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January 09, 2010

Study finds anti-depressants only good for extreme or chronic depression

Op-Ed Contributor - The Wrong Story About Depression - NYTimes.com This is a surprisingly good article that focuses on how depression is misdiagnosed and mistreated all across America.
Happy pills don’t work, the story quickly became, even though, boiled down to that headline, it was neither startling nor particularly true. It sounded true. After all, any number of experts have argued that antidepressants — and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Paxil in particular — are overhyped and oversold. And after years of hearing about shady practices within the pharmaceutical industry, and of psychiatrists who enrich themselves in the shadows by helping the industry market its drugs, we are primed to believe stories of psychiatric trickery. Yet in all the excitement about “startling” news and “sugar pills,” a more nuanced and truer story about mental health care in America was all but lost. That story begins to take shape when you consider what the new study actually said: Antidepressants do work for very severely depressed people, as well as for those whose mild depression is chronic. However, the researchers found, the pills don’t work for people who aren’t really depressed — people with short-term, minor depression whose problems tend to get better on their own. For many of them, it’s often been observed, merely participating in a drug trial (with its accompanying conversation, education and emphasis on self-care) can be anti-depressant enough.

January 05, 2010

Stephen Hawking argues that we have externalized our evolution into books, culture

Stephen Hawking: "The Human Species Has Entered a New Stage of Evolution" - The Daily Galaxy Top Story of 2009 Totally fascinating.
"By contrast," Hawking says, "there are about 50,000 new books published in the English language each year, containing of the order of a hundred billion bits of information. Of course, the great majority of this information is garbage, and no use to any form of life. But, even so, the rate at which useful information can be added is millions, if not billions, higher than with DNA." This means Hawking says that we have entered a new phase of evolution. "At first, evolution proceeded by natural selection, from random mutations. This Darwinian phase, lasted about three and a half billion years, and produced us, beings who developed language, to exchange information." But what distinguishes us from our cave man ancestors is the knowledge that we have accumulated over the last ten thousand years, and particularly, Hawking points out, over the last three hundred. "I think it is legitimate to take a broader view, and include externally transmitted information, as well as DNA, in the evolution of the human race," Hawking said. In the last ten thousand years the human species has been in what Hawking calls, "an external transmission phase," where the internal record of information, handed down to succeeding generations in DNA, has not changed significantly. "But the external record, in books, and other long lasting forms of storage," Hawking says, "has grown enormously. Some people would use the term, evolution, only for the internally transmitted genetic material, and would object to it being applied to information handed down externally. But I think that is too narrow a view. We are more than just our genes." The time scale for evolution, in the external transmission period, has collapsed to about 50 years, or less.

January 01, 2010

Science: Does power inspire hypocrisy?

Why powerful people -- many of whom take a moral high ground -- don't practice what they preach
Researchers sought to determine whether power inspires hypocrisy, the tendency to hold high standards for others while performing morally suspect behaviors oneself. The research finds that power makes people stricter in moral judgment of others - while being less strict of their own behavior. The research was conducted by Joris Lammers and Diederik A. Stapel of Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and by Adam Galinsky of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The article will appear in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science. "This research is especially relevant to the biggest scandals of 2009, as we look back on how private behavior often contradicted the public stance of particular individuals in power," said Galinsky, the Morris and Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management at the Kellogg School. "For instance, we saw some politicians use public funds for private benefits while calling for smaller government, or have extramarital affairs while advocating family values. Similarly, we witnessed CEOs of major financial institutions accepting executive bonuses while simultaneously asking for government bailout money on behalf of their companies." "According to our research, power and influence can cause a severe disconnect between public judgment and private behavior, and as a result, the powerful are stricter in their judgment of others while being more lenient toward their own actions," he continued.

December 28, 2009

XKCD explains gravity wells