Friday, June 15, 2007

Advertisers can get us to harm our health

When will the average American start believing what his frontal lobes tell him? It seems that we are very easily influenced to act against the advice of our own reasoning capacity. A recent post on Sharon Begley's blog, Lab Notes, says that 36% if us will go along with an unwise suggestion if we like the way it sounds.

Begley writes:

"In a disturbing study from Canada, scientists find that names can strongly influence decisions patients make about treatment.

"To investigate what role a name plays, scientists at McMaster University started out by showing volunteer patients information on the benefits and harms of various treatment options...

"The treatment options were labeled "treatment A," "treatment B" and "treatment C," ...virtually all (96 percent) of the participants said [an educational presentation] helped them choose among the three treatments.

"Then the scientists replaced A, B and C with the treatment's true name "warfarin, acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) and "no treatment."

"36 percent of the patients changed their initial choice, including 46 percent of those who initially chose warfarin and 78 percent who initially chose no treatment, the scientists are reporting this evening in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

"Although they grasped the risks and benefits, that rational decision was trumped by the pull of the name, or the belief that no treatment (which is actually the best option in some cases) must be the worst choice. No wonder drug advertising is so effective."

Monday, June 11, 2007

Parents to spend 2 years in prison for beer at party

A Virginia woman and her ex-husband will spend 27 months in prison for allowing her son’s16-year-old friends to drink beer at a sleepover. Elisa Kelly’s reason for providing the beer was that she didn’t want the kids to drive to get alcohol. About half of the kids at the sleepover drank no alcohol at all.

Ryan Kenty, Elisa’s son, was so distraught about his mother’s situation, for which he felt guilty, that he dropped out of high school. Ryan’s younger brother, now 16, will not have his mother around for quite a while. It seems unlikely that anyone’s life has been improved by the government’s actions in this case.

Still, Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney James L. Camblos III isn’t feeling the family’s pain. It would appear that he didn’t become a public servant in order to make life better for other people, but to make life better for himself. This seems like another case where the justice system is being abused by someone with a pathological need to inflict pain. Camblos knows that a good way to get people to vote is by identifying an evil, and working everyone into a frenzy over it. Certainly underage drinking is a problem, but it’s also a reality, and Mr. Camblos’ actions are not likely to stop 16-year-olds from drinking. Camblos will just make it more likely that they’ll drive somewhere to get their alcohol.

Daniela Deane of the Washington Post writes:

“"No one left the party," said Kelly, 42, who collected car keys that night almost five years ago to prevent anyone from leaving. "No one was hurt. No one drove anywhere. I really don't think I deserve to go to jail for this long."

“Kelly said she's "scared" to go to the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, where each of her sons will be able to visit her only once a month for 15 minutes at a time, and worried about how her sons will fare without her. "I'm going to miss the end of Brandon's high school," she said of her 16-year-old son, choking back tears.

“After the incident, Ryan dropped out of high school, where he was an athlete and a member of the school's basketball team, saying he couldn't take the constant attention. He shelved plans to attend college and now works full time at UPS. The brothers will live nearby with their father, Marc Kenty, until their mother is released.”

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

600 Years Ago, Samoans Sailed to Chile and Introduced Chickens

We assumed that Spanish conquistadores brought chickens to South American, but we were wrong. Thor Hyerdahl assumed that South Americans sailed on rafts to Polynesia. He got it wrong, too.

It was the other way around. A rare mutation in chickens first appeared in Tonga two thousand years ago. Descendants of those Tongan chickens were flourishing in Samoa 600 years ago, and at the same time, they showed up in Chile.

Scientist Alice Storey from New Zealand worked on the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The truth was revealed after a team stumbled across some old chicken bones in Chile, and decided to carbon-date them and DNA test them.