2013 February 27 Wednesday
Overly Optimistic More Likely To Die?

Speaking as a pessimist there has got to be some error in this study and us pessimists will really die sooner.

Frieder R. Lang, lead author of the study from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany, said: “Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade.

My guess is that pessimists are more conscientious about their health and risks because they see more threats to their health around them. The optimists are thinking "what could possibly go wrong from weaving in and out of commuter traffic on a bicycle". Surely it isn't pessimists who are doing the dangerous bicycle maneuvers at intersections at rush hour. That stuff will get you killed.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 27 08:46 PM 
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2013 February 25 Monday
Mediterranean Diet Still Better Than Other Diets

Lots of other diets have conflicting studies that leave people baffled. But one winner continues to stand out. The Mediterranean diet is still the golden standard (that's golden olive oil) by which other diets are measured. Get most of your fat calories from olive oil and nuts. Eat less red meat. Avoid refined grains. Eat lots of vegetables and fruits. You can cut your stroke and heart disease risk by almost a third. Probably more if you follow the diet for longer than the latest study.

I keep a bottle of olive oil out on my kitchen counter so I'll pour it on stuff. I keep bottles of olives in the fridge too and use them as spicing on foods.

The more sugar and simple carbos you eat the greater your risk of type II diabetes. So instead eat veggies with olive oil poured on them.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 25 09:40 PM 
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2013 February 24 Sunday
Mars Colony Premature Without Genetic Engineering

What would be the point of living on Mars? The cost per person to get there is probably in the hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. The living standard would be incredibly low due to lack of atmosphere, little water, lack of trees and fossil fuels, lack of fish in oceans, lack of very large scale specialization of labor, and other factors. Mars residents would be dependent on Earth for scientific and technological advances for easily a century if not more.

We could not afford to ship a large enough starter human population to Mars to provide enough human population to enable the specialization of labor necessary to support a sustainable Mars civilization. Such a civilization would need large numbers of people doing scientific research, technological development, and creation of the large assortment of industries colonists would need. The needs are greater on Mars due to no oceans, no forests, little atmosphere, and little or no native life.

We have our industrialized nation living standards and can make progress due to specialization of labor. We can do specialization of labor because we have enough people that some can have very narrow specializations. Plus, some are smart enough to learn and do very advanced specializations. Even 100,000 people on Mars couldn't specialize much (at least by Earth standards) unless they were all geniuses and had lots of robot helpers shipped to them from Earth.

Which brings up another topic: There is one powerful way to lower the population threshold for getting a Mars colony to the stage of sustaining a substantial rate of innovation and labor specialization. Create more geniuses once we can do offspring genetic engineering. Then genius candidates for a Mars colony would be easier to find and they'd be able to assure their own offspring would be geniuses as well (no regression to a lower mean).

What else do we need to make a Mars colony viable? Genetically engineered plants and microorganisms that can produce a large number of drugs, other specialty chemicals, textiles, and building materials. The plants would be able to reproduce themselves. By contrast, the specialty chemical factories on Earth require a very complex set of supporting industries (e.g. semiconductors, assorted sensor makers, pump and valve makers, machine tooling makers) to build new chemical factories.

To summarize: A Mars colony needs people much smarter than the average Earthling. Plus, a Mars colony needs plants and microorganisms that can substitute for chemical facilities on Earth that require large specialized industries to operate them. The effect will be to lower the amount of capital and size of human population needed to create industries sufficiently advanced to support humans in such a difficult and dangerous environment.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 24 08:38 PM 
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2013 February 21 Thursday
Suppose You Need To Evade Domestic Drones

The domestic drone unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are coming. Already 64 UAV bases are on US soil. Tens of thousands of drones will be in American airspace in several years.

By 2020, it's expected 30,000 drones will be operating over the US.

Smile, you're on candid drone camera.

The huge growth in commercial applications for drones, notably including the film industry with prices under $1000 has lowered the threshold for companies and private individuals. The drones have become more autonomous and software for extracting useful information from their data feeds continues to become more powerful as well. Farmers, search and rescue teams, pipeline inspectors, rail line inspectors, and countless others who need to search and inspect over wide areas find small cheap autonomous vehicles increasingly cost effective. The rise of personal drones as well as drone with many commercial applications means that government uses will fall to third place.

So what to do if Skynet gains artificial intelligence and takes over the drones? Follow Al Qaeda's 22 tips for evading drone attacks. Go underground (literally), hide under trees (better plant them now), and be ready to coat your car in mud. What's the best material to glue the mud to your car? The holy warriors in Mali use sugar as a bonding agent. What would be better?

You might think it premature to worry about an AI Skynet yet. Fair enough. But suppose TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it) suddenly materializes due to an electro-magnetic pulse or VEI 8 volcanic eruption. In a post-apocalyptic landscape with widespread food scarcity military units (or desperate private predatory groups) can be expected to use UAVs to look for food. You could face a real need to hide yourself and your stuff from them. It is important to know how to cover your car (coating it in mud helps) to prevent it from showing an infrared signature.

You'll need to find ways to spread out the exhaust from a fireplace so it does not show up on a UAV IR scanner. Have the exhaust bubble up thru water? Dig a tunnel for an exhaust pipe to pass thru so the earth will cool the exhaust? Think out these techniques in advance before Skynet or rogue military units come looking for you.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 21 10:22 PM 
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2013 February 19 Tuesday
Offspring Genetic Engineering Debate

In a recent public debate Nita Farahany and Lee Silver argued for allowing parents to genetically engineer their babies while Sheldon Krimsky and Robert Winston argued against. The pro-genetic engineering faction was seen as winning the debate.

Before the debate, 24 percent of the audience supported the idea of prohibiting genetic engineering of babies, while 30 percent were against. Forty-six percent were undecided. After each side presented its case, 41 percent of the audience voted for the motion, "Prohibit Genetically Engineered Babies," while 49 percent sided with the experts arguing against it — making them the winners of the debate.

Any country that bans offspring genetic engineering will fall behind in intelligence, health, and various physical capabilities as compared to countries that allow it. I therefore expect national security intellectuals to come out in favor of offspring genetic engineering once it becomes possible. The military and economic consequences of not raising a larger fraction of the populace up to what are now exceptional levels of ability will be too great and too risky. Countries that ban genetic engineering of future generations will even lag far behind in average beauty. Given the ability to give their babies genes for enormous beauty, intelligence, social skills, health, and longevity a substantial portion of parents will do so. The benefits will be too large to ignore.

Think about an offspring genetic engineering counseling session between parents and a reproductive technology doctor 20 or 30 years from now. The doctor will be able to show parents accurate simulations of what their kids would look like given various random combinations of chromosomes from each parent as well as what those kids could look like with small genetic tweaks. Ditto for projections of intelligence, drive, stamina, and some disease risks.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 19 10:18 PM 
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2013 February 18 Monday
ApoE4 Genetic Variant Accelerates Aging In Women

Hormone therapy protects women who carry the ApoE4 genetic variant which is a risk for Alzheimer's. Estrogen can slow aging in the subset of women who carry this genetic variant.

STANFORD, Calif. — Healthy menopausal women carrying a well-known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease showed measurable signs of accelerated biological aging, a new study has found.

However, in carriers who started hormone therapy at menopause and remained on that therapy, this acceleration was absent, the researchers said. Hormone therapy for non-carriers of the risk factor, a gene variant called ApoE4, had no protective effect on their biological aging.

"This shows that ApoE4 is contributing to aging at the cellular level well before any outward symptoms of decline become apparent," said Natalie Rasgon, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine and director of the Stanford Center for Neuroscience in Women's Health. "Yet, estrogen appears to have a protective effect for middle-aged women who are carrying this genetic risk factor."

Another way to read this: personal genomic testing is starting to get useful. Got variant X? Then drug Y is worth the risks it brings.

You can read the full research report at Plos One. The cool part: APOE-ε4 carriers had 5 times the rate of telomere deterioration. Telomeres are chromosome caps that shrink with age. Shroter telomeres are associated with degenerative disease and increased mortality risk.

Despite the high-functioning, healthy mid-life status of study participants, APOE-ε4 carriers had marked telomere attrition during the 2-year study window, the equivalent of approximately one decade of additional aging compared to non-carriers. Further analyses revealed a modulatory effect of hormone therapy on the association between APOE status and telomere attrition. APOE-ε4 carriers who went off their HT regimen exhibited TL shortening, as predicted for the at-risk population. APOE-ε4 carriers who remained on HT, however, did not exhibit comparable signs of cell aging. The opposite pattern was found in non-carriers. The results suggest that hormone use might buffer against accelerated cell aging in mid-life women at risk for dementia. Importantly, for non-carrier women there was no evidence that HT conferred protective effects on telomere dynamics.

This is a very important result. Women near and after menopause should seriously consider some cheap genetic testing to use in their deliberations on whether to go on hormone replacement therapy.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 18 07:46 PM 
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2013 February 17 Sunday
7 Month Old Babies Distinguish Between Languages

The babies start learning grammatical structures early. It isn't like they have a lot else to do. Might as well start building up neuronal structures for language processing while they wait for the next bottle.

Babies as young as seven months can distinguish between, and begin to learn, two languages with vastly different grammatical structures, according to new research from the University of British Columbia and Université Paris Descartes.

This is an argument for using bilingual nannies. Want your kid to learn Chinese? HIre a Chinese woman for daycare. The earlier the brain gets trained for a 2nd and 3rd language the easier it will be to learn it.

Published today in the journal Nature Communications and presented at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, the study shows that infants in bilingual environments use pitch and duration cues to discriminate between languages – such as English and Japanese – with opposite word orders.

In English, a function word comes before a content word (the dog, his hat, with friends, for example) and the duration of the content word is longer, while in Japanese or Hindi, the order is reversed, and the pitch of the content word higher.

I think the case for early exposure is especially strong for languages that use much different rules. The main European languages are much more like each other than they are to Japanese or Mandarin Chinese for example.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 17 09:39 PM 
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2013 February 14 Thursday
Brain Scans Predict Political Party Affiliation

The rebels sabotaged the functional magnetic resonance imaging machines at government facilities in order to allow their members to pass undetected. The Party sought to import replacement parts. You won't be able to hide in the privacy of your own mind when the Party suspects you of heresy of thought.

Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala. Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.

Imagine what you could to do create new political factions if you could genetically engineer offspring to have different structures for the generation of values and for the recognition of threats. Liberals and conservatives could find themselves facing 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th ideological factions.

A critical unresolved problem common to studies of the formation of ideology on both individual and institutional levels is the process through which a high dimensional space of distinct values, preferences, or issues is reduced to a low dimensional ideological space [3]. It is even less clear why voters and their representatives in government should organize political attitudes into apparently constrained bundles that are relatively consistent over time [47]. While it has been suggested that biological factors may lead liberals and conservatives to have different sets of politically relevant values [48], the evidence presented here suggests that the neural processes of evaluation themselves are distinct, perhaps reflecting differentiable values, as well as differing preferences for issues, candidates, and parties.

The left posterior insula and right amygdala give it all away. You can't hide from an fMRI machine.

Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, a region associated with social and self-awareness. Meanwhile Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala, a region involved in the body's fight-or-flight system. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk.

In fact, brain activity in these two regions alone can be used to predict whether a person is a Democrat or Republican with 82.9% accuracy. By comparison, the longstanding traditional model in political science, which uses the party affiliation of a person's mother and father to predict the child's affiliation, is only accurate about 69.5% of the time. And another model based on the differences in brain structure distinguishes liberals from conservatives with only 71.6% accuracy.

The model also outperforms models based on differences in genes. Dr. Schreiber said: "Although genetics have been shown to contribute to differences in political ideology and strength of party politics, the portion of variation in political affiliation explained by activity in the amygdala and insula is significantly larger, suggesting that affiliating with a political party and engaging in a partisan environment may alter the brain, above and beyond the effect of heredity."

Add in the much greater level of genetic detail and understanding we'll have 10 years from now and the combination of brain scans and genetic testing will make it impossible for normal humans to hide their political allegiances.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 14 09:34 PM 
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2013 February 10 Sunday
Mice Brain Age Declines Reversed With Molecular Change

Restoring neuron production in aging mice prevents decline in learning ability.

Cognitive decline in old age is linked to decreasing production of new neurons. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center have discovered in mice that significantly more neurons are generated in the brains of older animals if a signaling molecule called Dickkopf-1 is turned off. In tests for spatial orientation and memory, mice in advanced adult age whose Dickkopf gene had been silenced reached an equal mental performance as young animals.

This is a surprising result (at least for me). The ability to make new neurons does not make the rest of the neurons in the brain any younger. So I expected less total restoration from the ability to make new neurons.

The hippocampus – a structure of the brain whose shape resembles that of a seahorse – is also called the "gateway" to memory. This is where information is stored and retrieved. Its performance relies on new neurons being continually formed in the hippocampus over the entire lifetime. "However, in old age, production of new neurons dramatically decreases. This is considered to be among the causes of declining memory and learning ability", Prof. Dr. Ana Martin-Villalba, a neuroscientist, explains.

The big risk if this same change could be done in humans: brain cancer. Old neural stem cells are at greater risk of turning into cancer if they replicate. What we need: youthful neural stem cells delivered (how?) into the various places in the brain where aged neural stem cells no longer divide fast enough. The youthful cells would first need to be selected for high genetic quality with no dangerous mutations of the sort that contribute to cancer.

The ability to inject youthful safe neural stem cells into our brains would boost the mental performance of the middle aged and elderly. Productivity would rise as brains with lots of accumulated experience would also have the mental agility of youth. The incidence of brain diseases (e.g. Parkinson's, dementia, Alzheimer's) would plummet.

We would sleep better and form more memories if we could reverse the structural changes that aging causes in brains.

The report, posted online on Sunday by the journal Nature Neuroscience, suggests that structural brain changes occurring naturally over time interfere with sleep quality, which in turn blunts the ability to store memories for the long term.

I'm for brain rejuvenation. When I get it done I also want to opt for some genetic engineering to the neural stem cells that will cause a slow gradual rise in my intelligence as higher performing neurons become a larger fraction of the neurons in my brain.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 10 08:03 PM 
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2013 February 09 Saturday
Envy Depletes Our Willpower

When you find yourself in a situation where you feel envy you will have to exercise self control, i.e. willpower. The problem: You have a limited supply of self control.

We propose that social comparisons with better-off others trigger an impulsive envious response that entails a behavioral tendency to strive for their superior good. However, given that the experience of envy is painful, self-threatening, and met with social disapproval, people typically attempt to control their envious reactions. Doing so requires self-control capacities, so that envious reactions may only become apparent if self-control is taxed. In line with these predictions, four experiments show that only when self-control resources are taxed, upward comparisons elicit envy paired with an increased willingness to pay for, to spontaneously purchase and to impulsively approach the superior good.

As John Tierney and Roy Baumeister explain in their book Willpower, your ability to control yourself is a limited and very valuable resource. One way to avoid draining your willpower: stay off Facebook. Avoid the envy that depletes your self control.

Witnessing friends' vacations, love lives and work successes on Facebook can cause envy and trigger feelings of misery and loneliness, according to German researchers.

Plus, if you are active on Facebook you run the risk of brutal unfriending. This causes people to avoid each other in real life.

Facebook makes millions of people miserable. Why do that to yourself?

The feeling of envy causes many people to favor wealth redistribution. I think the depletion of willpower that envy causes and the redistributionist impulse it encourages in politics is an argument for making rich people hide their wealth.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 09 12:20 PM 
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2013 February 06 Wednesday
The Big Feb. 15, 2013 Near Earth Asteroid Fly-By

Asteroid 2012 DA14 is coming to visit. The 150 foot asteroid (big enough to wipe out a city) will pass inside geosynchronous orbit and

Amateurs found it.

We really ought to make a bigger effort to find killer asteroids. We might already know about an extinction event asteroid coming our way if we'd spend the Space Shuttle or International Space Station money on asteroid detection instead.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 06 09:07 PM 
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The Potential For Shale Oil Production

Heard about the big shale oil extraction boom in North Dakota? California has 4 times as much shale oil as North Dakota and that's over two thirds of total US shale oil.

So far, little of the crude is derived from the Monterey Shale, whose untapped deposits are estimated at 15.4 billion barrels, or more than four times the reserves of the Bakken Shale in North Dakota, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

Shale oil is cited as a reason why Peak Oil is a bad theory. But consider: 15.4 billion barrels is less than half current world yearly oil consumption. The Monterey Shale is not that big.

Don't get me wrong. Shale oil is good news for the United States because it cuts imports and provides higher paying jobs. But shale oil is not going to delay Peak Oil for decades. We hear "drill baby drill" as a way to boost oil production in the United States. But already 64% of the world's oil rigs are operating in North America. The boom has limits.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 06 08:55 PM 
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2013 February 01 Friday
Clovis People Not Wiped Out By Comet

What happened to the Clovis culture?

Comet explosions did not end the prehistoric human culture, known as Clovis, in North America 13,000 years ago, according to research published in the journal Geophysical Monograph Series.

Researchers from Royal Holloway university, together with Sandia National Laboratories and 13 other universities across the United States and Europe, have found evidence which rebuts the belief that a large impact or airburst caused a significant and abrupt change to the Earth's climate and terminated the Clovis culture. They argue that other explanations must be found for the apparent disappearance.

The Clovis comet theory has reached zombie status. So then were the Clovis people wiped out by zombies? That creates a new mystery: What wiped out the zombies? Suggestions welcome in the comments.

"The theory has reached zombie status," said Professor Andrew Scott from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway. "Whenever we are able to show flaws and think it is dead, it reappears with new, equally unsatisfactory, arguments.

Another theory (and you read it here first): The Clovis people were kidnapped by space aliens. They are now living in a huge zoo planet closer to the Galactic core where other species can come and watch unbelievable humans act in ways that more intelligent species find preposterous.

By Randall Parker 2013 February 01 07:29 PM 
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