Daniel Lemire's blog

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Science and Technology links (May 18th, 2018)

  1. How is memory encoded in your brain? If you are like me, you assume that it is encoded in the manner in which your brain cells are connected together. Strong and weak connections between brain cells create memories. Some people think that it is not how memories are encoded.

To prove that it is otherwise, scientists have recently transferred memories between snails by injections of small molecules taken from a trained snail. Maybe one day you could receive new memories through an injection. If true, this result is probably worth a Nobel prize. It is probably not true.

  1. Inflammation is a crude and undiscerning immune response that your body uses when it has nothing better to offer. One of the reasons aspirin is so useful is that it tends to reduce inflammation. There are many autoimmune diseases that can be described as “uncontrolled inflammation”. For example, many people suffer from psoriasis: their skin peels off and becomes sensitive. Richards et al. believe that most neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS) are of a similar nature:

it is now clear that inflammation is (…) likely, a principal underlying cause in most if not all neurodegenerative diseases

  1. Scientists are sounding the alarm about the genetic tinkering carried out in garages and living rooms.
  2. The more intelligent you are, the less connected your brain cells are:

(…)individuals with higher intelligence are more likely to have larger gray matter volume (…) intelligent individuals, despite their larger brains, tend to exhibit lower rates of brain activity during reasoning (…) higher intelligence in healthy individuals is related to lower values of dendritic density and arborization. These results suggest that the neuronal circuitry associated with higher intelligence is organized in a sparse and efficient manner, fostering more directed information processing and less cortical activity during reasoning.

  1. It is known that alcohol consumption has a protective effect on your heart. What about people who drink too much? A recent study found that patients with a troublesome alcohol history have a significantly lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease events, even after adjusting for demographic and traditional risk factors. Please note that it does not imply that drinking alcohol will result in a healthier or longer life.
  2. A third of us have high blood pressure. And most of us are not treated for it.
  3. Eating lots of eggs every day is safe. Don’t be scared of their cholesterol. (Credit: Mangan.)
  4. According to data collected by NASA, global temperatures have fallen for the last two years. This is probably due to the El Nino effect that caused record temperatures two years ago. What is interesting to me is that these low global temperatures get no mention at all in the press whereas a single high temperature record (like what happened two years ago) gets the front page.

That’s a problem in my opinion. You might think that by pushing aside data that could be misinterpreted, you are protecting the public. I don’t think it works that way. People are less stupid and more organized than you might think. They will find the data, they will talk about themselves, and they will lose confidence in you (rightly so). The press and the governments should report that the temperatures are decreasing… and then explain why it does not mean that the Earth is not warming anymore.

The Earth is definitively getting warmer, at a rate of about 0.15 degrees per decade. You best bet is to report the facts:

  1. Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets might prevent cancer progression.1. Participating in the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week, such as brisk walking or biking, in middle age may be enough to reduce your heart failure risk by 31 percent. (There is no strong evidence currently that people who exercise live longer. It does seem that they are more fit, however.)