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Does TV Watching Make You Sick? Not Exactly…

June 14, 2011 Leave a comment
File:Televison Hungarian ORION 1957.jpg

Beware! It might kill you! Photo Credit: Istvan Takacs

I’m a little annoyed with some headlines hitting a few news websites today:

TV Watching Raises Risk of Health problems, dying young

Excess TV time linked to early death

TV time tied to death, diabetes risk

The stories are talking about a study getting published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association

The study is a meta-analysis of 8 studies over the past 40 years which look at the correlation between watching television and risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The study found, unsurprisingly, that increased television watching was correlated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The pooled relative risks per 2 hours of TV viewing per day were 1.20 (95% CI, 1.14-1.27) for type 2 diabetes, 1.15 (95% CI, 1.06-1.23) for fatal or nonfatal cardiovascular disease, and 1.13 (95% CI, 1.07-1.18) for all-cause mortality.

In layman’s terms, this means that for each 2 hours of television watched per day, risk of type 2 diabetes increased by about 20%, risk of developing fatal or non-fatal heart disease increased by about 15%, and risk of dying of any cause increased by about 13%.

So does watching TV make you sick? Not exactly.

I’m not doubting the results of the study, though they should be taken with the usual grain of salt that should be taken with all epidemiological studies.

They are observational studies, not controlled studies in a lab. There are many variables which can influence the results.

That being said, the results of the study are not surprising and I have every confidence that there is truth in there.

But the media takes these types of studies, gives them a sensationalized headline and doesn’t put them in the proper context.

Watching TV does not make you sick; being lazy makes you sick. What this study is really showing is that watching TV correlates to a lazy lifestyle.

There’s nothing wrong with kicking back and watching some Star Trek reruns or even *groan* Dancing with the Stars. Just make sure you go out for a jog now and then. Or play some basketball. Or just do anything that isn’t sitting around and being lazy!

I’m sure snacking is a big factor in the results of this study as well. No doubt increased time in front of the TV leads to eating more unhealthy foods.

But if you sit in front of the tube and eat baby carrots or oatmeal, then you are probably not at a huge risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

So if you watch a lot of TV, you’re not necessarily going to die young because TV doesn’t make you sick.

But if you eat a lot of junk food and don’t exercise, then you might die young. But then again, THAT’S not exactly news, is it?

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CERN Traps Anti-Matter For 1000 Seconds

May 4, 2011 8 comments

ResearchBlogging.org

Antimatter is cool.

It lets us perform PET scans and powers the starship Enterprise. But it is extremely difficult to study.

That is because when anti-matter comes into contact with normal matter, they annihilate one another, emitting pure energy (photons). This is unfortunate for scientists because they would love to study anti-matter, but developing a trap for it is understandably tricky. The anti-matter particles can easily interact with background gases or the walls of the container.

But last year, researchers at CERN published a paper in Nature (which I also blogged about) describing how they managed to trap 38 atoms of anti-hydrogen (an antiproton orbited by a positron) for 172 ms.

They have not stopped working on improving their trap, however, and have now performed a study detailing how they were able to trap anti-hydrogen for 1000 seconds, an increase of nearly 4 orders of magnitude from their previous paper.

This is what they did:

First, CERN’s Antiproton Decelerator creates the antiprotons which will be used to create atoms of antihydrogen. The Anitproton Decelerator provides antiprotons in groups roughly 3 x 107 in number. Only anti-protons which have an energy less than a certain amount (< 3 keV) are trapped. Typically the number of antiprotons less than this energy threshold is ~6 x 104. These antiprotons are then cooled and compressed.

After this initial step, the antiprotons are then mixed with a cloud of positrons in an effort to get these two components to combine into atoms of antihydrogen. After mixing for about 1 second, the researchers end up with about 6 x 103 atoms of antihydrogen.

All this takes place inside a magnetic trap. The trap is cylindrical in shape and has a length of 270 mm and a diameter of 44.5 mm.

A schematic diagram of the anti-hydrogen trap (a). The other graphs in this figure show the strength of the magnetic field at different points in the trap.

In order to actually “trap” the anti-hydrogen atoms, a magnetic field is generated inside this cylinder. The field is shaped such that the magnetic field is weakest in the middle of the trap (~ 1 T), and stronger along the edges of the trap (~ 2 – 3 T). In this way, a type of “well” is created which keeps the antihydrogen atoms in the middle of the apparatus, which prevents them from interacting with the walls of the trap and annihilating themselves.

After holding the antihydrogen atoms for a certain period of time, the researchers would shut down the magnets and wait for the atoms to annihilate themselves by hitting the walls of the trap. A special detector counts these annihilation events and allows them to detect the number of anithydrogen atoms remaining after the experiment.

Why don’t all the antihydrogen atoms remain? Most of them are lost through interactions with gases inside the trap, such as helium and molecular hydrogen.

They varied the experiment time from 0.4 seconds to 2000 seconds, and did several attempts for all time lengths. As you might expect, they detected more annihilation events per attempt for the short time lengths (e.g. 1.13 ± 0.13 events/attempt for 0.4 second time length) than the longer time lengths (0.77 ± 0.29 events/attempt for 1000 second time length).

Ah but now you are thinking, “but they did some experiments at 2000 seconds, why aren’t we hearing about that?”

The reason is that they only did  3 experiments at the 2000 second time scale, and while they did detect a few events, the results were not strong enough to say for sure that they were able to trap antihydrogen at that time scale.

The paper also discusses some of their computer simulations and how they compare to the actual experiment results, but I will leave that to the interested reader. 

So what are the implications of this work?

Being able to trap anti-matter for this period of time will allow for much easier ability to perform spectroscopy, since the density of atoms and intensity of radiation needed are dramatically reduced in the anti-matter can be held for a long period of time.

In addition, trapping anti-hydrogen for this long time scale will allow researchers to cool the anti-matter to very low levels, allowing them to probe the effect of gravity on anti-matter.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.org

ALPHA Collaboration, G. B. Andresen, M. D. Ashkezari, M. Baquero-Ruiz, W. Bertsche, E. Butler, C. L. Cesar, A. Deller, S. Eriksson, J. Fajans, T. Friesen, M. C. Fujiwara, D. R. Gill, A. Gutierrez, J. S. Hangst, W. N. Hardy, R. S. Hayano, M. E. Hayden, A. J. Humphries, R. Hydomako, S. Jonsell, S. Kemp, L. Kurchaninov, N. Madsen, S. Menary, P. Nolan, K. Olchanski, A. Olin, P. Pusa, C. Ø. Rasmussen, F. Robicheaux, E. Sarid, D. M. Silveira, C. So, J. W. Storey, R. I. Thompson, D. P. van der Werf, J. S. Wurtele, & Y. Yamazaki (2011). Confinement of antihydrogen for 1000 seconds arXiv arXiv: 1104.4982v1

The Science of Your Political Views

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment

While Canadian politics could never match the emotional idiocy of American politics, I’ve seen some pretty heated discussions in the past few weeks.

The Canadian federal election is a couple of weeks away, and with the debates over and done, we are in the home stretch of campaigning.

But how much do attack-ads and party platforms really affect our decision of whom to vote for? Is it possible that our political leanings are more influenced by ‘nature’ than ‘nurture’?

An article in The Globe today discusses the neuroscience behind political viewpoints. As it turns out, the brain of a conservative works differently than that of a liberal.

Dr. David Amodio, Assistant Professor of Psychology at New York University, discussed what these differences were, and how they affect what political party we support.

According to a 2007 paper Dr. Amodio published in Nature Neuroscience:

on average, conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles, whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity and novelty.

So conservatives tend to be more, shall we say, stubborn in their political viewpoints than liberals, who tend to gather more information and can be more flexible with their views.

While this may conjure up a stereotypical image of the crotchety old man, so set in his ways that he refuses to vote for anyone but the Conservatives, you should take these studies with a grain of salt.

It is only fair to point out that most of these studies are designed by liberals and may have some bias, and there are certainly many exceptions to these “rules”.

One very interesting study discussed in The Globe conducted at Princeton University:

people were shown black-and-white photographs of the faces of rival political candidates. After viewing each pair of photos for a mere half a second, they were asked which candidate looked more competent. In fact, the candidates they judged to be more competent had won their races two-thirds of the time.

This indicates that, regardless of political leanings, people tend to vote with their emotions as much, if not more, than with their brains. As much as I hate attack ads and staged photo-ops, it would seem the strategists are using science to their advantage.

So whether you identify yourself as a Liberal or a Conservative, NDP or Green, it couldn’t hurt any of us to be aware that the way our brains work can influence how we vote, and we should make an extra effort to stay informed on all the issues; instead of voting for the same party every time just out of habit.

I Guess I Have to Retire From Blogging Now

April 6, 2011 3 comments

xkcd has (once again) said it all. Basically summarizing my entire blog in a single cartoon.

 

There’s just…nothing left for me to add. What more can be said? What am I going to do with my time now?

I guess I could try knitting…

 

Canadians are the World’s Biggest Net-Nerds

March 9, 2011 2 comments

A report released yesterday by ComScore has found that Canadians spend more time online, about 43.5 hours per month in 2010, than any other country! Hurray!

The United States was second with 35.3 hours per month, followed by the UK with 32.3.

Some other notable statistics were that there was a 12% growth in Canadian users in the age group of 55+ in 2010 compared to 2009. Keeping in touch with the grandkids I guess.

And while traffic to Social Networking sites like Twitter and Facebook went up 13%, visitors to blogs went down by 9%.

C’mon people, close down your TweetDeck and drive up the site stats on my blog would ya?

I’m not really sure if Canadians should be proud of this or not. Does this mean we are the most tech-savvy of all nations, or that we have nothing better to do?

Of course it does get pretty cold up here in the winter time, so I’d rather be watching stuff on YouTube than braving the -25C weather in Calgary. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, right?

The Adventure of Links: Feb. 19, 2011

February 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Since I’ve been slacking on my links, this will be a big one. Within you will find that sex in space would be tricky, a statue of Robocop, thundersnow, proof of “unintelligent design” and a genetically modified jalapeno.

Physics/Astronomy

Tesla vs. Edison Mad Lib. Yes, you read that correctly.

A biopic about Einstein is in the works.

Scientists smash giant granite balls together to simulate asteroid impacts (w/video)

Its been 10 years since Fox tried to convince people the moon landing was a hoax. Fox has not improved much in the last decade.

Learn physics from an NFL cheerleader. Science rules!

How Vikings navigated using crystals and polarized light.

Health

Gonorrhea has human DNA

How long is a severed head conscious for?

Why beer batter is better for fish and chips.

You mean Nutella isn’t really healthy? Whaaa?

Sugary soda may increase efficiency of brain activity.

A jalapeno genetically altered to hold more cream cheese for jalapeno poppers. I feel fatter already.

Fun/Funny

Fantasy casting posters re-imagine classic sci-fi films. Tim Curry as the Joker? Weird…

Ancient humans used skulls as goblets. Mmmmmm…

The Angry Birds finally settle their disagreements.

Detroit to erect a statue of Robocop.

The mystery of which Cubs game Ferris Bueller went to has been solved!

Lions and Tigers playing with an iPad.

A piece of cake from Charles and Diana’s royal wedding sold at auction. Some people have WAY too much money.

Winston Churchill’s false teeth sold at auction. Seriously, TOO MUCH MONEY!

Sexy Stuff

Space sex would be tricky, says NASA.

Best Science headline I’ve read in a while: Two Timing Spacecraft has Date with Another Comet (w/video)

Why girls moan during sex. Sorry guys, turns out we aren’t THAT good….

Folk Myth : Can shoe size predict penile length?

Post Orgasmic Illness Syndrome. Yes, it’s a real thing.

Girls like monkey sex. Literally.

Internet/Technology

Internet users more likely to volunteer

New device uses EM pulses to detonate IEDs from a safe distance.

A robot that can hear you breathing. Through walls.

Want to have a confession but don’t want to talk to an actual priest? There’s an app for that.

Amazon adds real page numbers to the Kindle.

Mexican cops seize a home-made marijuana hurling catapult near U.S. – Mexico border.

We’ve run out of IP addresses! Run!

Nature

Japanese researchers plan to resurrect the Woolly Mammoth in 5 years. Don’t get your hopes up.

The essentials of bear hibernation

Natural selection limits how many attractive males can exist in a population

The mystery of how fleas jump has been solved.

Thundersnow. What else needs to be said?

Polar bear swims 9 days straight.

Skepticism

An explanation for why people hold on to irrational fears.

In India, Astrology is a science. I know, right? *FACEPALM*

Filmmaker psychs out psychics and ET believers.

External testicles prove “unintelligent design”.

Show Homeopathy Works, Win A Million Dollars!

February 7, 2011 3 comments

ten23. Homeopathy: there's nothing in itOn Saturday, February 5th 2011, skeptics from 10 different countries took a mass overdose of homeopathic “remedies”.

Everyone was ok.

It was part of the 10:23 campaign, which I blogged about on Friday. The point of the demonstration was to show that these products are not medicine, and do absolutely nothing.

Concurrently with the demonstration, James Randi of the James Randi Educational Foundation issued a challenge to Homeopaths. The challenge is quite simple:

Show that a homeopathic remedy works better than a placebo for ANY illness, in a double-blind clinical trial designed by YOU, the homeopath, and supervised by reputable scientists. If you can show a statistically significant effect in a study of this kind, you will win $1 million for yourself, or the charity of your choice.

If homeopathy worked, this challenge would be an easy win for homeopaths. If a homeopathic remedy did anything at all, it would show a statistically different effect than a placebo. Of course, this type of study has been done many, many, many times and the results are remarkably consistent: homeopathy does not work.

James Randi gives a very nice explanation about the ideas behind homeopathy, which unfortunately are not common knowledge. My favourite quote from the video is

Many people think that the work ‘homeopathic’ just means ‘herbal’ or ‘natural’ medicine and they are shocked to learn what it really means. It should be a crime for pharmaceutical corporations to profit by denying the public this critical information about the products on their shelves.

It is extremely important that the truth about homeopathy becomes well-known. Particularly now, since I have just read on the Huffington Post (which I read when I am feeling masochistic) that a Doctoral degree is being offered in Homeopathy in the United States.

Those who graduate from the doctoral program will be qualified to diagnose illnesses and treat them with homeopathic medicine.

This is frightening. Many people have been harmed by seeking homeopathic treatment in the place of real medicine. And it just simply doesn’t work.