October 11, 2008
BehindTheMedspeak: Medpedia — 'Will mimic Wikipedia'
If it's anywhere near as great as Wikipedia it'll be a wonderful resource.
"Launches end of 2008" — let us pray.
Wrote Seth Kandel in the September 2008 issue of Anesthesiology News, "The Medpedia project hopes to create a community of editors that can link Web pages for information on over 30,000 diseases, more than 10,000 prescription drugs and thousands of medical procedures."
Isn't it amazing that anyone's alive at all, what with "over 30,000 diseases" out there ready to strike?
But I digress.
Maybe I should apply to become a contributing member — it says "Anyone who is medically knowledgeable is welcome to become a Member of Medpedia's community. However, to qualify to edit or contribute to the main content, you must have an M.D. or Ph.D. in a biomedical field."
Then it says, "You must disclose in the text area below any beneficial contribution you receive, or may receive in the future, either paid or in kind, for expressing your views as a Member to Medpedia.com."
I haven't seen any green in over four years here and "what's past is prologue" appears to be operative.
What is it?
Answer here this time tomorrow.
Conservatives are more sensitive
That's the takeaway message of recent work examining the relationship of political positions and the startle response.
Shankar Vedantam's September 19, 2008 Washington Post article explains it all for you, and follows.
- Startle Response Linked to Politics
More Sensitive May Mean More Conservative, Study Finds
People who startle easily in response to threatening images or loud sounds seem to have a biological predisposition to adopt conservative political positions on many hot-button issues, according to unusual new research published yesterday.
The finding suggests that people who are particularly sensitive to signals of visual or auditory threats also tend to adopt a more defensive stance on political issues, such as immigration, gun control, defense spending and patriotism. People who are less sensitive to potential threats, by contrast, seem predisposed to hold more liberal positions on those issues.
The study takes the research a step beyond psychology by suggesting that innate physiological differences among people may help shape their startle responses and their political inclinations.
The study is part of a growing research effort to uncover the often hidden factors in people's political makeup. In recent years, a variety of studies have shown, for example, that voters are subtly biased in favor of attractive political candidates. Other research has probed how subconscious attitudes among undecided voters can predict whom they will eventually support, and how the speed with which voters answer poll questions can predict the depth of their commitment to one candidate or another.
"I was quite struck watching the conventions by the different tones," said co-author John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, about the recent Republican and Democratic conventions. "The Republicans are waving placards saying, 'country first.' Democrats are not saying, 'country last,' but there is a concern that is visceral in one group but not another."
Hibbing and the other researchers stressed that physiology is only one factor in how people form their political views — and far from the most important factor. Startle responses, moreover, cannot be used to predict the political views of any one individual — there are many liberals who startle easily and many conservatives who do not. What the study did find is that, across groups of people, there seems to be an association between sensitivity to physical threats and sensitivity to threats affecting social groups and social order.
"We are not saying if you sneak up on someone and say 'Boo!' and see how hard they blink, that tells you what their political beliefs are," Hibbing said.
Nor is there the slightest implication that either liberals or conservatives are somehow abnormal for being more or less sensitive to threats: "We could spin a story saying it is bad to be so jumpy, but you can also spin a story saying it is bad to be naive about threats," he said. "From an evolutionary point of view, an organism needs to respond to a threat or it won't be around for very long. We are not saying one response is more normal than another."
Indeed, Hibbing and other researchers hope their study might help lower the volume of partisan invective in the presidential campaign: The research suggests that people who adopt political views you disagree with are not be stupid or irrational. Rather, they may arrive at their positions in part because they are predisposed to be more or less worried about risk.
The study, published in the journal Science, recruited 46 white partisan Republicans and Democrats in Nebraska. The volunteers were quizzed on their views on a variety of topics — including the war in Iraq, same-sex marriage, pacifism and the importance of school prayer. All the questions were designed to test how strongly people needed to guard against various internal and external threats. None focused on economic issues.
Two months later, the researchers brought the volunteers into a laboratory and hooked them up to devices that measure a physiological factor that has long been known to be linked to threat response: moisture on the skin. When a person feels a threat, the skin releases more moisture — and this can be picked up by sensors that measure skin conductance. The release of moisture does not involve conscious thought. It is an automatic response of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls many of the body's "fight or flight" reactions.
The researchers then showed the volunteers a number of images. Among them were images of a very large spider on the face of a terrified person, a person whose face had been bloodied, and an open wound filled with maggots. Compared with when they saw three placid images — a happy child, a bowl of fruit and a bunny — people who held more conservative political attitudes had a stronger startle response.
In a second experiment, the researchers startled the volunteers by playing a loud noise through headphones. This time, they measured how hard people blinked — blinking is an automatic reflex to startling sounds. Again, people who startled more strongly tended to be those who held more conservative positions on political issues.
"There is some sort of broad left-right orientation that pervades not only our politics, but politics across the world and across time," said John R. Alford, another co-author of the study who is a political scientist at Rice University. "This variation could have biological underpinnings."
Here's the abstract of the Science paper cited above.
- Political Attitudes Vary with Physiological Traits
Although political views have been thought to arise largely from individuals' experiences, recent research suggests that they may have a biological basis. We present evidence that variations in political attitudes correlate with physiological traits. In a group of 46 adult participants with strong political beliefs, individuals with measurably lower physical sensitivities to sudden noises and threatening visual images were more likely to support foreign aid, liberal immigration policies, pacifism, and gun control, whereas individuals displaying measurably higher physiological reactions to those same stimuli were more likely to favor defense spending, capital punishment, patriotism, and the Iraq War. Thus, the degree to which individuals are physiologically responsive to threat appears to indicate the degree to which they advocate policies that protect the existing social structure from both external (outgroup) and internal (norm-violator) threats.
Finally, here's Constance Holden's September 18, 2008 ScienceNow Daily News article to put the work into context.
- The Politics of Fear
Why do people have the attitudes they do toward social issues such as welfare, abortion, immigration, gay rights, school prayer, and capital punishment? The conventional explanations have to do with their economic circumstances, families, friends, and educations. But new research suggests that people with radically different social attitudes also differ in certain automatic fear responses. Political scientists say the work is evidence that certain attitudes are conditioned by fundamental traits of temperament, which could help explain why it's hard to get a donkey or an elephant to change its coloring.
Quite a bit is known about the physiology of response to threat, and some of this can be measured by simple noninvasive tests. So the researchers, headed by Douglas Oxley of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, decided to test the idea that liberal and conservative (or "protective") social beliefs are related to individuals' sensitivity to threat.
The authors first conducted a random telephone survey of Lincoln residents to find some who held strong political opinions. Then 46 selected respondents were invited to come in to the lab and fill in questionnaires to reveal political beliefs and personality traits. Participants were then given two types of tests to measure physiological responses to threat.
First, they were attached to equipment to measure skin conductivity, which rises with emotional stress as the moisture level in skin goes up. Each participant was shown threatening images, such as a bloody face interspersed with innocuous pictures of things such as bunnies, and rise in skin conductance in response to the shocking image was measured. The other measure was the involuntary eye blink that people have in response to something startling, such as a sudden loud noise. The scientists measured the amplitude of blinks via electrodes that detected muscle contractions under people's eyes.
The researchers found that both of these responses correlated significantly with whether a person was liberal or conservative socially. Subjects who had expressed a high level of support for policies "protecting the social unit" showed a much larger change in skin conductance in response to alarming photos than those who didn't support such policies. Similarly, the mean blink amplitude for the socially protective subjects was significantly higher, the team reports in tomorrow's issue of Science. Co-author Kevin Smith says the results showed that automatic fear responses are better predictors of protective attitudes than sex or age (men and older people tend to be more conservative).
How are body and belief connected? The authors point out that family and twin studies have revealed strong genetic influences both for liberal-versus-conservative views and for people's sensitivity to threat. They speculate that the correlation could have something to do with the patterns of neural activity surrounding the amygdala, the seat of fear in the brain.
"These findings are extremely important," says political scientist James Fowler at the University of California, San Diego, who has been doing research linking certain gene variations to political activity. "In essence, the authors have filled in a 'missing link' between genes and brains on the one hand and psychological personalities and political attitudes on the other." He adds that the subject pool is limited to "a handful of white subjects from Nebraska, ... but many great ideas start with a simple test."
Desk Mini Fridge
We accessorized the automobile space this past spring and now it's time to turn our attention to the cubicle farm where you spend a significant portion of your waking life.
Anything to make things just a wee bit better.
From the website:
- Portable Micro Cool™ Mini Refrigerator
Enjoy cool sodas, delicious sandwiches and fresh fruit at work or on the road as easily as you would at home.
Compact size is portable and ideal for travel.
Works great on or under office desk.
Plugs into standard AC outlet or car, RV or boat lighter to chill drinks, preserve perishables or keep food and drinks cold with the flick of a switch.
Perfect for college kids in dorms or keeping spare drinks in bedroom.
10" x 7-3/4" x 11-3/4".
Holds six 12 oz. cans.
I see where this one works in your car too — maybe you can return the other one.
Too bad about that $149.95.
$39.98 (sandwich and drinks not included).
Fast Food Fashion
From American designer Jeremy Scott's Fall 2006 Collection.
Falter 2D Ballpoint Pen — TechnoDolts™ will please move along, nothing to see here
"Non è solo una penna "in kit di montaggio" ma è anche un righellino e uno stiloforo. Con la chiavina, anch'essa facente parte del set, si può montare la penna in 4 facili movimenti. Nella confezione sono presenti semplici e chiare istruzioni, e un link dove vedere un filmato esemplificativo. La penna è progettata da Albert Ebenbichler e sviluppata da ATOdesign Firenze. È realizzata interamente in Italia con le più avanzate tecnologie."
I hadn't a clue what this thing was until the final seconds of the demonstration video on the website.
I'm sure you'll twig a lot sooner.
[via Milena, who numbers Italian among her many tongues and therefore saw nothing amiss about passing this on to brain-dead moi]
James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti sing 'This Is A Man's World'
[via Jerry Young]
MacBook Air/Pajama Warmer
Think outside the pajama space for which this device is intended.
I mean, when you consider Valextra wants $1,640 to keep your MacBook Air cozy, $34.98 seems a mere pittance.
From the website:
Pajama Warmer — The Ultimate in Luxury
Heat up your jammies for extra cozy relaxation and stop going to bed cold.
Fifteen minutes in this portable electric warming pouch is all it takes to have toasty pajamas at the perfect temperature for a comfortable night's sleep.
Also works with socks, underwear, baby clothes, towels, gloves and more.
20" x 16" x 1".
Multicolor, Red or Purple.
Consider that Valextra doesn't even offer you a choice of colors.
$34.98 (MacBook Air included).
Got your attention, didn't it?