feelings.

Yet with time, Dirac’s outlook began to change. After returning from a visit with her in Budapest, Dirac wrote, “I felt very sad leaving you and still feel that I miss you very much. I do not understand why this should be, as I do not usually miss people when I leave them.” The man whose mathematical brilliance had unlocked new truths about the fundamental nature of the universe was, through his relationship with Manci, discovering truths about human life that he had never before recognized.

Soon thereafter, when she returned for a visit, he asked her to marry him, and she accepted immediately. The couple went on two honeymoons little more than month apart. Later he wrote to her:

Manci, my darling, you are very dear to me. You have made a wonderful alteration in my life. You have made me human… I feel that life for me is worth living if I just make you happy and do nothing else.

A Soviet colleague of Dirac corroborated his friend’s self-assessment: “It is fun to see Dirac married, it makes him so much more human.”

Paul and Manci in 1963.
GFHund via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

In Dirac, a thoroughly theoretical existence acquired a surprisingly welcome practical dimension. A man who had been thoroughly engrossed in the life of the mind discovered the life of the heart. And a human being whose greatest contributions had been guided by the pursuit of mathematical beauty discovered something beautiful in humanity whose existence he had never before suspected.

In short, a brilliant but lonely man found something new and wonderful that had been missing his entire life: love. As my students and I discover in the course on sexuality and love, science can reveal a great deal, but there are some aspects of reality – among them, love – that remain largely outside its ambit.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

When fear is a weapon: how terror attacks influence mental health

On November 13 2015, a series of coordinated attacks in Paris left 130 people dead. A week later, armed gunmen stormed a hotel in Mali, seizing hostages while also firing indiscriminately at guests, killing 27 people.

On November 13 2015, a series of coordinated attacks in Paris left 130 people dead. A week later, armed gunmen stormed a hotel in Mali, seizing hostages while also firing indiscriminately at guests, killing 27 people. And this week a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, left 14 dead. While the motive is not known, the FBI has assigned counterterrorism agents to the case, sparking public speculation that the shooting may have been an act of terrorism.

You could spend hours every day watching, reading and listening to news related to these events. This level of exposure can significantly influence your worldviews and how you live your life.

The aftermath of events like these can make people feel more vulnerable. And as cities go on alert because of the threat of future attacks, fear can color our daily routines and world views.

With my colleague S Justin Sinclair at Harvard Medical School, I have been studying the complexity of terrorism fears, and how fear can affect and motivate people.

It is probably not a surprise that a terror attack can have a major impact on people’s mental health. But what sort of effects are common, and how long do they last?

To answer that question, we can turn to a growing body of research examining the psychological aftermath of terror attacks.

Increases in PTSD symptoms are often seen after terror attacks

In 1995 and 1996, France experienced a wave of bombings that killed 12 and injured more than 200. A 2004 retrospective study examined post-traumatic stress disorder rates in the victims and found that 31% experienced post-traumatic stress disorder.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (or PTSD) can include flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts about the event. People may also avoid situations that remind them of the trauma, or have intense feeling of anxiety they didn’t have before.

Research has also found an increase in psychiatric symptoms among people living in a city when it is attacked.

For instance, a survey of Madrid residents one to three months after the attacks on a commuter rail line in 2004 found an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

Further research suggests that this increase is temporary.

In a 2005 study of London residents conducted a few weeks after the 7/7 attacks, 31% of respondents reported a significant elevation in stress levels and 32% reported an intention to travel less. A follow-up study conducted seven months later found that the elevated stress levels were significantly reduced. But, the study also noted that a residual level of worry remained. Many people reported relatively high levels of perceived threat to self and others, and a more negative world view.

We would expect to see an increase in psychiatric disorders among people who were directly affected, or who lived in the city at the time of the attack. But this can also happen in people who weren’t living in a city when it was attacked.

A survey conducted soon after the September 11 attacks found that 17% of the US population living outside of New York City reported symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder. Six months later, that dropped to 5.6%

A 2005 review of psychological research about the effect of September 11 highlighted the uptick in psychiatric symptoms and disorders immediately after the attacks and the relatively quick normalization in the following 6-12 months. However, people living closer to the area attacked, and thus more directly exposed, were more vulnerable to developing post-traumatic stress disorder, than people living further away.

Why do symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder increase in people who weren’t directly exposed? The explanation might be the intense media coverage of terror attacks.

In the aftermath of September 11, a US study of more than 2,000 adults found that more time spent watching television coverage of the attacks was associated with elevated rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In essence, a media-related contagion effect is created where people live and relive the attacks when they watch or read stories about them. This overexposure may, as argued by some, produce a subjective response of fear and helplessness about the threat of future attacks in a minority of adults.

Fear changes behavior, at least for a little while

Fear is a natural response to events like the attacks in Paris or Mali. While everyone feels and reacts to fear differently, it can push people to make different decisions about employment, whom to socialize with, using public transportation such as buses and trains, congregating in public and crowded places, and traveling on airplanes.

If you look at these changes across an entire population, you can see how fears of terrorism can have significant consequences on both the national and global economy. Tourism and shopping may be particularly vulnerable. For example, airlines suffered major economic losses after 9/11 and were forced to lay off large numbers of employees.

While stock markets in New York, Madrid and London dropped after the attacks, they rebounded relatively quickly.

Similarly, after the recent attack in Paris, there was reportedly a limited impact on the nation’s stock market.

Attacks can change how people relate to government

Terrorists use fear as a psychological weapon, and it can have serious psychological implications for individuals and whole countries.

An underlying sense of fear can linger for years after an attack. In prolonged conflicts with multiple attacks, such as the Troubles in Northern Ireland or the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, chronic fear and anxiety have arguably resulted in a high levels of segregation and suspiciousness.

This underlying fear may also affect political engagement and trust in government policymaking.

People generally tend to place larger degrees of trust in their government’s ability to keep them safe from future violence following large-scale terrorist attacks. For example, prior to the September 11 attacks, the public’s trust in the US government was in decline, but the attacks primed people’s fears, and trust in the US government to protect and keep the public safe from future attacks rose to a level not seen in decades.

However, increased trust in the government may also come without fear. In countries where there already are high levels of trust in the government, fear has been found to play a less important role.

A study examining the association between fear and trust in Norway right before, right after, and 10 months after the 2011 terror attack found that high levels of existing trust may actually buffer against the negative effects of terrorism fears, while still creating a rallying effect around governmental policies.

The threat of terrorism does not, of course, have the same effect on everyone. Most people arguably respond to threats of future terrorism in a rational and constructive manner. For instance, very compelling research suggests that anger may actually function as a protective factor. In the context of feeling angry, people tend to have a larger sense of being in control, a preference for confrontation, and feeling optimistic; whereas with fear comes a greater sense of not feeling in control and pessimism.

The paradox of the fear that terrorism inspires, is that while it can negatively affect people and societies, it can also serve to strengthen resilience.

Daniel Antonius does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

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This week, scientists gathered in Washington, DC for the International Summit on Human Gene Editing to discuss a technology called CRISPR-CAS9, which can insert, remove and change the DNA of basically any organism.

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A court just made a landmark ruling for abortion rights in Northern Ireland

Belfast’s High Court has ruled that Northern Ireland can no longer withhold abortions from women who have been the victims of rape or incest, or whose pregnancies involve a fatal foetal abnormality.

Moving towards choice in NI. actionsforchoice, CC BY-NC-SA

Belfast’s High Court has ruled that Northern Ireland can no longer withhold abortions from women who have been the victims of rape or incest, or whose pregnancies involve a fatal foetal abnormality.

The judgement is groundbreaking. Northern Ireland was not included in the original 1967 legislation that allows for legal terminations in England, Scotland and Wales. As a result, abortion is incredibly restricted in the province. It is only legal when there is a risk to the long-term physical or mental health of the woman. This means that an average of 1,000 women travel every year to access terminations, mostly to England.

And since Northern Irish women are not eligible for free abortion care on the NHS in England, abortion is in practice only a realistic option for richer women. The cost of travel, private treatment and accommodation can reach up to £2,000 – well beyond the means of many.

How it happened

Abortion has had a high political profile in Northern Ireland in recent years. In late 2012, a Marie Stopes clinic opened to much media attention in central Belfast.

And in 2013, Belfast woman Sarah Ewart discovered she was carrying a pregnancy with a fatal foetal abnormality and could not have an abortion in Northern Ireland. She travelled to England for a termination, inviting BBC NI to film her journey. Her story prompted an outpouring of empathy and much soul-searching in the Northern Irish media, incredulous that such a situation could be allowed to occur.

In response, NI justice minister David Ford promised to introduce legislation to the Northern Irish Assembly to allow for terminations in the case of sexual crime and fatal foetal abnormality.

Ford eventually dropped elements which would have addressed sexual crime, moving only to change the law for fatal foetal abnormality. The proposals have yet to be brought to the Assembly (this year’s crisis in Northern Irish politics has pushed back legislative business as normal) but first minister Peter Robinson has intimated that he did not think the proposed changes would pass.

Simultaneously, the Northern Irish Human Rights Commission brought a judicial review to the High Court in Belfast to challenge the law. That court has now ruled that the law is in contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently, for the first time, abortion is legal in Northern Ireland in cases of rape, incest and fatal (or severe) foetal abnormalities.

In being denied abortions, the court decided, Northern Irish women are losing their right to privacy and “personal autonomy”. Thomas Mark Horner, the judge in the case acknowledged the hypocrisy of the current situation:

If it is morally wrong to abort a foetus in Northern Ireland, it is just as wrong morally to abort the same foetus in England. It does not protect morals to export the problem to another jurisdiction and then turn a blind eye.

He also acknowledged that those of “limited means” suffer most from this legal framework, arguing that it “smacks of one law for the rich and one law for the poor”.

What’s the catch?

Importantly, though, his ruling noted that “this issue is unlikely to be grasped by the legislature in the foreseeable future”. Politicians in both London and Belfast have ignored this issue for years and it’s unlikely that the Assembly would have changed the law without being forced to do so by the court.

Women protest in NI.
Abortion Rights, CC BY-NC-ND

In spite of the groundbreaking nature of this judgement, it’s impossible not to feel hesitant about what it might actually mean on the ground in Northern Ireland.

The number of women this will affect is small. Hundreds will still have to travel for terminations, to England and elsewhere. Whether or not the judgement will be enforceable remains to be seen (an appeal is still possible); the hostile political environment around the issue will not help.

And in 2004, the High Court in Belfast ruled that the Department of Health in Northern Ireland had to produce guidance for medical professionals around the very restricted situations in which terminations might be provided. These are yet to be put into practice, more ten years later. Legal rulings have been ignored before, so they could be kicked into the long grass again.

Nonetheless, today’s recognition of the human rights of Northern Irish women is a cause for celebration. A (small) crack has appeared in the legal framework in the province. Whether this can now be cemented in practice (or, more positively, perhaps even open up wider access to terminations) remains to be seen.

Jennifer Thomson receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (grant number ES/J500124/1).

Read the Original Article at TheConservation.com

Watch Full Movie Online And Download Collateral Beauty (2016)

A decade ago, any mention of a choir would probably have brought Sunday morning hymns to mind. But there’s been a revolution in attitudes towards joining the local choir.

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Retreating from life after a tragedy, a man questions the universe by writing to Love, Time and Death. Receiving unexpected answers, he begins to see how these things interlock and how even loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty.

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