Interesting Inequality Article

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An interesting article on inequality. The journalist is probably of the class who feel some guilt for benefiting from the unjust, enormous upwards redistribution of income that’s happened in the last four decades. The income share of the top 1 percent in the U.S. has doubled from its share during most of the 1950s to 1980. This is an amount high enough to increase the income of people in the lowest 90 percent of the country’s income distribution by over 20 percent, and it’s nearly enough to double the income share of the bottom 40 percent.

I have my disagreements with the article, and it doesn’t offer many solutions relative to its lengthiness. In brief though, one of the most important ways to reduce inequality is to stop wealth from being distributed so unequally to begin with. Market structures have been rigged in all sorts of ways to benefit the wealthy, and instead of only focusing on tax and transfer policy, pre-tax distributions of income need to be focused on more.

Simple Lung Cancer Scans That Could Save Thousands of Lives a Year

Cancer can be exponentially easier to treat or cure when it’s caught early.

A new study found that fewer than 2 percent of heavy smokers in the U.S. get recommended lung cancer screenings, an imaging test that can catch tumors when they are small and potentially curable. The numbers fall far short of screening for other types of cancer, including mammograms and colonoscopies—both procedures that are much more uncomfortable than the CT scan used to detect tiny tumors in the lungs.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., killing an estimated 150,000 Americans each year. For the past five years, such groups as the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Society of Clinical Oncology have urged people aged 55 or older who have smoked a pack a day (or the equivalent) for three decades or more to get checked for early stage disease. Medicare, the U.S. government’s insurance program for the elderly, pays for the procedure. None of it has made an impact.

“It’s still truly abysmal,” said Danh Pham, chief fellow of hematology/oncology at the University of Louisville’s cancer center in Kentucky, who will present the findings at the ASCO cancer meeting next month in Chicago. “We would like to make this a true call to action, whether it’s for more education or more research, to know why this disparity exists for lung cancer.”

It took a while for public health officials to start recommending routine lung cancer screening, because of questions about its accuracy and its ability to make a difference once the disease was detected. Subsequent studies confirmed the benefits for the heaviest smokers, with the use of screening intended for those most vulnerable to tumors.

The researchers analyzed registry data for everyone who underwent lung cancer screening in 2016 and found that 141,260 of the 7.6 million people eligible, or 1.9 percent, received it. By comparison, from 60 percent to 80 percent of eligible people get screening for breast, cervical and colon cancer, said Bruce Johnson, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology and chief clinical research officer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The testing shortfall could stem from primary care doctors’ failure to refer high-risk patients to one of 1,800 approved centers nationwide which provide the service. Psychological issues could also play a role, including fear of being diagnosed with a disease that smokers are constantly reminded of, Pham said.

“It’s very difficult to get patients to have this conversation with their doctors because of the stigma,” he said. “People may not want to know if they have lung cancer because it could confirm they’ve made bad lifestyle choices.”

Lung cancer deaths exceed those from breast, colon, pancreas and prostate cancer combined. There are very compelling reasons to get screened, said Johnson.

“If you screened the entire population of the U.S. who fit the criteria for having smoked enough and being the appropriate age, which is about 8 million people, you could save about 12,000 lives a year,” he said. “The majority of lung cancers picked up are early stage,” and finding them before the malignant cells spread reduces the risk of dying by about 20 percent, he said.

Glyphosate is a Significant Public Health Threat — Doses Previously Considered Safe Now Shown as Harmful in New Study

Glyphosate (found in the dangerous Monsanto Roundup) is a carcinogen that’s now being shown to be harmful in other ways too. It shouldn’t be allowed to be used, and it has already contaminated such large amounts of food supplies.

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Cannabidiol an Effective Treatment for Seizures in Patients With a Severe Type of Epilepsy

Seizures represent dysfunctional brain activity, and the mental process compromised by them is obviously negative. This research is also probably something of a milestone in treatment of seizures — many of today’s medications aren’t that effective and/or come with gruesome side effects.

Cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from the cannabis plant that does not produce a “high” and has been an increasing focus of medical research, was shown in a new large-scale, randomized, controlled trial to significantly reduce the number of dangerous seizures in patients with a severe form of epilepsy called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

In the new study comparing two doses of CBD to a placebo, the researchers reported a 41.9 percent reduction in “drop seizures” — a type of seizure that results in severe loss of muscle control and balance — in patients taking a 20 mg/kg/d CBD regimen, a 37.2 percent reduction in those on a 10 mg/kg/d CBD regimen, and a 17.2 percent reduction in a group given a placebo.

The phase III trial was led by principal investigator and study first co-author Orrin Devinsky, MD, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, and psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine and director of NYU Langone’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, and was published online May 17 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

“This new study adds rigorous evidence of cannabidiol’s effectiveness in reducing seizure burden in a severe form of epilepsy and, importantly, is the first study of its kind to offer more information on proper dosing,” says Dr. Devinsky. “These are real medications with real side effects, and as providers we need to know all we can about a potential treatment in order to provide safe and effective care to our patients.

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“This landmark study provides data and evidence that Epidiolex can be an effective and safe treatment for seizures seen in patients with Lennox Gastaut Syndrome, a very difficult to control epilepsy syndrome,” adds study co-first author, Anup Patel, MD, chief of Neurology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

A study led by Dr. Devinsky published in last May’s New England Journal of Medicine showed a 39 percent drop in seizure frequency in patients with a different rare form of epilepsy, Dravet syndrome. Those findings represented the first large-scale, randomized clinical trial for the compound. Open label CBD studies led by Dr. Devinsky also have shown positive results for treatment-resistant epilepsies.

In April, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel unanimously voted to recommend approval of a new drug application for Epidiolex cannabidiol oral solution, following a meeting where researchers, including Dr. Devinsky, presented their findings. The FDA will decide whether to approve the medication in late June.

“While the news gives hope for a new treatment option to the epilepsy community, more research remains imperative to better determine the effects of CBD and other similar cannabis-derived compounds on other forms of the disease and in more dosing regimens,” says Dr. Devinsky.

Google Employees Resigning Over Google’s Involvement in Supplying AI to the U.S. Military’s Drone Program

AI used in Project Maven is supposed to decide when humans should be killed by the U.S. military drones. But all software has flaws that can be exploited, and the people writing the code the AI uses will have their own biases, which may be horrifying in practice. It’s also just wrong to further amplify the power (and advanced AI adds real power) of a program that has already lead to the bombings of civilian weddings on numerous occasions.

About a dozen Google employees have resigned in protest of the tech giant’s involvement in an artificial intelligence (AI) collaboration with the U.S. military, in which Google is participating to develop new kinds of drone technology.

“At some point, I realized I could not in good faith recommend anyone join Google, knowing what I knew,” one of the workers told Gizmodo. “I realized if I can’t recommend people join here, then why am I still here?”

The resignations follow Google’s failure to alter course despite approximately 4,000 of its employees signing a petition that urges Google to abandon its work with Project Maven, a Pentagon program focused on the targeting systems of the military’s armed drones. The company is reportedly contributing artificial intelligence technology to the program.

Japanese Crow Steals Credit Card to Buy a Train Ticket

The wonders of crow intelligence appear once again.

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We know crows are like, really smart, but are they use-a-credit-card-to-buy-a-train-ticket smart? Well, actually… maybe. One crow has been caught in the act of appearing to try just that after stealing a woman’s credit card in Japan.

In the video from Tokyo’s Kinshichō Station, originally posted to Twitter by user @kinoshi42155049, the corvid is filmed inspecting a ticket machine before hopping over to the customer at the next machine and stealing her credit card as her machine ejects it.

It doesn’t seem to know quite what to do after that point, though – it’s possible that it just wanted the card because of the shiny hologram sticker. (Apparently, the crow did return the card to its owner.)

But there’s evidence that corvids can easily understand bartering. Not only are crows able to reason out cause and effect, ravens have shown they can plan for the future and barter for the items they might need to be able to obtain high-quality food later.

And inventor Josh Klein in the US created a sort of crow vending machine that dispenses peanuts when the birds insert a coin – the idea being to train wild crows to find lost coins in exchange for a snack. Guess what, it works.

Of course, in all of these scenarios the crows have been shown the basics, but there’s evidence that wild crows can work out problems all on their own – such as using the way traffic lights stop cars to drop nuts to be cracked open by the traffic when it starts flowing again.

They even craft their own tools out of sticks to obtain food their beaks can’t reach, and save their favourite tools to use again.

To be clear, there’s absolutely no evidence to suggest that the crow in this video knows what a credit card is for, or how ticket machines work… but, based on what we know of corvid intelligence, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was trying to figure it out.

You can read some more about the incredible smarts of these amazing birds here.

Banning Trans Fats Would Save 500,000 Lives a Year, WHO Says

There are alternatives to trans fats that are so much less harmful, and there’s good evidence that banning trans fats leads to public health improvements.

The use of trans fats leads to about 500,000 cardiovascular disease deaths each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

These products are added to fried foods, baked goods, and snack products, and cause levels of bad cholesterol in blood to spike.

Now the WHO and governments around the world are cracking down. On Monday, the WHO announced a plan calling for governments to ban industrially-produced trans fats within five years.

“Trans fat is an unnecessary toxic chemical that kills, and there’s no reason people around the world should continue to be exposed,” Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), now president and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives, said in the WHO announcement statement.

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In 2001, the Danish Nutrition Council suggested the government limit trans fatsin foods to improve cardiovascular health. In 2003, a Danish law that limited the amounts of these fats in food was passed.

It worked, with death rates from cardiovascular disease falling faster there than in comparable countries.

Other European countries followed Denmark’s lead. Then, in 2006, New York City passed a law banning trans fats, phasing them out of the city by the summer of 2008.

The prompted all kinds of “Nanny Bloomberg” headlines referencing the mayor at the time. But it worked, according to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association Cardiology, reducing heart attack and stroke rates in the city.

Under the Obama administration, the FDA finally followed suit nationwide in 2015, with that ban going into full effect next month.

Trans fats are still commonly sold in countries throughout South Asia and Africa, where weaker regulations and stronger pressure by food producers have kept partially hydrogenated oils in circulation.

The WHO’s new policy can’t actually ban trans fats in these countries. But the hope is that the guidelines will encourage governments to enact these bans.