Friday, November 30, 2012

O2amp Glasses: The New X-Ray Specs?

Here's an updated version of the infamous X-Ray Specs:

O2amp glasses interpret mood and health by changes in skin color


The 'O2amp' glasses by 2AI labs amplify the user's ability to interpret the emotions and health of other people, by emphasizing the differences in color and brightness of their skin.

The tinted glasses offer vast applications most formatively in medicine. Three different 2AI technologies each reduce the visibility of certain parts of the light spectrum, to highlight respectively skin oxygenation, hemoglobin concentration, and a mix of the two. The first could help medical professionals locate veins, the second assists in the detection of trauma
or cyanosis
, and the third functions as a general clinical enhancer, eliminating neither the hemoglobin oxygenation nor the concentration signals.

However the shaded lenses are usable day-to-day as normal sunglasses. 'Typical sunglasses shade the world but also end up shading one’s connections to other people,' points out 2AI co-director Mark Changizi. 'This is exemplified by the way people tip up their sunglasses to get a better look at someone. Our technology shades the world but not the social: For the 'O2amps',one sees other people better by keeping them on, rather than tipping them up.'

2AI reflects that the glasses could also find applications in security, sports, and poker. artists have also expressed interest, not leastly for the ways that the glasses effectively 'expose' an inner layer of human physiology.

front view of a prototype pair of the glasses
image © alex livingston

The project incorporates significant research in evolutionary anatomy and neurobiology that suggests that our own vision is specialized to understand changes in skin color and their meaning. 'Once one understands the connection between our color vision and blood physiology,' explains 2AI co-director Mark Changizi, 'it’s possible to build filters that further amplify our perception of the blood and the signals it provides.'

'Color is not actually about wavelengths of light,' Changizi, himself a regarded evolutionary neurobiologist, elaborates; 'Instead, color is about the perception of the complex distributions of light of all wavelengths (in the visible part of the spectrum) that emanate from each object. we have evolved to perceive the colors not of photons, but of certain objects and surfaces--
especially surfaces of skin.

It is the reason why our vision is in fact different from the sampling that happens in cameras, for example, which register wavelengths in a more uniformly distributed fashion.

Instead, the cones in our eyes receptive to red and green light are sensitive in almost exactly the same range of wavelengths. The reason for this, Changizi suggests, is that otherwise it would be more difficult for us to interpret whether skin color changes are the result of blood concentration or differences in oxygenation, each of which signify different emotions and health states about the person.

Changizi elaborates on this research in the book 'The Vision Revolution', which investigates the reasons for the uniqueness of human vision in the animal kingdom.

The glasses make use of the fact that the spectrum of skin seen by the human retina varies depending on the underlying blood: in this graph, the blue and yellow curves show skin when hemoglobin concentration is high and low respectively; red and green curves show skin when blood oxygenation level is high and low respectively.

Part of his research into the evolutionary development of human vision, Mark Changizi maps the color spectrum with the physical and emotional significances humans attribute to various skin tones.

George Harrison and Bob Dylan "If Not For You" Rehearsal

The Contrived 'Cliff'

It really is amazing when one takes a step back from the 'reality' of the world that is presented in front of us which we are mere spectators,to observe how much of it is utterly contrived i.e. an artificial false appearance or quality.

We just experienced two utterly contrived events just within the last seven days -- 'Black Friday' and to a lesser extent 'Black Monday'.  

Both were over-hyped and exaggerated in importance via the clutter of 24/7 advertising, that one would think those who days held any specific meaning beyond buying shit we don't need with money we don't have while saving an additional 2% vs sales given at any other time of the year..

And we have some annual contrived events coming up in the near future.  We won't say Christmas is contrived unless one only embraces the secular commerciality of the day, but New Years Eve certainly is--  so much hype to celebrate an event that lasts mere seconds i.e. a 'ball' dropping...  
Then there's the Super Bowl -- God, don't get us started on that all day pageant of pomp and pompous patriotism glutted with horribly forgettable adverts at $2mil per minute...  and if lucky, some actual football is played in between!!

And amid all these annual contrivances, is a new one, specific to the moment called the 'fiscal cliff'.   Ooohh... sounds so scary... so daunting...   'We're heading over the fiscal cliff children... hold our hands tightly and let us pray...'


The United States is in debt.  Yes this is true... and we owe our creditors a lot of money.  But you know something?  We've owed our creditors for many decades...  Actually with the exception of a couple very short periods in US history, we've owed foreign creditors since our inception.

And its not really about how much one owes in this world..  Its about two things:  1)  Is there a cap on what a lender will lend? and 2) Is there a time a creditor will ever call in its debts?
And honestly, as history as shown regarding the US, the answers are 'No' and 'No'

Let us say that China decided tomorrow no longer to lend money to the US.. enough was enough... too risky etc...  What happens?   We don't mean in academic terms of proper money management, but reality-- what happens if the spigot of money is cut off to the US?

The entire world economy collapses and we're back to medieval times of bartering, exchanging skills for services, and dramatically localized economies.  The US would suffer most assuredly... BUT..  and this is Vital to understand..  China would too.  

And does any nation, as the saying goes, cut its nose off to spite its face?  In other words... if China would be economically Destroyed, causing utter chaos for its billion-plus people, would it be practical or prudent of them to stop lending to us?

Even in a growing, developing world economy, the US is still the #1 importer i.e Buyer of Chinese merchandise---  they make everything we used to, but we buy up everything that most of their populace still can't afford.
So you see how this is going to go..  We owe $16 Trillion to our creditors... Honestly, so what?  Shocking to write/say we know.. But true.

Everyone made a big deal in 1984 when Reagan expanded the US debt to its first Trillion.. then we passed the $5 Trillion mark..and the $10 and the $15.. and really, has any creditor called in their loans yet??

 If it was an individual who owed so much to others, or a small nation with a weak military like most of Eastern Europe, Africa and South America, then that entity would be in Severe trouble.

But if you're a large powerful nation who is the reserve currency and who's military budget is larger annually than the rest of the world combined, right or wrong, the rules do not equally apply.

A very recent example is Argentina who's finances are so bad and whose credit rating has dropped so precipitously within the last 6 mths to a year that even their leadership openly admits they will ultimately default on their debts...   And because Argentina is not part of the Eurozone, no one will make any sincere effort to prevent it...
Now the media pundits will do all they can to scare the people about the ramifications of us going over this proverbial 'cliff' but fortunately due to the distractions of the holidays, few will be bothered to be up all night worrying on it... unless you're filthy rich.

Taxes will be going up no matter if a resolution is reached or not... that's a certainty.  The question is how much of a percentage increase...  Well that like everything else is all relative.

According to the New York Times in an article written today, back in 1980 a person with an income of $300k paid 49% in taxes.  In 2010, someone making 300k paid 42.1%  Today that person is paying $20,700 less in taxes.

Someone making $22,000 back in 1980 paid 20.2% taxes... in 2010, they paid 19.4%.  That comes to $176 less in taxes.  So you see we've all been paying less (and in some cases FAR less today in taxes than a mere 30 years ago)  

And while to someone only making $22k, that $176 is a lot of $$, you can see how much in savings someone making 12x more per year has gotten to enjoy keeping while thumbing their noses at those making less..
And goodness knows how many millions of dollars the truly affluent have gotten away with not having to contribute to the upkeep and maintenance of this nation, all under the false guise that they are the Only job creators!

And while the stock market pretends it doesn't care what happens by writing headers such as "Fiscal Cliff Drama Won’t Write the Market’s Script" (Yahoo!)... its all hogwash.    Prior to Thanksgiving, the market spiked simply because both Obama and Rep House Leader John Boehner said talks were progressing.   

Then the market dropped by over 100pts early in the week because Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D) said talks were slow...  Then it spiked on Wed because Obama said things looked positive...

All meaningless bullshit words, really but the market dramatically went up or down based on those verbal breadcrumbs...  So to say the market doesn't care... that's kinda bullshit too...

The vermin who make their living on the trading floors want to make as much profit as humanly possible and pay as little stock dividends tax as possible on the millions and billions they rake in...  So they care...  
Good news is no matter what happens with the 'cliff', they Will be paying more and they won't be happy about it.. Will be quite entertaining actually to listen and watch them gripe over it in the coming weeks and months...

So ultimately this fiscal 'cliff' is a molehill.   One side will need to dramatically capitulate on their principles to get a deal done i.e. the Republicans. (Usually the party that wins the White House mere weeks ago, doesn't need to)

This will mean if an agreement is met, there will be some cuts but nothing remotely close to the savage slashing upon the poor to lower middle class which the Republicans had in store if Romney won.  And taxes will go up but if Obama keeps his word and doesn't raise taxes on those making less than $200k ($250k for a couple), then there's very little to fear from all this..

Oh the naysayers will say it will lead the US to a recession but think of it like this:  If the economy is good but you have no job, isn't that still a personal recession?   And if the economy is in recession but you still have employment, do you even feel or notice it?    
Its all words really--  we never truly left the 2007 recession but a group of academic assholes got together in 2009 and 'officially' declared it over for reasons of political pressure and expediency.  So if a "new" one was declared in 2013, so what??   Nothing in Reality would change-- only the facade of 'optimism'.

And a cliff falling would strengthen the US dollar's value which is a positive...

So best to enjoy your holiday season, don't get burdened with the day to day progress, and know no matter what happens (or doesn't happen)  it really doesn't matter.

In the News: Artificial Brain: 'Spaun' Software Model Mimics Abilities, Flaws Of Human Brain

Artificial Brain
A new software model of the human brain captures subtle details of human behavior.

by: Francie Diep

Published: 11/29/2012 on TechNewsDaily

Spaun, a new software model of a human brain, is able to play simple pattern games, draw what it sees and do a little mental arithmetic. It powers everything it does with 2.5 million virtual neurons, compared with a human brain's 100 billion.  But its mistakes, not its abilities, are what surprised its makers the most, said Chris Eliasmith, an engineer and neuroscientist at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

Ask Spaun a question, and it hesitates a moment before answering, pausing for about as long as humans do. Give Spaun a list of numbers to memorize, and it falters when the list gets too long. And Spaun is better at remembering the numbers at the beginning and end of a list than at recalling numbers in the middle, just like people are.

"There are some fairly subtle details of human behavior that the model does capture," said Eliasmith, who led the development of Spaun, or the Semantic Pointer Architecture Unified Network. "It's definitely not on the same scale [as a human brain]," he told TechNewsdaily. "It gives a flavor of a lot of different things brains can do."

Eliasmith and his team of Waterloo neuroscientists say Spaun is the first model of a biological brain that performs tasks and has behaviors. Because it is able to do such a variety of things, Spaun could help scientists understand how humans do the same, Eliasmith said. In addition, other scientists could run simplified simulations of certain brain disorders or psychiatric drugs using Spaun, he said. [SEE ALSO: Military-Funded Brain Science Sparks Controversy]

A brain with thought and action
Researchers have made several brain models that are more powerful than Spaun. The Blue
Brain model at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in France has 1 million neurons. IBM's SyNAPSE project has 1 billion neurons. Those models aren't built to perform a variety of tasks, however, Eliasmith said.

Spaun is programmed to respond to eight types of requests, including copying what it sees, recognizing numbers written with different handwriting, answering questions about a series of numbers and finishing a pattern after seeing examples.

Spaun's myriad skills could shed light on the flexible, variable human brain, which is able to use the same equipment to control typing, biking, driving, flying airplanes and countless other tasks, Eliasmith said. That knowledge, in turn, could help scientists add flexibility to robots or artificial intelligence, he said. Artificial intelligence now usually specializes in doing only one thing, such as tagging photos or playing chess. "It can't figure out to switch between those things," he said.

In addition, artificial intelligence isn't built to mimic the cellular structure of human brains as closely as Spaun and other brain models do. Because Spaun runs more like a human brain, other researchers could use it to run health experiments that would be unethical in human study volunteers, Eliasmith said. He recently ran a test in which he killed off the neurons in a brain model at the same rate that neurons die in people as they age, to see how the dying off affected the model's performance on an intelligence test.

Such tests would have to be just first steps in a longer experiment, Eliasmith said. The human brain is so much more complex than models that there's a limit to how much models are able to tell researchers. As scientists continue to improve brain models, the models will become better proxies for health studies, he said.

Next up: a brain in real time

There's one major way Spaun differs from a human brain. It takes a lot of computing power to perform its little tasks. Spaun runs on a supercomputer at the University of Waterloo, and it So Eliasmith's next major step for improving Spaun is developing hardware that lets the model work in real time. He'll cooperate with researchers at the University of Manchester in the U.K. and hopes to have something ready in six months, he said.

In the far future, people may find Spaun's humanlike flaws deliberately built into robot assistants, Eliasmith said. "Those kinds of features are important in a way because if we're interacting with an agent and it has a kind of memory that we're familiar with, it'll more natural to interact with," he added.

Eliasmith and his colleagues published their latest paper about Spaun in the journal Science.

Big Little Phantom

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Albert Einstein: Smirkativity

From Scientific American: The Case of the Sleeping Slayer

The Case of the Sleeping Slayer 

by James Vlahos
  • Whether or not the brain is asleep or awake is not an either-or proposition, according to some scientists.
  • Their research suggests that what we recognize as sleep—closed eyes, physical stillness and lack of consciousness—occurs only after a number of different parts of the brain cycle into a sleep state.
  • If this partial-sleep hypothesis is correct, some parts of the brain may be asleep while we actually appear to be awake, and vice versa.
  • This new view could explain why, in extremely rare cases, individuals may commit serious crimes, including murder, during sleep.

Deja View: Brainy Cover Swipe

Covers look familiar?

Do these covers, both by the photographer Stephen Wilkes, look similar?

The July cover of Scientific American, titled “The Evolution of Cooperation,” touts an outline of a human head with a brain represented by tangled blue bodies. The art is nearly a mirror image of the April 19, 2009, cover of the New York Times Magazine, which featured the same illustrated head.

The only difference? A cluster of green, rather than blue, bodies represents the brain on the Times’ cover, titled “The Green Mind.”

Jonah Lehrer’s career hit a speed bump when he was discovered to be recycling his own material from earlier stories on his New Yorker blog. But Wilkes says he isn’t engaged in self-plagiarism. He says Scientific American asked him to replicate his own work for their cover.

“They knew it came from the New York Times,” Wilkes said. “It’s not like I tried to sell it to them as something new. It’s within my artistic license.”

In an email statement, Scientific American editor in chief Mariette DiChristina claimed magazines often run “preexisting work” from photographers on covers and internal pages. She said Wilkes was paid by Scientific American to change the existing image, rather than to reshoot it.

“In this case, we had a similar idea ourselves, but saw it had been executed in a lovely fashion by a non-newsstand weekly publication read by a general audience,” she said.

Autism Wiki: Of Narrow Interests

"Obsession? What obsession?"
A high school senior displays part of the comic book collection that inspired his study into superheroes and doomsday. Watchmen, seen up front and later released as a major motion picture, is one of the books he analyzed.

Children with Asperger syndrome often have an intense and obsessive level of focus on things of interest. Some have suggested that these "obsessions" are essentially arbitrary and lacking in any real meaning or context; however, researchers note that these "obsessions" typically focus on the mechanical (how things work) as opposed to the psychological (how people work).

Sometimes these interests are lifelong; in other cases, they change at unpredictable intervals. In either case, there are normally only one or two interests at any given time. The interests are often linked in some way that is logical only to the AS individual.

In pursuit of these interests, people with AS often manifest extremely sophisticated reasoning, an almost obsessive focus, and a remarkably good memory for trivial facts. Hans Asperger called his young patients "little professors" because he thought his patients had as comprehensive and nuanced an understanding of their field of interest as university professors.

People with AS may have little patience for things outside these narrow interests. In school, they may be perceived as highly intelligent underachievers or overachievers, clearly capable of outperforming their peers in their field of interest, yet persistently unmotivated to do regular homework assignments (sometimes even in their areas of interest). Others may be hypermotivated to outperform peers in school.

The combination of social problems and intense interests can lead to unusual behavior, such as greeting a stranger by launching into a lengthy monologue about a special interest rather than introducing oneself in the socially accepted way. However, in many cases adults can outgrow this impatience and lack of motivation and develop more tolerance to new activities and meeting new people.

Real Life Examples of Narrow Interests

Pets can become obsessions for the aspie child -- they are always around the house and do not talk or present a socially complex partner.

Certain dolls may become extremely close to the aspie child -- eg, one that looks like him/her or a Furby because it appears to interact with them, thus providing social interaction unachievable with other human children.

Computer games can become very addictive to the aspie child -- they provide visual stimulation minus the need for social interaction. In many cases, multiplayer games like Club
Penguin or or Stardoll, also provide a non-intimidating way to socialize "in world" while playing the game. See the Internet.

Magical things -- fairies, unicorns, etc. -- are also often an obsession.

Cards/Sports-Facts -- baseball or football cards and scoreboard information -- become a way to interact with people and their competitive instincts but not in an intimidating social way (no discussion required).

Strange things -- turtles, mushrooms, African dictators, the Holocaust, grafitti, ect. -- things like these may have been discovered early in an AS child's early childhood, and have since been an obsession to the AS child.

Confirming Steadfast Views

What is the difference between an opinion and a conviction?

Essentially, an opinion is a thought based on observation that allows for some room to be swayed in a different direction if opposing arguments make sense.    

A conviction is a firm-held belief based on observation, experience, is time-tested and not something that can be easily dissuaded.

An example of an opinion would be when we say 2013 will be a more difficult year financially for the nation than 2012.  We could be wrong.. we're open to being swayed.  But until then, we believe as we do.

An example of conviction would be when we say that capital-I professional Investors are evil to the core and a major reason why many of the problems afflicting the global economy have not been addressed.  We hold firm to that view and we're not going to suddenly doing a 180 because a Letter to the Editor argues otherwise.

We here at A&G give many opinions, and as stated before, if we're proven wrong or the other side makes a solid argument, we're open minded.  But we have convictions as well, and today we found two news articles today which absolutely 100% re-affirm our economic and political beliefs.
#1  We believe corporations like Investors to be evil, heartless entities with sociopathic tendencies which put Profit over people and thus deserve zero loyalty from those who are employed by them and No admiration by the greater public

"Hostess Brands Inc. plans to ask for a judge's approval Thursday to give its top executives bonuses totaling up to $1.8 million as part of its wind-down plans.  The maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Ho Hos says the incentive pay is needed to retain the 19 managers during the liquidation process, which could take about a year...

The company's bankruptcy means loss of about 18,000 jobs."  (AP)

So let's really understand what happened here:  Hostess chose to enter bankruptcy for the second time in over a year rather than make a sincere effort to find common ground with its 2nd biggest union on a new contract.  

Why?   Because it was decided by the higher-ups that it would be far more profitable to completely end the Hostess brand, shut down all bakeries, lay off 18,000 workers, sell off the rights to its brands like Wonder and Twinkies to competitors and then seek Federal bankruptcy protection from creditors.
That's what happens when a business is taken over by a hedge fund; profiteers no different than Bain Capital. And that $1.8 million which the corporation is fighting for the right to give in bonuses to a few executives, will mean $1.8 mill less that Hostess has to pay back its creditors.  But what does it matter when these running it to the ground get first dibs on slicing apart the dead carcass.

It reminds us of what happened a few years ago with a Wal Mart store that was based somewhere in Georgia-- the employees wanted to organize into a union, which the corporation was steadfast against. So ultimately a vote was conducted and a good majority of people voted to unionize.

And what did Wal-Mart do in response?  The very next day the store was permanently closed, every worker laid off and all the inventory sent off to other stores.  The same action took place in Quebec in 2005 involving a local store there which voted to unionize 

That's how much Wal Mart valued its workers... 

And that's the overall mindset of corporations
#2  Sadly, the Republican Party has turned into a party full of heartless bastards with no care or concern for any person who is not wealthy or well-to-do, and the only reason they even bother with the middle class at all is because they make up a large voting base.  They've degenerated into the party of tax cuts for the wealthy and benefit slashing for everyone else.

Top Romney Adviser Brags About Losing Poor, Minority Voters To Obama (Yahoo News) -- " Mitt Romney can take some solace in his devastating loss on Nov. 6: at least he won the voters who really count.

That's the thesis anyway of top adviser Stuart Stevens, who penned an op-ed in the Washington Post on Wednesday arguing that by winning wealthier and whiter voters, Romney secured the moral victory over Obama.

"On Nov. 6, Mitt Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income," Stevens wrote. "That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters...  The Republican Party has problems, but as we go forward, let's remember that any party that captures the majority of the middle class must be doing something right."
Stevens notably never mentioned jobs and unemployment in his op-ed, instead focusing on how Romney championed "the moral case for free enterprise and conservative economics"

Unfortunately for Romney, poor and minority votes counted just the same as the allegedly superior votes Stevens favored. The result was an electoral college blowout for the president powered by strong turnout and margins among young voters, Latinos, African Americans, and women."

We were always amazed how proudly Mitt Romney said during the campaign trail that he had no concern for the working and poor...  How brazen he was with his infamous '47 Percent' comment that stated that they were the people on government assistance and all for Obama and thus not worth courting... and yet put false ads in key battleground during the end of the campaign pretending he wanted to help the disadvantaged, which voters saw right through..

It really started about 12 months ago when every jackal of a Republican candidate to represent their party all tried to one-up each other to show who was going to cut the most that benefited average working Americans while lowering the most taxes on corporations and the affluent, all under the Lie of 'trickle down' economics.

And its sad.. and shameful.
This is not the Republican party of Lincoln... or Teddy Roosevelt... or even for that matter, Richard Nixon.  Its not the party of Reagan either because for all of his economic failings, he was the one who instituted the Social Security payroll tax to seek to ensure it would never go insolvent; something current Republicans hate like the plague.

The current Republican Party is a disgusting amalgam of Wall St big shots, the wealthy well-to-do and Tea Party loons who if they could get away with it, roll back every social and economic program to pre-FDR  i.e.  no Social Security, no Medicare, no unemployment benefits or food stamps... no government assistance of any kind... and the death of Unions.

And we are no Conservative-bashing blog by any means... We have skewered the President's policies (or lack there of) for the last 2+ years and had grave concerns over what a 2nd term would mean for this nation.

But the previous article just re-affirms that the current Republican Party is deeply out of touch with mainstream America and because of their insistence on being a one-track pony of tax cuts instead of being a party of genuine compassion and caring for All, they will find themselves out of Executive power for many elections to come.

Time Blog: David Healy: Beware of Big Pharma and Conflicts of Interest

“It’s a miracle that I was asked along to give a talk [here], and I’m extremely grateful,” Healy said.

His disquisition was perhaps less humble. Arguing that his profession is “committing professional suicide” by failing to address its dangerously close relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, he likened psychiatry’s attitude toward its faltering legitimacy to the Vatican’s widely derided response to its child-sex-abuse scandal by priests — essentially that psychiatry is brushing off justifiable concerns as hype instead of dealing with the source of the problem.

Few experts believe that psychiatry’s relationship with the drug industry is healthy. While several speakers at the session pointed out that other specialties are similarly entangled with industry, “everyone does it” is generally not a valid defense where conflicts of interest are concerned.

(MORE: Antipsychotic Prescriptions in Children Have Skyrocketed: Study)

The conflicts throughout medicine — not just in psychiatry — are clear. In 2004 alone, pharmaceutical companies spent about $58 billion on marketing, 87% of which was aimed squarely at the roughly 800,000 Americans with the power to prescribe drugs. The money was spent mainly on free drug samples and sales visits to doctors’ offices; studies find that both free samples and sales calls increase prescribing of brand-name drugs and raise medical costs without improving care.

Moreover, nearly half of all continuing medical-education classes are sponsored by industry. By their third year of medical school, 94% of psychiatrists in training have already accepted a “small noneducational gift or lunch” from a drug company, according to Dr. Paul Appelbaum, a past president of the APA and director of Columbia University’s Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry, who spoke on the panel with Healy.

And while only 34% psychiatrists believe that receiving food or gifts affects their own prescribing patterns, 53% believe that it influences that of their colleagues, according to a study cited by Appelbaum. Research shows that this type of thinking — “Everyone else is prone to biases and social factors, but not me!” — is common and confounds attempts to address conflicts. “At least some of our colleagues are wrong,” Appelbaum said drily of the study.
Healy’s jeremiad was more severe and sharply worded, but it seemed to be well received by the psychiatrists assembled in the audience. Many even asked questions that suggested they too were troubled by the status quo.

“I’m going to argue that we need you to be biased. We want you to be biased by treatments that work,” Healy told his colleagues. “I don’t mind if you’re my doctor and you’ve given talks for industry. My concern is not that you’ve been paid by industry, but that you’ve been fooled by industry. The key conflict is whether people are hiding data from you.”

(MORE: Top 10 Drug Company Settlements)

Healy went on to discuss how drug companies have repeatedly concealed important information about the risks of their medications, whether by hiring ghostwriters to spin the results of scientific studies and then getting renowned experts to put their names on the published papers; by employing tricks in clinical trials like using inadequate doses of comparison medications to make the company’s own drug look better; or by simply keeping unfavorable data out of the public domain.

Healy himself has also been targeted directly by drug companies that haven’t been happy with his critiques. In fact, he’s widely believed to have lost an academic job offer at the University of Toronto as a result of one such critical lecture. At the session on Thursday, one slide in his presentation contained information he sought via a Freedom of Information Act request detailing drugmaker Eli Lilly’s strategy for shutting Healy down. To counter his public insistence that drug companies reveal hidden drug data, Eli Lilly proposed doing things like planting confederates in the audience of his presentations to ask questions that support industry’s view.

Healy also described how in his own attempts to publish formerly hidden data — which all now reside in the public domain — he encountered legal issues with journals, which ultimately resulted in rejection of publication. The clinical-trial data in question in this case showed a greater risk of suicidal acts associated with antidepressants than had previously been revealed.

Healy also referenced hidden data from trials of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa. “None of them mentioned [that the drug could cause] diabetes or [had] the highest suicide rate in clinical-trial history,” he said. Although drug companies are now required by medical journals to register all of their clinical trials with the National Institutes of Health if they wish to publish them — including those that never end up being published — this is not a legal requirement.

They can still hide relevant data from the Food and Drug Administration by not disclosing trials that they never attempt to submit to a journal.

Healy noted further that when data surfaced showing a link between antidepressant use and risk of suicide in children, the APA issued a statement proclaiming that “we believe that antidepressants save lives.”

What I believe they should have said is that the APA believes that psychiatrists can save lives because it takes expertise to manage the risks of risky pills,” he said; if psychiatrists’ only role were to dole out drugs, then less trained physician’s assistants could easily replace them, he noted.

(MORE: A Doctor’s Dilemma: When Crucial New-Drug Data Is Hidden)

But when a questioner, claiming himself “speechless” in the face of Healy’s arguments, asked whether he should just stop prescribing antidepressants, Healy said no. Healy prescribes them himself, but believes that the role of the doctor is to manage risks, not view drugs as harmless. “Medical treatment is poison, and the art of medicine is trying to find the right dose,” he said.

As for what could be done to disentangle medicine from industry, Healy wasn’t entirely pessimistic. “The key issue in the short term is access to data. We have to insist on that,” he said. “We let industry come to our meetings and let them talk in our programs. I don’t think it’s huge problem that they get paid. The big problem is that if you ask for data, they can’t give it to you. That’s not science, that’s marketing masquerading as science.

But what of the issue of doctors being visited by paid-industry types — or being paid by industry themselves? The panel’s organizer, Dr. Daniel Carlat, director of the Pew Prescription Project, noted a new disclosure law, passed as part of President Obama’s health-reform bill in 2010. Under the legislation, drug companies must reveal which doctors have taken any payment or gift from them worth more than $10, and describe the exact amounts taken and the purpose for them on a publicly available website. (Unfortunately that website will not be up and running until 2014 at the earliest.) All of the panelists agreed, however, that while public disclosure is good, it is not enough.

Dr. Roy Perlis, who heads the Center for Experimental Drugs and Diagnostics at Massachusetts General Hospital, cited research showing that disclosure can actually backfire in unexpected ways. In one study, for example, people were asked to estimate the number of coins in a jar and provided an “adviser” to help them guess. Unbeknownst to them, the adviser had been paid to try to push people to make higher estimates than they otherwise might.

In one condition of the trial, participants were told in advance that the adviser had this bias, but that made matters worse. Under this circumstance, the adviser encouraged participants to make even higher estimates than in the situation without disclosure.

(MORE: How a Study of a Failed Antidepressant Shows That the Drugs Really Work)

“There are two different mechanisms” to explain the phenomenon, says Perlis. “One is strategic exaggeration: ‘I know you’re going to discount what I say, so I deliberately will be more effusive and tell you a higher number.’ The other is so-called moral licensing: ‘I’ve disclosed my conflict, therefore I’m allowed to be biased.’ This very thing may well also play out when disclosing conflicts of interest in medicine.”

Maran Woolston, a woman with multiple sclerosis, also spoke on the panel about how betrayed she felt when she learned her doctor had referred much of her care to a drug-company subsidiary, but had not revealed it to her — and had also taken $300,000 in funding from various drugmakers.

“In my opinion, transparency isn’t a silver bullet,” she said. “My ideal solution — and this may be naive — is that [doctors should] accept no payments whatsoever because then there can be no conflict of interest.”

Read more:

Captain Atom vs. Doctor Spectro, Master of Moods

Captain Atom #79, March 1966. Art by Steve Ditko and Rocco Mastroserio. Atomic energy vs. mood lighting -- who will win?

Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind

I polished off Connected (excellent), and now on the reading stand is Gary Marcus' Kluge. Seems like another bargain book winner.

Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind by Gary Marcus

How is it that we can recognize photos from our high school yearbook decades later, but cannot remember what we ate for breakfast yesterday? And why are we inclined to buy more cans of soup if the sign says "LIMIT 12 PER CUSTOMER" rather than "LIMIT 4 PER CUSTOMER?" In Kluge, Gary Marcus argues convincingly that our minds are not as elegantly designed as we may believe. The imperfections result from a haphazard evolutionary process that often proceeds by piling new systems on top of old ones—and those systems don’t always work well together. The end product is a "kluge," a clumsy, cobbled-together contraption. Taking us on a tour of the essential areas of human experience—memory, belief, decision making, language, and happiness—Marcus unveils a fundamentally new way of looking at the evolution of the human mind and simultaneously sheds light on some of the most mysterious aspects of human nature.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Evolution seems a rushed process in which traits and attributes of humanity have been pieced together to make a functioning but far from perfect or rational being. Marcus explores the ways in which the human mind, while magnificent in its overall ability, still stumbles on several points. Focusing on areas such as memory, decision making and language, Marcus keenly identifies the makeshift devices humans have created in order to contend with what he describes as "evolutionary inertia."

From Booklist

A university psychology professor who periodically writes for mass media, Marcus here punctures the high regard humanity has for its species-distinctive qualities. Whether it’s memory, rationality, language, or free will, our noble human traits are hopelessly entangled with our baser drives, which have survived the dynamics of evolution. Blending discussion of experiments from cognitive psychology with speculation about why people are far less logical than they believe, Marcus latches onto the term kluge, which comes from the engineering world and is jargon for a fix that ain’t perfect but good enough. It’s a productive figure of speech for Marcus’ argument that deliberative thinking probably had an evolutionary advantage (save seeds to plant next season), but seems in permanent conflict with reflexive impulses having more ancient evolutionary advantage (eat seeds now). Carrying the point across a gamut of behaviors, from money to mental illnesses to talking, Marcus develops his idea of the klugelike mind, in which emotion perpetually besieges the intellect, with appealing clarity. -- Gilbert Taylor

"Marcus's emphasis on the peculiar quirks of our minds -- or odd decisions and weird interpretations -- makes for a fascinating, self-referential read -- Marcus's book makes "kluge" an indispensable term for explaining the human mind." (Seed )

"Invigorating fun...inspired, one of those unexpected analogies that help us look at everything afresh." (New York Times Book Review )

"A shot across the bow of intelligent design." (Kirkus Reviews )
About the Author
Gary Marcus is a professor of psychology at New York University and director of the NYU Infant Language Learning Center. Marcus received his Ph.D. at age twenty-three from MIT, where he was mentored by Steven Pinker. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, and other major publications. He lives in New York.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

RIP Spain Rodriguez, Underground Comix Legend
Underground cartoonist the legendary Spain Rodriguez, the creator of Trashman, died this morning at his home In San Francisco.

Zippy the Pinhead auteur Bill Griffith announced the sad news on Facebook, “Legendary cartoonist Spain Rodriguez died this morning at home in San Francisco. He was a great friend and raconteur--and one of the best cartoonists of his or any other generation. I'll always remember our talks on comics and drawing. He had so much more wonderful work inside him--I'll miss him forever.”

Hailing from Buffalo, New York Spain studied at the Silvermine Guild Art School in New Caanan, Connecticut.

Heading for the happening New York City, during the late 1960s, he became a contributor to the  East Village Other and soon published his own underground indie tabloid, Zodiac Mindwarp (1968).

A founder of the United Cartoon Workers of America, he contributed to numerous undergrounds including Zap Comix.

He also drew uber-liberal Salon's continuing graphic storyThe Dark Hotel.

Strongly influenced by 1950s EC comic book artist Wally Wood, Spain pushed Wood's sharp, crisp black shadows and hard-edged black outlines into a more simplified, stylized direction, Wikipedia noted.

Sweet Dreams

Moebius Crystal Watcher

In memory of Moebius 1938-2012

Have Yourself a Brainy Christmas

Would it be too creepy to ask for a plastic brain model this Christmas?

Why, yes, it would!

Yow! Tactless cartoonists give a new meaning to "brain drain" at Dexter's Laboratory!

Terry Beatty Phantom Sunday #2

I can now share the printed image of the second Phantom episode I bought from artist Terry Beatty at Oafcon, now that it's been published. "The Ghost Who Scuba Dives."

Humans' Complex Social Skills Due to Larger Brains

Kate Ravilious for National Geographic News, September 6, 2007

The uniquely human abilities to build relationships with others, talk, and even gossip are all boons of a large brain, a new study says.

Researchers who put human toddlers and great apes through a series of physical and cognitive tests found that human social skills are superior to those of our closest genetic relatives, whose brains are smaller.

But whether we are better at putting our social skills to good use is still a matter of opinion.
"Compared [with] baboons we waste an awful lot of time gossiping about one another," said Joan Silk, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study.

Superior Social Skills

Esther Herrmann of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and colleagues put 106 chimpanzees, 32 orangutans, and 105 young German children through a series of complex tests.

The children were all about two-and-a-half years old and had been speaking for at least a year.
The apes had all been made accustomed to humans.

The researchers designed 16 different puzzles to tease out the differences in ability between humans and apes.

Some of the puzzles, such as tracking the position of a reward under a cup, involved only physical skills. Others, such as selecting the cup that the researcher pointed to, involved social skills such as communication.

The results found that chimpanzees, orangutans, and human children were all equally successful in the physical skills tests.

But the human children were significantly better at the social skills tests—scoring around 74 percent correct on the tests compared to scores of 33 percent from both groups of apes. (Related news: "Monkeys Deaf to Complex Communication, Study Says" [January 22, 2004].)

For instance, the toddlers outperformed the apes on "theory of mind" experiments—the ability to understand that other individuals have their own beliefs and intentions.

Bigger Brain Theories

There are two main theories as to why humans have evolved larger brains than their primate relatives. A huge brain is a serious investment— neural tissue guzzles a lot of energy.

The general intelligence hypothesis suggests that humans' bigger brains make us better and faster at all kinds of skills, such as memorizing, learning, and planning ahead.

The cultural intelligence hypothesis, bolstered by this recent study, says that bigger brains have specifically enabled us to develop more complex social skills.

"This [study] contradicts the general intelligence hypothesis," Herrmann said. "We would have expected to see a difference in physical skills as well if [that] hypothesis was right."

Aside from gossiping, these increased social skills appear to carry strong advantages, enabling humans to sustain relationships with others and help each other out in times of need.

"Our bigger brains enable us to cope with the complexities of social life," said Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom who was not involved in the study.

Migration Factor

No one really knows when or why humans started to develop these enhanced social skills, but there are one or two clues.

"It must have occurred later than one million years ago, as we don't see any increase in brain size before then," lead study author Herrmann said.

One theory is that social skills evolved in response to a more nomadic lifestyle, possibly dating back to when human ancestors began to migrate out of Africa.

"As people began to migrate more they needed to create good relationships with a wider range of people, so that they could beg favors over things like water, food, and access," the University of Liverpool's Dunbar said.

In particular language appears to have been a key development, enabling humans to communicate with others outside of their tribal groups.

Mind-Reading Monkeys

However, humans don't have a complete monopoly on social skills.
A related study published in Science today shows that primates are capable of reading emotions and understanding the intentions of others.

Harvard University's Justin Wood and colleagues tested the ability of cotton-top tamarins, rhesus macaques, and chimpanzees to understand the difference between a deliberate gesture and an accidental gesture.

All the primates showed much more interest when Wood deliberately selected a particular container than when his hand fell accidentally onto a container.

"Humans are not the only ones who can guess what others are thinking," Wood said.

For humans these enhanced social skills have enabled us to spread far and wide, settling in every corner of the world.

But this may have come with some hidden costs, said University of California's Silk.

"The human brain is a really complicated machine that goes wrong with some frequency," Silk said.
Mental illness may be the evolutionary cost of this complexity."

Game Theory: Cooperators, Loners, Free Riders, and Punishers

James Fowler is a new kind of political scientist. Specializing in genopolitics, the genetic basis of political behavior, and the evolution of cooperation, he melds the social with the biological, pushing the boundaries of his field to discover, for example, that smoking, obesity, and happiness spread within social networks, and that genes affect voting behavior. A professor at the University of California, San Diego, Fowler is famous among students for publishing the first scientific evidence to support the "Colbert bump." His new book, co-written with sociologist Nicholas Christakis, is Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives,

Review by Luc Reid

In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, sociologist Nicholas Christakis and political scientist James Fowler look at what it means to be a human being in terms of our interpersonal networks. One of the topics they take up is an examination of how selfishness, cooperation, and altruism interact, which helps answer the question in the title: can we expect others to help us?

Christakis and Fowler take results from experiments around the world with three games. In the “Ultimatum Game,” two people are given an amount of money (for instance, ten dollars).

Person 1 makes an offer to split it with the other, offering anything from a penny to a 50/50 split to handing over the whole amount. Person 2 decides to reject or accept the offer. If Person 2 rejects the offer, neither person gets anything.

The “Dictator Game” is similar, except that any offer is automatically accepted. All the power lies with Person 1.

In the “Trust Game,” Person 1 can give any amount to Person 2, and that amount triples, at which point Person 2 can give any amount back. If both cooperate completely, they each get more than the original amount. If they don’t, someone gets screwed.

I won’t go into the experimental findings in detail, but instead will head straight for the conclusions Christakis, Fowler, and others draw from the results.

Based on the mixture of selfishness, cooperation, trust, mistrust, and other attitudes demonstrated by subjects in these experiments, they identify three types of people: cooperators, loners, and free riders.

Cooperators tend to trust more, are more helpful to others, and are dependent on other people trusting and helping in return. Loners tend not to trust and try not to depend on anyone else. Free riders take advantage of cooperators to get whatever they can for themselves without offering anything in return.

A cooperator in the midst of other cooperators thrives. A cooperator who runs into too many free riders gets screwed. A loner is less successful than others if everyone else is successfully cooperating, but isn’t in danger of being taken advantage of by free riders. A free rider thrives when cooperators let things go, but runs into trouble with a sort of cooperator sub-type that Christakis and Fowler dub “Punishers.” Punishers are willing to exert some effort to penalize people for not cooperating or for taking advantage of the system.

In the ultimatum or dictator game, a cooperator might offer half or close to half of the money to the other person. A loner in the trust game will assume the other person is going to take advantage and act defensively. A free rider will take the most money available regardless of consequences to the other player. A punisher in the ultimatum game will refuse an offer that seems too low even though this would mean both players lose out.

What’s fascinating to me is that according to Christakis and Fowler, a society is made up of all of these types, but the proportions of each are constantly shifting. There appear to be times and places where cooperators spread, which might eventually attract free riders, which in turn will attract punishers and perhaps turn some of the cooperators into loners. If loners are everywhere, then some might band together and be more successful by cooperation, starting the cycle over. During each separate phase of this cycle, which might last for some time, there are different opportunities and dangers, and the question of whether help is likely to be available is answered differently.

So when looking for help in our lives, there are questions we can ask ourselves. Are we given to cooperation, or do we tend to do things on our own? What about the people around us? And whether or not a person tends to help in one area suggests a lot about whether that person is likely to help in another.

For instance, a person who gives money to public radio is also more likely to volunteer to help you move or to give you directions if you’re lost. A person who works in a kind of job that emphasizes getting as much as you can, like a stockbroker or auto salesperson, is less likely to trust and offer help to others – though of course it’s inaccurate to make blanket statements about people on this matter; these are just general observations that are often true.

Regardless, making these kinds of observations about yourself and the people you’re connected with can help provide insight both about what you’re contributing and what you can expect from others.

Fixing the Student Loan Debt Crisis

We read an article today in the New York Times that student loan debt is rising and its not being paid back...

"The New York Fed calculates that 11 percent of student loans are now at least 90 days delinquent, with this rate now officially passing the "serious delinquency" rate for credit card debt for the first time...  It's worth mentioning, by the way, that student loan debt cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, while most other forms of debt can. One reason consumers have managed to shed so much debt is that lenders ended up writing off quite a bit after the financial crisis."

And unlike credit card debt which is written off by the lenders, student loan debt is ultimately a taxpayer burden when not paid.

Let's pretend government genuinely seeks to fix problems and not kick the can down the road for years if not generations so not to offend anyone and thus not get re-elected, how can this problem of student loan debt be fixed?

Here are some possible remedies we came up with..  they may not be popular or agreeable to some but we see the following as the most realistic way to combat this problem:
1)  Treat student loans as car loans or mortgages

What are the chances that an 18 year old with no real work experience, credit history or personal savings could walk into a bank and receive a loan to buy an automobile or home with no one co-signing?

How about Zero... None.

Yet that same person can receive tens of thousands of dollars annually to obtain something that isn't even tangible or physical.. a worthless piece of paper called a college degree that most employers don't value or respect since everyone has one.

So how to remedy this?  At least one parent has to co-sign on any student loan involving a person under the age of 21, making them as legally responsible as the naive, bright-eyed fawn who can't wait to spend four years drinking and doing recreational drugs with some classes in-between.
Now you have at least one parent who is going to be strictly making sure their son or daughter is taking school seriously and focused on studies since it is their wages and/or social security that can be garnished or vehicle/home taken because Bobbi or Billy don't take college serious or choose an un-hireable degree like Philosophy or English Lit.

And this all inter-connects to the rest of the remedies on the list...

2)  Set policies that curtail overspending for college

If a student who lives in Texas wishes to attend a college in California or Connecticut, that's fine-- the student loan will cover the cost of tuition and books.  But not room and board.  That expense you or your parents must come up with on your own.
Its bad enough that attending a public university as an out of state student means you're paying 2.5 to 3x more in annual tuition than a state run university at home, meaning you're obligated to be paying back 2.5 to 3x the debt you normally would, but room and board can add an additional five to ten thousand dollars annually to the cost... once again, which must be re-paid.

Another option is the 2 to 1 rule-- if you need $12,000 to attend college for a given year, the loan can only be for up to $8,000-- you or your parents must come up with the other $4k.

The ultimate goal is for the lendee to make Intelligent choices and to get rid once and for all of this la-di-da notion that one simply acquires whatever debt is necessary to get the degree, then worries about it all later, or even worse, assumes all will work itself out because a good paying job is simply waiting for them.

People seem to show more fiscally responsible decision making when it comes to buying a sweater or a box of cereal than they do picking what college to attend and ultimately pay for.
3)  Colleges & Universities Must change too...

You're at a cafeteria for lunch-- you pick up a tuna sandwich, chips and a drink.. but you're not allowed to pay for your order or leave..  In order to acquire what's on your tray, you need to also get a turkey sandwich, peanut butter & jelly, a bag of tortilla chips, yogurt and ice creme... Then you may pay... for All of the order...

Horrible right?  That's what colleges and universities do.

The days of forcing undergrad students to attend for 4 or more years while acquiring 120 credits via taking classes in fields that have nothing to do with one's major or interest needs to End as soon as possible.

If government had any care or concern for its younger citizens; the ones who attend school and are saddled with debt before turning 21, they'd pass a law that any institute of higher learning which accepts Fed backed loans or took Fed grants had to cut its requirements for graduation from 120 credits to 60, which is Plenty!  
It would work like this:  30 credits i.e. 10 courses in one's major and 30 credits in any other areas the student chose.  If someone was undecided on a major, he/she could continue taking courses without restriction but for those who did know their career path early on, they aren't punished in terms of time wasted and expense accrued.

4)  Adding culpability to the schools

How is it that if a person goes into a Wal Mart or Target, buys a product that turns out not to work or fails in some way, that the item can be returned, usually for a full refund, yet if you attend a college/university, obtain the degree and can't get hired for anything above stock clerk, you can't get a refund on the wasted education?

Imagine if the onus was put on the schools to ensure their students found gainful employment or have to be directly on the hook for the student loans taken out to acquire the original degree?
Perhaps they would take their 'career centers' much more seriously and dramatically expand upon job placement so that way students attending in a weakened market could have a fighting chance to get their foot in the door somewhere..


Just like Surgeon General warnings on cigarette packs, Colleges and universities notify in big, bold letters that obtaining a degree does not guarantee in any way that you will find a job that will allow you to pay your bills, put savings away and build for a future, and that the student assumes All risks with the knowledge that obtaining student loans without the ability to repay will Destroy their financial lives irrevocably.

In summary, to fix the problem of student loan debts which now tops $1 trillion is a combination of restricting both who is able to acquire the loans and limiting the debt load upon the individual while making sure colleges can no longer trap and exploit students into paying more than they should while getting no assurances or protections that their degrees will truly improve their future.
It all comes down to one question ultimately-- does one view attending college as a right or a privilege?  If you see it as a right, then you believe nothing should be done to obstruct anyone from attending especially financially.  If you see it as a privilege like driving, then you believe attending is not 'open door' much like a car dealer is not required to sell you an automobile simply because you want one.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cynthia Sass Blog: Trend Alert: Veggie-Inspired Desserts

Shape Magazine
Goodbye, chocolate-covered bacon; hello, chocolate-dipped cauliflower! While you may normally think of veggies as something to choke down before moving onto dessert, a new trend of veggie-inspired desserts may change that, according to a report in the latest issue of Food Technology magazine.

Classic sweet treats such as carrot cake and sweet potato pie have long been fan favorites, but now pastry chefs are going above and beyond to include flavorful picks such as cucumbers, eggplants, beets, squash, carrots, mushrooms, and tomatoes in baked goods.

I was excited to read about this trend, because I’ve been experimenting with veggie-based treats for some time. I recently shared my recipe for secret spinach brownies with FitSugar viewers, and lately, I’ve been baking up a storm, folding pureed lentils or bean flours into cookies and cupcakes. In addition to being downright fun, adding veggies to the dessert mix can considerably kick up the nutritional value of goodies that traditionally lack vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein, and fiber.

From indie vegan bakeries to fine dining establishments, bakers and chefs are using a wide range of chopped, puréed, and shredded veggies in exciting new culinary creations. In some cases, veggies with similar textures can be used in place of fruits, such as replacing apples or pears with eggplant.

Other ideas come from cultural influences (check out my previous post about why we should be serving up desserts like Vietnamese bean pudding and Japanese adzuki bean ice cream), and others from long-held traditions. For example, food historians say that for decades home cooks have relied on naturally sweet readily available veggies, like beets, when sugar was scarce.

With the explosion of interest in nutrition, local and in-season food, and plant-based diets, I predict that this red-hot veg trend will keep on growing (no pun intended).

What's your take? Do you enjoy veggie mainstays like zucchini bread and pumpkin pie? Are you excited about trying new options like mushroom meringue? Or do you believe that veggies only belong in savory dishes like pastas, stir-frys, and salads? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.