I’m a little annoyed with some headlines hitting a few news websites today:
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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…
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.
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?
Everyone was ok.
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.