Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Ten Science (and Maths) Anniversaries of 2022

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, History of Science, Maths, Nature of Science, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

--Science News notes its top ten science anniversaries from the death of a famous Persian mathematician to the birthday of "vaccination man," while sneaking in one of its own SN anniversaries. What a fascinating list, a reminder of the great lineage of science and maths.

The list and commentary is by Tom Siegfried, a contributing correspondent to SN, who introduces the article with this observation: "Even though it’s only even odds that 2022 will turn out to be less of a disaster than 2021 (or 2020), at least 2022 is the best recent year for compiling a Top 10 list of science anniversaries."

It includes a now extinct technology for doing mathematics, the slip-stick (slide rule, a K & E). The first one I ever owned was stolen and I replaced it with a very inexpensive plastic model that did all I ever asked of it (and quite capable of doing more). 

School days, dear old golden slide rule days. 


Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Purple Yam

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Agriculture, Science & Society, Culture

Ed Hessler

Many years ago in a workshop for teachers I didn't attend, a futurist had made a loaf of blue bread-standard recipe, only food coloring added to the dough. (also before gluten-free options). Upon offer not everyone was willing to try it but the presenter used the occasion to focus on "What if?" questions and change.

I thought of this story when I watched a CBS Sunday Morning presentation on "purple yam, a staple and rising export from the Philippines." It is "a feast for the eyes when used in cakes, pies, drinks or ice cream."

Correspondent Elaine Quijano provides an introduction to "the vivid violet tuber that's taking root in America in her report (3 m 23 s) on what is commonly referred to as "the ube."

Healthline reports on Ube's nutritional value. And, yes, they can be baked. I'd love one.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Our Minds: What Biological Evolution Reveals

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Biological Evolution, History of Science

Ed Hessler

As the introduction to this discussion states, "Needless to say, that evolution is responsible for all of our physical and psychological characteristics."

And in this episode of The Life of the Mind, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker "discusses evolutionary psychology, the study of behavior, thought, and emotion viewed through the lens of evolutionary biology."

The discussion is 13 m 31 s long and may be viewed here

It is also a very good review of the theory of evolution and how it informs the study of biology.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Jellyfish for Eats?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

Antonella Leone, a  biochemistry researcher at the National Research Council - Institute of Science of Food Production in Leece, Italy says this about her work, "Despite the stings, sampling jellyfish in the Mediterranean the best part of my work."

Leone is assessing "jellyfish as a potential food for the past four years." The project is part of the Gojelly project funded by the European Union. It is also an interesting website.

This is another in the Nature Briefing series Where I Work and even shorter than usual. It is described as a 2 minute read. There is a striking image of Dr. Leone at work.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

A Target Pattern In The Atmosphere

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Earth & Space Science, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

This image from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) is of an atmospheric phenomenon new to me and also draws attention to the power of gravity. Gravity holds a distinction among the fundamental forces of nature: it is the weakest. But on larger scales in the universe it is the strongest - it acts over incomprehensibly long distances. 

The sky photographed is one that most of us can only dream about ever seeing. Fortunately, the rest of us can share the pleasure of another's looking up, noticing recording, and posting this lovely photo. The explanation deepens and broadens this experience.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving Day

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature, Agriculture, Wildlife, History of Science

Ed Hessler

Thanksgiving has a long and complicated history and because the day's meal with family and often friends is a reminder on what we owe to biodiversity and human culture (ancient to modern, economics, trade), I the following includes the history of Thanksgiving as well as some notes about 1863 - an eventful year in American history, the establishment of an important science, engineering, and medicine institution and finally an image for Thanksgiving.

--Here is a presidential history of Thanksgiving from the Library of Congress (LOC) with photographs, illustrations and links. President Abraham Lincoln was the first to proclaim it in 1863. It was an encouragement for Americans to recognize "a day of Thanksgiving." The motivating force was Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential author and editor who petitioned five different presidents between 1846 - 1863 for its recognition. 

President Franklin Roosevelt contributed to making it a fixed holiday but his proposal that it be celebrated the last Thursday of November led to public outrage and the Congress passed a law (77 H. J. Resolution 41) on December 26, 1941 making the fourth Thursday in November a legal holiday, effective in 1942. Even the tradition of granting a presidential pardon to a turkey has a more complicated history than meets the eye. Minnesota doesn't have this tradition.

All is explained in the LOC history. 

--And from the history of the U. S. House of Representatives a much shorter history of the holiday and of H. J. Resolution 41.

--On March 3 of the same year President Lincoln signed a bill drafted by Senator Henry Wilson into law establishing the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). The NAS was established as a private, honorific institution charged with providing independent advice on science and technology to the federal government." Here is a list of fifty scientists who were the incorporators of the NAS.

The American Institute of History provides a short history of the NAS. Membership in the NAS is a widely accepted mark of excellence in science and is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. There are about 2500 members and Minnesota has had a variety of scientists nominated for membership.

--As you know in January of 1863, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and July of that year marked what is considered the turning point of the Civil War: The Battle of Gettysburg. From the Library of Congress (LOC) is an annotated timeline of the war for 1863. 

--There is a turkey above us, way above as you can see from this magnificent image from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD).

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Where I Work: Coral Reef Ecology

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, History of Science, Biodiversity, Nature, Wildlife, Earth & Space Sciences, Earth Systems

Ed Hessler

The journal Nature's Where I Work features coral reef ecologist Henri Vallois who works in the Caribbean where he is a faculty member of the University of the West Indies.

Science writer Linda Nordling describes his work, "We monitor the abundance and diversity of corals, algae, sponges and fish. Barbados no longer has populations of large fish, such as groupers and snappers, because of overfishing. The populations of parrotfish, Barbados’s most important species ecologically and economically, have seemed stable for the past decade.

"Reefs are under threat globally, and the biggest losses of corals here occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Since the 1990s, the shallow reefs have stabilized, but the deeper reefs have continued to deteriorate."

By now you know that these are short reads - ~ 3 m - about the variety of scientific careers  which sometimes includes, as this one does, where the early interest of a young boy led. 

So please read it to learn a little more about his career.


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Our Sandcastle Cities

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Global Change, Climate Change, Sustainability

Ed Hessler

In this 11 m 23 s video from the journal Nature is explored the concept known as the "sandcastle economy."

I think most readers know that we are running out of river and beach sand, tending to forget that "sand is everywhere in cities: it's in the pillars of skyscrapers, the surfaces of roads and the walls of our homes."

The video explores "a fresh framework for thinking about construction and the economy could help to combat the sand crisis and preserve the vale of materials for decades to come." Some benefits from a circular sand economy include "less sand  in landfills, less energy wasted during construction and a more sustainable industry that benefits businesses and the planet."

It has an important and difficult ingredient: "collaboration between industry, governments and academia."

Monday, November 21, 2022

Marie Tharp: A Google Doodle

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Geology, Earth & Space Science, Geology, Earth Systems, Nature of Science, History of Science

The Google Doodle for November 21 continues a long tradition of presenting splendid histories of the people involved in the event in novel ways. This one is wonderfully drawn, narrated and delightfully interactive. 

It is also about the nature and history of science. Skepticism v. evidence, the influence of long held theories to explain the natural world and treatment of women scientists at the time. What a hold theories have on us even when they have outlived their usefulness in moving a field forward. In the end science rules.

Here is the Google link  with information about Tharp, links to the narrators who are scientists, There are links to the three narrators who are practicing scientists, photos, the behind-the-scenes process for the artwork, and Q & A with the the narrators.

Music: Is It The Universal Language?

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Art & Environment, Anthropology

Ed Hessler

Many of us when asked would say that music is the universal language. This claim attracted the attention of former musician and developmental psychologist, Samuel Mehr who directs the Harvard Music Lab. What he really wondered was whether the claim was based on evidence?

Harvard cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker discusses Mehr's work during this discussion of the the large role of music in cultures around the world. Close to the beginning of the video Pinker states that the answer is yes. 

The short introduction beneath the video notes that there is "substantial evidence to say that music is the labyrinth that connects us all." Pinker was one of three mentors who served on Mehr's EdD committee in human development and education.

Pinker's short video (4 m 59 s) describes the research. 

Be sure to check the Mehr link above which includes a link to The Music Lab, his personal website and a Twitter feed. There are some fascinating short games to play as well. It is a rich and interesting site.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Some Octopuses Throw Things With Intentions

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Nature, Wildlife, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

Octopuses are known for their solitariness. Because the gloomy (what a name)/Sydney octopus live "at very high densities, a team of cephalopod researchers decided to film the creatures with underwater cameras to see whether - and how - they interact."

According to the short report in the journal Nature by Emma Marris, "one behavior stood out: instances in which the eight-limbed creatures gathered shells, silt or algae with their arms - and then hurled them away, propelling them with water jetted from their siphon." That they were actually "targeting one another" was suggested by these clues: direct contacts occurred "when the thrower was displaying a uniform dark or medium body color, sometimes the recipients were seen to duck,
throws that made octo-contact were also more likely to be accomplished with a specific set of arms, and the projectile was more likely to be silt."

According to one of the researchers, the "behavior is probably social" and this finding according to another octopus neurologist "opens a new door for inquiries into the social lives of this family clever animals."

Marris's article may be read here which links to the original report (also fully available) and includes two photographs (short GIFs) from the original paper of the throwing behavior.



Saturday, November 19, 2022

2022 STAT Wunderkinds

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

What a pleasure to introduce the 2022 STAT Wunderkinds, of whom there are twenty-eight in this year's class. They were selected from more than 200 outstanding researchers. Among all of them are likely to be a few scientific superstars. Please meet each of them.

The range of research is wide and diverse including policy and drug pricing, molecular biology, and bioengineering, one of whom "has developed a printable ink made from bacteria."

There is a picture of each member of the 2022 class  and a brief description of their work. You can link to their stories. STAT published a short YouTube video (2 m 07 s) with three of them which may be seen here.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Using Hydrax Latrines to Study Climate Change in the Long Term

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Biodiversity, Nature of Science, History of Science, Climate Change, Global Change

Ed Hessler 

Hydrax latrines are the research focus of paleoecologist Lynne Quick in the Cape Fold Belt mountains of South Africa. See the Wiki entry for information about the discipline known as paleoecology.

Hydrax are known to use the same spot as latrines for "tens of thousands of years." Brian Chase who leads the research team extracted "a wedge (from a midden - a layered refuse heap) that we brought back to the lab for analysis."

The team will determine the age of the midden layers, learn what hydraxes have eaten over time (clues for climate change), charcoal (occurrence of wildfires, and "fungal spores which can reveal which animals were nearby."  

The aim of the research is to "have a much more nuanced and detailed view of climate change in southern Africa."

This is a short read from the journal Nature's "Where I Work" series. It includes  a photograph of Dr. Quick in the field - rugged terrain!

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Leaf Peepers and the Study of Climate Change

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Phenology, Global Change, Climate Change, Sustainability, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

Stephanie Spera, assistant professor of physical geography, University of Richmond directs a citizen science project with the aim of understanding the reasons why "over the past 20 years, September and October have had the greatest increases in visitors to Acadia National Park." Are visitors coming for "foliage or weather?  Are the leaves turning later in the year? Is the foliage season shorter or longer, and why?" 

Her first step is studying the season. To do this, Dr. Spera and her colleagues are asking for tourist snapshots of Acadia National Park that show the colors of fall. While they'll accept...cellphone selfies, they're especially interested in predigital images--the sort of vacation pictures that might be albums...shoe boxes in an elderly relative's attic." They want "to extend he boundaries of their data set outwards."

You may learn more about this project featured in The State of Science, "a series of science stories from public radio stations across the United States." Links about the project are included. Additionally, Dr.Spera's homepage includes a link to the Acadia National Park Fall Foliage Project. Second Century Stewardship: Science for America's National Parks has a page about the project which includes a short video in which Spera describes the project. Under "Read More" on the same page you can learn still more from links to reading and media coverage.

I know we are a long way from Acadia National Park but I highlight the research for several reasons: the value of citizen science, as an example of the nature of science, the use of GIS in data collecting, and scientific practice--seeking another line of evidence supported by data.

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

The Great Moon Hoax

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Solar System, Earth & Space Science

Ed Hessler

A moon hoax that fooled the world, launched  in 1835 is the subject of a BBC Reel film (7 m 31 s).

It may seen here.

Monday, November 14, 2022

Sean Carroll on Whether Free Will Violates the Law (the laws of physics, that is)

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Behavior, Brain, History of Science, Nature of Science

Ed Hessler

In the description for Sean Carroll's discussion of free will, the two positions many scientists and philosophers of science take is laid out in the following way.

"Debates about the existence of free will have traditionally been fought by two competing camps: those who believe in free will and those who don’t because they believe the Universe is deterministic. "Determinism is the thesis that every event — from when a volcano erupts to what cereal you buy at the supermarket — is a theoretically predictable result of the long chain of events that came before it. Free will, it was long thought, cannot exist in a world where all events are already causally determined.

"But free will and determinism aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

I don't read a lot about free will/determinism but it is easy to find debates and positions on the Web but enough to know that being a compatibilist is often used as evidence of some missing/unused/denied reasoning power in light of the evidence. In those circles Dr. Carroll I've seen him described as one.

In a short Big Think video (6 m 43 s) Carroll discusses free will vs. determinism, determinism, the biggest mistake in the free will debate, libertarian free will, compatibilist free will, objection to compatibilism, and the experience of free will. 

The discussion may be viewed here where there is a link to the video transcript, below that a short bio of Dr. Sean Carroll, and links to more Big Think stories on free will. You might want to scan the comments, too.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

A New illustration of The Universe

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Cosmology, Earth & Space Science, Astrophysics, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

I previously posted one of the following images which is included in a fresh look at the bigness of the cosmos. It was a reminder of what became an iconic film, Powers of Ten (1977), Eames Office, Chicago.

Graphic designer Pablo Carlos Budassi takes a different view - logarithmic - to fit everything from Earth to the edge of the observable universe into one image. The Eames brothers uses a linear scale; Budassi, a non-linear scale.

Here it is and it is nearly as glorious as the up and out, way-out, there, the cosmos. You can listen to the article as well as view all of the images so scroll down, accompanied with side notes. What a breathtaking journey it is. Keep in mind that it takes us to the limits of what is the currently observable. The website is well-named: BigThink.

This place was born in a hot Big Bang. Current research and scientific theory suggests it will end in spectacular fireworks as black dwarfs begin to explode ( totally) then the universe will be become both very dark and very cold. 

In summary, upheaval, the universe as we know it will befollowed by the barest whisper of a whimper.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Total Lunar Eclipse Vicariously

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Astronomy, Astrophysics, Earth & Space Science, Solar System 

I didn't see much of the total lunar eclipse in my small part of the world - just a few minutes when the clouds thinned and fissured. Perhaps you were fortunate enough to view more of it.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for November 7 featured what for me is a surrogate. It is of a total lunar eclipse over Tajikistan. The question posed was "If the full Moon suddenly faded, what would you see?" Part of that answer is it all depends on where you are, e.g., in the city or in the country or in sparsely populated areas without night's urban glare.

The image is of a "dramatic time lapse video" (~1 m) taken in 2011. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Our non-dark skies prevent us from seeing what's "up there." There is music. My choice after watching it with and without the music is definitely without.

APOD also published this colorful composite image of a total lunar eclipse -  beginning, middle , and end.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Friday Poem

Environmental & Science Education, Poetry, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

"Moths" is by Jennifer O'Grady.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Beet Root Juice

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society, Behavior

Ed Hessler

I don't attempt to keep up with food supplements but here is one that caught my eye and which is not new. It is about athletes, some of whom "have been long experimenting with supplements to boost their performance."

I'd never heard of beetroots being used as a supplement and perhaps you hadn't either.  The blurb about the film notes that "the juice from beets are packed with nitrates, that some scientists and nutritionists believe could help and athlete win their competition?" So can it make us somewhat like "The Six Million Dollar Man... stronger and faster?"

Here is the BBC Reel video (8 m 10 m).

And here is a review from PubMed Central, National Library of Medicine. It includes a table with a classification of nutritional supplements, based on performance effects, a discussion of why it used and what happens when it is ingested (with an illustration), summary of studies (Table), effects (acute, chronic, performance, in combination with other supplements), dosage, practical considerations, and conclusions of which there are four.

 At the end the authors wrote, "We cannot assert that the combination of beetroot juice with other supplements has a positive or negative effect on cardiorespiratory endurance. It is possible that the effects of supplementation with beetroot juice can be undermined by interaction with other supplements such as caffeine. More work is needed to confirm the results of these investigations."

And here is one more study on the "effects of a single dose of beetroot juice on cycling time trial male triathletes." There is a box at the top of the paper with summaries of the background, methods, results, and conclusion.

I couldn't help but consider taking the results of such carefully controlled studies to the road where the athletes themselves or the coaches would administer the drinking of the juice where the conditions would not be so carefully controlled. This is why such carefully designed investigations have to be done in order to determine whether there is/is not a measurable effect.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

October's Sharpest Science Shots Selected by Nature's Photo Team

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Art & Environment, Wildlife, Nature, Earth & Space Science,  Geology, Earth Systems, Biodiversity

Ed Hessler

Nature's photo team has selected October's sharpest science shots.

Open, free and always lovely probes into and about the world with great explanations and sometimes links to take you into a side gallery.. 

Take a leisurely scroll.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Jordana Cepelewicz - Mathematical Physicist

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Maths, Mathematics Education, History of Science

Ed Hessler

I enjoy interviews with scientists and mathematicians that are long enough to provide a good profile of the person. 

Here Jordana Cepelewicz, Quanta Magazine, interviews mathematician Sventlana Jitomirskaya, born in Karkiv, Ukraine in 1966. 

No math required - a person one is glad to know something about.

Cepelewicz does the all important job of providing a short biography. Interestingly "she would only start pursuing a career in mathematics as a result of politics and cirsumstance. In the Soviet Union, any humanities (as a child she considered studying Russian poetry) would inevitably be too enmeshed with Communist ideology, her move to the United States, and the mathematical area for which she is known professionally.

The interview includes questions about her childhood interest in literature, being steered away from maths by her family, particularly her mother, early signs of mathematical ability that she noticed about herself as a school girl, dealing with antisemitism in Russia, what she found different in her talents for physics and mathematics, the intersection of her work with physics (she is a mathematical physicist), use of free time, a short comment on her children, the proposed K- 12 California mathematics curriculum, the Ukraine, what she was like as a graduate student and how she started thinking differently about her successes - when she started being recognized for her work she thought it was because she was a woman. It wasn't.

Monday, November 7, 2022

Stellar Mysteries

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Solar System, Cosmology, Earth & Space Science, Astrophysics

Ed Hessler

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology has prepared some challenges, called Mysteries of the Solar System and Beyond

The instruction is simple. "Become a solar system detective and see if you can solve the stellar mysteries in this slideshow before reading how the scientists did it." I couldn't help but think of one big difference between a person with a casual interest in what's out there and the scientists who study it, is that the know a lot and for many of the images were specialists but that doesn't take away the fun.   

I haven't done them all but so far I have not done well.    

Sunday, November 6, 2022

The Way Things Work

Environmental & Science Education, Literacy, Art & Environment

Edward Hessler

The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl reviews and describes a show at the Guggenheim Museum, New York City that features the work of Peter Fischli and David Weiss in the February 29, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.  This show is appropriately featured on the Museum's ramp.

You may respond with a "Huh?" "Who?"  I did.  Their names eluded me but the picture at the top was familar and the caption the clincher.  These are the guys who made a well known and loved film, The Way Things Work (1987).  Schjeldahl describes this bit of whimsy as made of "jury-rigged structures of common objects--chairs, tires, barrels, plastic bags, ladders, kitchenware, ropes, thread, balloons, wagons, lots of improvised carpentry--come to sequential grief..."  Fischli and Weiss used gravity and, of course, viewer pleasing, "fire, water, air, and explosive, slippery, and corrosive" agents.  

Not to be done at home, with or without supervision!

The film may seen here.

Schjeldahl was born in Fargo, North Dakota but grew up in small towns in Minnesota.  He attended Carleton College where he was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, at the Carleton College commencement on June 13, 2015.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

8th Annual Mangrove Photography Awards

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature, Wildlife, Biodiversity, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler

Winning images from the 8th Mangrove Photography Awards have been announced. The contest is run by the Mangrove Action Project (MAP). There were 2,254 entries and all of them are on view at the MAP link.

The BBC has a photogallery which shows the overall winner and the winners in the seven major categories. Each photo is accompanied with an explanation including comments about mangrove forests.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Thursday, November 3, 2022

Black Kites

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Science & Society, Art & Environment

Ed Hessler 

Indian Filmmaker Shaunak Sen witnessed a raptor which had been circling the polluted sky over Delhi drop to the ground in mid-flight." He wondered what had happened to them. 

A Google search led him to two brothers, Nadeem Shehazad and Muhammad Saud, who have spent their lives trying to save black kites. The sky from which they fell is their home, regardless whether it is polluted or not. What keeps them there is food. Black kites are opportunistic feeders and also snatch away kills from other birds. The link describes them and their interesting behaviors and life preferences.

Meeting the two brothers led to the production of the film All That Breathes, the winner of the 2022 Cannes Film Festival documentary prize. This short video (3 m 21 s) describes the work and also can serve as an introduction to the full film. Here is the official trailer (2 m 40 s)

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

About the Gold Standard Colonoscopy Study


Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

You've probably seen  reporting on a gold standard trial which put colonoscopy screening to the test. Eighty thousand participants (ages 55 to 64) from Poland, Norway and Sweden were invited to participate. A random sample of 28,000 were chosen of which 42% agreed to colonoscopies during that period. The rest received their usual care which did not include routine colonoscopies. They were followed for ten years and data were collected on colon cancer diagnoses, deaths, and deaths from other causes.

Angus Chen has written a thorough report for STAT News which if you are at all interested in the findings and interpretations is must reading. And if you are of a certain age you may want to. I do not do it justice here as I pick and choose.

According to Chen,  "the trial’s primary analysis found that colonoscopy only cut colon cancer risk by roughly a fifth, far below past estimates of the test’s efficacy, and didn’t provide any significant reduction in colon cancer mortality." Many thought that colonoscopy would do better because it is widely heralded and promoted, including clever PSA's, many aimed at men, traditionally recalcitrant to visiting a doctor much less receiving a colonoscopy. I recall one opening with "Real Men Wear Gowns."

Gastroenterologist Dr. Samir Gupta, University of California, San Diego and the Veterans Administration showed surprise, telling Chen, while stressing the point,  "that the study does not invalidate colonoscopies as a useful screening tool. Colonoscopies are still a good test but it may be time to reevaluate their standing as the gold standard of colon cancer screens. “This study provides clear data that it’s not as simple as saying, "‘Colonoscopy is the most sensitive test, and therefore it is the best.’ It still prevented cancers.'”

As you know the intestinal probe includes a camera and when pre-cancerous polyps, known as adenomas, it’s promptly removed, thus nipping the cancer before it spreads." The results of studies of this intervention showed a large reduction "in the incidence and mortality from colon cancer."  None of these previous studies was large or randomized.

When asked about the study, Dr. Jason Dominitz, "the executive director of the National Gastroenterology and Hepatology program at the VA," told Chen that "nuances abound in interpreting the data. For one, a minority of participants who were invited to colonoscopy actually showed up for one. That may have diluted the observed benefits of colonoscopy in the study. Cancer treatment has also progressed over the last couple of decades, too, and the study only had 10 years of follow-up thus far, both of which would make it harder to see a mortality benefit from the screen. 'They’re doing a 15-year follow, and I would expect to see a significant reduction in cancer mortality in the long term. Time will tell.'”

A less robust "secondary analysis also offers another silver lining," according to Dr. Gupta." When the investigators compared just the 42% of participants in the invited group who actually showed up for a colonoscopy to the control group, they saw about a 30% reduction in colon cancer risk and a 50% reduction in colon cancer death. 'That adds to a bunch of observational study data that suggests exposing people to colonoscopy can reduce risk of developing and dying of colon cancer.'” 

Continuing, University of Oslo study leader Dr. Michael Bretthauer said that "colonoscopy screening’s true benefit may lie somewhere in between the primary and secondary analyses in his study. 'You may reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer by 20 to 30% if you get a colonoscopy.' Bretthauer said. That brings it more in line with the other main colorectal cancer tests, which analyze feces for signs of cancer, either abnormal DNA or blood, and can be taken at home.

"That raises an important point for policymakers." Bretthauer added. "Colonoscopy is more expensive, more time-intensive, and more unpleasant in preparation for patients. Many European countries balked at putting public health dollars towards a large, expensive program, he said, when the fecal testing was cheaper, easier, and had greater uptake in certain studies (linked in Chen's article). “'Now, the European approach makes much more sense. It’s not only cheaper, but maybe equally effective.

The original research was published in the New England Journal of Medicine where you may read a free preview - abstract, background, methods, results, conclusions, i.e., not the entire article or many details unless you are a subscriber or have an account allowing access.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Women and Men are Different, Cardiovascular Edition *

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine, Nature of Science, History of Science

Ed Hessler

A  cardiovascular study has shown another physiological difference between men and women, one that appears likely to influence health care. STAT's Jane Williamson-Lee reports on the study which had some novel design features because the research team wanted to film hearts in action, during exercise. 

Two research groups were involved from The University of Calgary and the University of Hong Kong The design chosen had  research subjects "lie on their back in a pressure controlled chamber, riding a suspended stationary bike while an ultrasound imager points at their pumping heart." What follows is not a complete report and you need to read the full reporting. 

The results were reported in Science Translational Medicine (19 October 2022) Williamson-Lee summarizes the results in one short sentence. "[W]omen’s lean body mass, composed mostly of skeletal muscle, correlates with a better-functioning heart, while men’s do not.." It is well known that "men had significantly more lean body mass than women." The article is fully available and includes a PDF.  

The study subjects were "70 healthy, white adults. When asked "why other racial or ethnic groups weren't included," co-author David Montero "said that the sophisticated physiological methods used did not allow the researchers to perform a large population study."

Lead author Candela Diaz-Canestro added that "This work is part of a larger body of literature that seeks to overcome previous bias in research favoring male subjects — both in mice and in people.. As a researcher, she has been '“trained to extrapolate these results to women, and as we have seen now in this study, for some details, we can’t do this extrapolation.” 

To which Dr. Emily Lau, Massachusetts General Hospital, added when interviewed by Williamson-Lee, “'For so long in medicine, we’ve really treated men and women as essentially the same thing or if anything, we treat women as little men,' "prioritizing women’s smaller size over other fundamental biological differences. It’s no surprise that there’s a 'myth that heart disease is really a disease of men."”

For information about Candela Diaz-Canestro I direct you to two sources. The research paper linked above and to co-author David Montero under publications.

The decline in knowledge of this health statistic surprised me. Williamson-Lee noted. "When asked, 'What’s the number one cause of death in women?' two-thirds of women in a 2009 American Heart Association survey (linked in the report) were able to answer correctly: heart disease. Ten years later, in 2019, only 44% percent of women were able to say with confidence that heart disease is the leading cause of death in women." 

Limitations of the famous Body Mass Index (BMI) are reported.When a woman's weight exceeds what is expected for her height, one recommendation is to lose weight. However, Williamson-Lee points out that  "The body mass index, commonly used to measure body fat based on height and weight, does not differentiate between a person’s fat mass and their lean body mass."

Montero also told Williamson-Lee that the research “'open(s) the possibility that improving lean body mass, which can be improved with resistance training and other interventions, may be able to improve cardiovascular function and structure, and many strong diagnostic factors [related to] cardiac capacity and aerobic capacity in women.'”

Williamson-Lee also details some of the information about lean body mass, mentions limitations, clinical possibilities, some related observations, made during the study on lean body mass and cardiac effectiveness, textbook re-writing (likely in future and as more data are collected) and notes that the team is in the midst of research on an Asian  population.
*The title is taken from the title of the STAT report cited. I liked it.