Author Archives: tkm5196

The Thing About Conspiracies

No matter where you’re from, you know one. If you’re from the Himalayas it’s the Yeti. If you’re from Scotland, it’s Nessie. If you’re from Mexico, it’s the Chupacabra. If you’re from America, it’s Sasquatch. If you’re from New Jersey, it’s the Jersey Devil. If you’re a sea goer, it’s the Kraken. If you’re on drugs, it’s the Unicorn. No matter where you go, every place seems to have it’s own mythical creature. Whether they are real or not we may never actually know, but my question is; why do we care so much?

According to a survey by Joseph E Uscinski and Joseph M Parent of the University of Miami, about a third of Americans believe the conspiracy that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake. About as many people believe 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration. I’m sure many of you reading this probably believe in one of these as well.

The thought that the only people that believe these, as well, are only grown up white men living in their mom’s basement turned out to also be false. Uscinski and Parent found that age, gender, race, income, educational level, or political affiliation had no affect on the results. However, each group did not believe each conspiracy equally. For example, left-wing liberals were more likely to believe media outlet and political parties are pawns of rich corporations and right-wing conservatives are likely to believe the same of academics and liberal elites.

One of the craziest conspiracies I have ever heard of was one created by David Icke a British conspiracy theorist. It states that reptilian overlords who control the world’s leaders rule the world. Icke has stated people such as George W. Bush and Queen Elizabeth II are both of this reptilian species from the galaxy Alpha Draconis. In 2013, Public Policy Polling ran a poll that found that 4% of registered voters, or 2.8% of Americans, believed in Icke’s ideas. At first this may sound like a small percent, but when taking in the amount of people that live in the U.S., this is about 12, 756,000 Americans believe in Icke’s idea. That is an absurd amount of people for such a ludicrous conspiracy theory.

As for why people believe in these theories, Jan-Willem Prooijen believes it may have something to do with control. Prooijen set up a study of 119 people, 39 men and 80 women. The study was a pencil and paper task, and involved participants being asked to describe a situation in which they had complete control over a situation, or a situation in which they had no control over. The baseline situation was asking the participants what they had eaten for dinner the previous night. Obviously here, the null hypothesis is that control would have no affect on the person’s belief in conspiracies, and the alternative hypothesis is that less control will create more of a tendency to believe in them. After this was finished, participants were asked to read a story about the North-south Amsterdam metro line. After reading the fact-based article, participants were asked to rate on a scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree” what they felt about conspiracies toward the situation on the North-south metro. The results of the study found that those with the least control were more likely than those with high control to believe the conspiracies. The neutral situation also leaned toward believing conspiracies more than the high control group.

I know this study was a relatively small one, but I believe it was a big step in the direction of learning why people believe in myths and conspiracies, considering it were the first one of the sort. The test also didn’t exactly give people a situation where they had low control or high control; it just asked them to recall a situation of the sort. This leaves a large room for chance to be the reasoning for the outcome.

Either way, being from New Jersey, I will still always think the Jersey Devil is real.

Sources:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/acp.3161/full

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reptilians

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-people-believe-in-conspiracy-theories/

patterson_bigfoot_video_32932

The Terrifying Truth About Sleeplessness

Recently, I stumbled upon the scariest story I have ever read. It was about an experiment done by the Russians during the WWII. The Russian scientists decided they wanted to see what would happen to a person if they did not go to sleep for an extended period of time. The amazing thing about the experiment was that it wasn’t conventional at all; they scientists were only doing the experiments with a null hypothesis: that staying awake for a long time does nothing to the brain, there was no alternative hypothesis, the scientists just wanted to see what would happen. Also, this experiment was terribly unethical; the subjects were prisoners of war, falsely promised freedom after the experiment. There was also a large element of physical harm involved in this experiment, which I will get to later. The experiment was to put these five subjects in a secured room with a stimulant-gas to keep them awake. In the room were beds, but no bedding, bathrooms, running water, and enough food to last the subjects a month. There was only a small window to look into the room, and an intercom to hear what the subjects were saying. As the experiment grew on, the subjects became more and more senile and seemingly dead. When the guards entered the room, they found the subjects as the picture below shows, the most vile beings, if you could even call them that, anyone had ever seen. Eventually the subjects died or were killed after several tests were run on them. This was seriously the scariest thing I’ve read in my entire life, if you want to read about it, here is the link.

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Now, after further researching this experiment I found that it was a work of fiction, of course. No such specific test was ever done, however, tests were done on military subjects concerning sleep at their own will and discretion, but none of them turned the subjects into demon-zombies, usually the tests were either severely painful or lethal.

This reading this story, however, did make me curious about sleep. What happens when we sleep? Why do we need it? What happens if we don’t get enough of it, or any at all?

It turns out; why we sleep is a great unknown among scientists.

What sleep is and how we sleep, in contrast, has actually been discovered. Until the 1950s, sleep was thought to be completely passive: the body would shut down and rest. We now know that sleep is largely an active process for the brain, the exact process I have shown below in this picture.

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But why we sleep is another question.

Sleep studies are actually a very common thing. The study is called polysomnography, and it can diagnose someone with a whole range of sleep disorders. According to Medline Plus, “Your health care provider will place electrodes on your chin, scalp, and the outer edge of your eyelids. You will have monitors to record your heart rate and breathing attached to your chest. These will remain in place while you sleep. The electrodes record signals while you are awake (with your eyes closed) and during sleep. The test measures the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep and how long it takes you to enter REM sleep.” The electrodes detect a range of things, from brain waves, to heart rate and breathing, to eye and leg movements. When the test is finished, a specially trained doctor will examine your results, and be able to tell you if you have a disorder. Disorders can range from insomnia, to narcolepsy, to sleep apnea.

While scientists can’t figure out exactly why we have to sleep, they have been able to determine some results and consequences of a lack of sleep. According to HealthySleep, a Harvard-run website, besides the usual short-term affects like drowsiness, bad mood, and lack of focus, a lack of sleep can affect a person heavily in the long-term: leading to diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. HealthySleep also adds that there are three methods of studying these results: sleep-deprivation studies, cross-sectional epidemiological studies, and longitudinal epidemiological studies.

Sleep-deprivation studies are exactly what they sound like. According to HealthySleep, “(this) involves depriving healthy research volunteers of sleep and examining any short-term physiological changes that could trigger disease. Such studies have revealed a variety of potentially harmful effects of sleep deprivation usually associated with increased stress, such as increased blood pressure, impaired control of blood glucose, and increased inflammation.” These studies are ethical, of course, because the subjects volunteer to do the test, they agree that the people running the test are not liable for any consequences coming of it.

Cross-sectional epidemiological studies don’t exactly examine the sleeping person themselves; they examine questionnaires filled out by people who have been classified with the same disorder or group of disorders at one time. For example, “both reduced and increased sleep duration, as reported on questionnaires, are linked with hypertension, diabetes, and obesity.” These studies, however, cannot examine the effects of the sleep itself, because it is only a questionnaire, the people aren’t being studied directly.

The third and most convincing type of research, longitudinal epidemiological studies, follows a person with a sleep disorder for an extended period of time. Over this time, they examine the effects of the lack of sleep, and compare them to other patients to try and find links.

Almost all of these methods of study find that lack of sleep can lead to diseases such as diabetes and high-cholesterol.   So, in conclusion, while no one may know why we sleep or why we need sleep, all of the above material concludes that sleep is indeed necessary for our well-being. You hear that, over-worked and under-slept college students? Go to bed early tonight: it’s good for you.

Sources:

http://creepypasta.wikia.com/wiki/The_Russian_Sleep_Experiment

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/consequences/sleep-and-disease-risk

http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/polysomnography/basics/definition/prc-20013229

https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003932.htm

https://www.sleepassociation.org/patients-general-public/what-is-sleep/

The Science Behind the Earworm

We’ve all had it, that one song stuck in our head all day that we just can’t get rid of. This phenomenon is called an earworm. Some classic songs you may think of with catchy tunes may include “Call Me Maybe”, “Who Let the Dogs Out”, and “The Final Countdown”, just to name a few (I’m really sorry if that made those songs get stuck in your head). According to a study by Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Music Perception and Cognition, “more than 91 percent of people reported having an earworm at least once a week, while about a quarter had them more than once a day.” The study also says that the usual earworm is a bit from the chorus of the song and lasts around eight seconds.

No one is really sure why we get songs stuck in our head. Some scientists believe that it is because when we listen to music we are actively participating. “There’s a lot of activity in the motor planning regions,” says Elizabeth Margulis, director of the Music Cognition Lab at the University of Arkansas and author of On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind.

Another hypothesis is that we almost guess the next note of a song subconsciously in our heads, “when you’ve heard [a song] the fourth or fifth time, [one] note carries with it just so clearly the implications of the next note. You can almost feel exactly what’s going to happen next,” says Margulis. In other words, the notes we anticipate next we keep imagining in our heads are the ones that get stuck. We want to remember the song, so we try and remember the notes, and then we can’t forget them.

Basically, it’s like your brain is singing inside your head.  Victoria Williamson, a visiting professor at Switzerland’s Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and a fellow at the University of Sheffield, maintains that despite us hating our earworms, most of our experiences are neutral or positive. “We’re more inclined to remember the things that annoy us,” she says. “So if you ask somebody about an earworm, they’ll tell you about the one that annoyed them yesterday. They won’t tell you the three or four they briefly had in their head which they didn’t really notice, or [which] just kept them company as they walked around.”.

It’s kind of crazy to think about earworms. Our brains are singing to us all the time. So the next time you start thinking the beat to Seven Nation Army at a Penn State football game all day, don’t be upset about it, just think how cool it is to have your brain sing to you!

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Sources:

http://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/why-do-songs-get-stuck-in-our-heads/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earworm

Goo Lagoon: A Possibility?

Recently, scuba divers have found what appears to be a river at the bottom of a quarry.

Wait, what?

I know; it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around. Cenote Angelita is a cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. A cenote is “a deep sinkhole formed from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.” According to Ripley’s. Cenotes often have a vast majority of underwater caves, as well. When first looking at Angelita, it looks like any other natural swimming area; clear, fresh water. It isn’t until about 29 meters under the water where the real magic happens. Under the fresh water is a one-meter thick layer of hydrogen sulfide, which is heavier than the fresh water above. Underneath the hydrogen sulfide is the ever denser saltwater. Looking at the divide in the water is absolutely breath taking. If it weren’t for the presence of the diver in the photos, I would not have even known the picture was taken under water; it looks like a regular river. This phenomenon is called halocline. Halocline happens when cold, dense seawater sees a very sharp desalination gradient. This also explains how we see ice in the ocean, since we know saltwater doesn’t freeze. This process occurs when the untouched saltwater in the underlying caves of Angelita meets the fresh rainwater when it rains. So far, Angelita is the only place where this amazing site is possible to be seen. There are plenty of other cenotes in the Yucatan, which is a popular tourist spot in Mexico. Tourists can visit the caves and see the mysterious salt and fresh water in the different caves.

One very interesting thing is that much like when you shake an oil and vinegar container, when someone passes through the halocline, the layers mix. Eventually, the layers separate again, and the halocline is once again formed. The sole thing I take away from this: Goo Lagoon from SpongeBob SquarePants IS indeed possible.

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Sources:

http://www.ripleys.com/blog/mysterious-underwater-river/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halocline

Helmets: Stopping Injuries…or Causing Them?

American football and rugby are very similar contact sports. The difference, mainly, between them is that American footballers must wear helmets and a lot of padding, while rugby players wear basically nothing. Recently, there has been a surge of concussion related incidents in the NFL, and a push towards lowering the risk of concussions. The NFL is investing in creating more protective helmets to prevent concussions in its players. On the other side, rugby isn’t having, and has never had a concussion problem before. But, if both are contact sports, why does the sport without helmets have less head injuries than the one with helmets?

The answer may be surprising at first. The reason comes in the form of something called risk homeostasis, or risk compensation. Like what we talked about in Andrew’s class the other day, humans subconsciously weigh risks and rewards in their heads before committing an act. This appears in football when one player is hitting another. “When a player has a body part that’s protected, and the contact with somebody else is imminent, you’re going to put your protected body part first, just reflexively.” Says Dr. Erik Swartz, a kinesiology professor at the University of New Hampshire. So, when football players are going to hit each other, they naturally lead with their head, since it is so well protected, or so they think.

So, why are there so many more concussions in football than rugby?

The answer: tackling style.

When a rugby player tackles another player, he instinctively knows not to go for the head, because it will hurt. This reflex is not there when football players hit each other, because a sense of “invincibility” develops in the players mind. The same is true about MMA fighters and boxers. MMA fighters are proven to punch their opponents less hard than boxers, because they subconsciously hold back because of the little padding they have on their hands. While they think they want to hurt the person they are fighting, subconsciously they know it is another human, and they hold back. Boxers do not. The glove on the hand of a boxer gives the same sense of “invincibility” as a helmet on a football player. They don’t believe they can hurt their opponents as much as an MMA fighter believes he can.

A football player can use his head like a weapon, and not believe anything will happen because of the helmet they are wearing. This has lead to the NFL investing greater in better head protection. But, is that what’s going to stop concussions?

Many people believe the solution to the concussion problem is taking away the helmets.

There is a pad-less football league in America called the A7FL, which is a 7-on-7-football league for semi-pro players trying to stay in game shape. The game is full contact, and according to the players, very much less concussion-prone than the NFL. This is because the players know not to go for each other’s heads, because they don’t have helmets.

In my opinion, the best thing to solve the concussion problem in the NFL would be to remove the helmets. The problem is, this is very unrealistic. I think the best solution would be to teach the players how to hit without teaching them to use their heads as weapons.

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Sources:

http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl-news/4645531-nfl-concussions-football-helmets-risk-taking-behavior-brain-injury-helmetless-tackling-technique-lawsuit

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risk_compensation

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2014/01/09/concussion-epidemic-should-helmets-be-banned-from-football/

Flying Snakes? This Is The End

It’s really the stuff of nightmares. You hear a snake hissing at you, but he’s high up in a tree. He can’t possibly get you, he’s all the way up there, and you’re on the ground, running away. You turn your head for a second, and when you turn back, there it is; your biggest fear. The snake is flying towards you. No, this isn’t science fiction; it is an actual genus of snake, called the Chrysopelea. Find a cooler snake than this, I dare you.

These snakes are absolutely fascinating because at first look, they actually look like they are flying. But, you ask, how can a vertebrae-less animal with no appendages at all fly? The answer is actually riveting.

Much like the flying squirrel, these snakes can’t exactly fly. They appear like they can, but they are actually just gliding. Chrysopelea like to climb trees to find prey, then, once they spot the food, they can launch themselves from the tree for an aerial attack on the poor unsuspecting prey. When the snake is in the tree, it wraps it’s tail around the limb of the tree, and lets itself hang. From there, there are three forms of takeoff for the snake. It can fall, which is the least effective, by simply letting go of the branch. It can dive, which is a small swing and launch forward, or it can jump, which is the most often studied and fascinating to watch.

Takeoff Methods

The usual jump for is called the “J loop takeoff”. In this method, the snake hangs from a tree, and curves its body near its head. The snake kind of twists itself so it’s body is faced toward the side with it’s head, curve, pointing forward towards where it wants to land. This creates the “J” shape, where it gets its name. To take off, the snake will shoot its head and body at an upward angle to create an arc. This arc usually takes the snake higher than its original takeoff point. As it swings upward, it releases the branch with its tail, and the snake begins its flight.

In the dive method, the snake starts in a very similar way, in a hang. From this point, the snake swings less, and doesn’t arc above its takeoff point. The snake aims its head towards the ground, and initiates flight that way. This method is studied less than the j loop takeoff, and is mostly used by the snake when the target is much closer to the tree it’s hanging from.

The fall takeoff is the most self-explanatory. In this maneuver the snake simply just lets go of the branch with its tail, with usually little to no movement. This is the fastest method of takeoff for the snake, which can be used when the prey is right under the branch the snake hangs from. This takeoff also suggests that the snake can use it when escaping predators, like predatory birds, and depending on species, mongoose.

The Flight

Now, here’s where the good stuff starts. After its chosen takeoff, how does the snake “fly”? Well, it starts off by flattening its under-belly. This flattening happens from the head, all the way down to the snake’s vent, or anus. This shape is generally required to be able to take flight. The shape is concave, or curving inwards, to allow the air more air to come underneath, slowing the snake’s decent. It is much like a planes wing in that it creates more air underneath to create lift, or in the snake’s case, air drag. If a regular round snake, incapable of flattening its belly, tried to do this, it would simply fall. The air would move right around the snake without creating the lift. The snake propels itself by whipping its tail back and forth very quickly, which is what makes it appear like it is flying, when indeed it is only gliding. When the snake’s stomach flattens, it acts like a birds wing, or like a parachute, and slows the decent while the snake propels itself towards its prey. One limitation of the flight, though, is that the snakes most likely can’t breath while in flight. During the flattening, the belly is pressed against the rips, allowing no room for air. If the snake were to breathe in, the curvature would be compromised and the snake would begin to fall.

The Kill

Like many other snakes and predatory animals in the animal kingdom, the snake attacks by going for the throat. The snake will bite the throat, and crush it with its jaws, paralyzing the prey. Like other snakes, Chrysopelea swallow their food whole. These snakes prey on animals like rodents, lizards, insects, and bird eggs, but tend to avoid frogs. Some species even eat other snakes as well.

Habitats

There are three different known species of Chrysopelea; C. Ornata, C. Paradisi, and C. Pelias. C. Ornata tends to live in tropical areas like Thailand, and have been known to use palm tress to hang, and launch themselves from. All forms of Chrysopelea are found in South or Southeastern Asia.

Venom

The Chrysopelea are only mildly venomous, and have not been reported to kill or harm a person yet. They are often killed by accident, however, by people who assume they are harmful and venomous. Some species are even cooked for food by the people of Thailand.

All in all this species of snake is fascinating. Just thinking about watching a snake flying down from behind me gives me the chills. However, if I had the opportunity to see one in a zoo, it would be the first habitat I visited.

Here is a short Youtube video of the snake flying:

The Chrysopelea, mid-air.

The Chrysopelea, mid-air.

All Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysopelea_ornata

http://icb.oxfordjournals.org/content/51/6/969.full

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysopelea

Are We Human Beings? Or Human Doings?

If any of you are anything like me, you always have to be doing something. I can never sit still. If I’m in my room I’m on my phone, if I’m in class I’m taking apart a pen, then putting it back together. In between sets at the gym I’m checking Twitter or Snapchat. I have to be doing something, looking at something, playing with something. Boredom is not in my vocabulary because I’m always going, always thinking, always doing. This may seem like a good thing, but as soon as things start to stack up and I have a lot on my plate, my brain scrambles and I struggle to actually accomplish what I need to do.

Realizing this, I wanted to find out what exactly boredom was. I wanted to find a scientific description of what is happening in the brain when we are bored. Upon doing research, I found a Canadian study that did just that. They defined boredom as “an aversive state of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity”, or in other words, you’ve lost your attention to something. The head researcher in this study, John Eastwood, is a professor at York University. What struck me in their report was something Guelph psychology professor Mark Fenske said, “It’s an amazingly under-studied area given how universal the experience is,” which he is right, it’s pretty safe to say we’ve all experienced boredom, but none of us know exactly what it is.

Now that I had a definition for boredom, I decided I wanted to know what was physically happening when I get bored. What was going on in my brain to cause me to lose interest?

Once I looked in depth at what boredom was, I found that boredom comes from a lack of dopamine, the “reward hormone” in the brain. Releases of dopamine are what happen when our brains are stimulated, it’s that feeling you get when Penn State wins. It feels good. Also, scientists find that when bored, the brain has up to a 5% drop in overall activity, but higher activity in the “imagination” area of the brain. Also, I found that people with “chronic boredom”, if that is even a possible diagnosis, could have a lack of dopamine receptors in their brain, causing them to need more dopamine to get them going, so to speak.

Now, we all know boredom sucks, but can it be good for you?

Despite what you may think, many studies show that it is good for you. In 2013, Psychologists at the University of Central Lancashire had participants copy numbers out of a telephone book for 15 minutes and then think of as many uses as possible for a Styrofoam cup, another group do a boring reading activity and then think of uses, and a control group just go straight to think of uses without copying the numbers. The first study, which didn’t have the reading group included, was done on 80 people who were randomly allocated. The results of the first study found the people who did the boring writing task were generally more creative with their uses of the Styrofoam cup. Then, 90 more people were added to the study, and the boring reading task was included. Their results showed the people who did the boring reading task were even more creative than the people who did the writing task, and those who did the writing were also more creative than the control group, again. Upon analysis of their findings, they deduced that the active act of writing might have hindered their ability to daydream, since they had to think about their writing. The passive act of reading allowed one to daydream, which they said made the imaginative part of the brain kick in, since the reading as “boring”. Although the study was only done on a maximum of 170 people, I support these findings myself. I think it is very plausible that being bored is good for your brain and your creativity.

Personally, I do believe being bored is a good thing. I often force myself to be bored, I turn off my phone and the television for a short amount of time and just allowed myself to think and be creative. I find that doing this once a day allows me to be more calm and focused. If none of these studies or information are enough for you,, try the test yourself. Force yourself to be bored for a while. Start with just five or 10 minutes. See how you feel after, maybe, just maybe, it may even improve your grade in this class.

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Sources:

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-09/uog-brs092812.php

http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/17142/1/The-Psychology-of-Boredom–Why-Your-Brain-Punishes-You-for-Being-Comfortable-and-Safe.html

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10400419.2014.901073

To Crack? Or Not To Crack?

I was sitting in class the other day, bored as usual (not this class, of course) when I realized that every 10 minutes or so I was cracking my fingers. I remembered my parents always telling me not to do it because it was bad for me or something I’m not really sure, but I kept doing it anyway. All my friends do it; they crack their fingers, necks, backs, toes, wrists, elbows, knees, pretty much any joint you can think of. That was when it occurred to me that I had always been told not to crank my knuckles, but I was never told why. The answer was always “it’s bad for you”. I could see why, after just hearing the sound of a knuckle cracking, someone would instantly think it’s bad: it sounds like the bone is breaking. Everyone growing up always had different ideas and opinions, some said it was gas escaping, some said it was the bones making the noise, but I never really believed any of it. Frankly I didn’t know what to believe, so being a kid I just kept on doing it because it felt cool.

Recently I decided to look at exactly what knuckle cracking was. A recent study by Jerome Fryer, a Canadian chiropractor, was published in PLOS ONE. Fryer, who can crack all his knuckles, hooked up his finger to a small MRI camera, which also had a machine that pulled his finger. When the machine pulled the finger enough to crack it, the MRI caught what happened inside on video. Fryer and his team found that when he cracked his knuckles, a small gaseous bubble formed in the synovial fluid formed and then escaped, making the popping or cracking noise. Essentially, it is creating a vacuum in the finger, and the popping sound comes when the vacuum deforms. This happened in each one of Fryer’s fingers. This study will most likely serve as a demonstration for further study on arthritis and injury. The study did not, however, discuss whether the cracking or popping was good for the fingers.

Then, I found one of the most genius studies on knuckle cracking that possibly could have been done. Dr. Donald L. Unger cracked the fingers on only his left hand for over 60 years. Over those years, Dr. Unger habitually cracked every knuckle on his left finger, and left his right completely untouched. After the 60 year study, an arthritis examination in both hands revealed that there was no difference in the level of arthritis. While this may have only been a small study, and easily could have been due to chance, Dr. Unger won an Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, a rip off of the actual Nobel Prize.

Hungry for stronger inferences, I dug deeper for more studies and info. A study by Jorge Castellanos found the opposite. Jorge studied 300 men and women aged 45 and older with no evidence of neuromuscular, inflammatory, or malignant disease. The study was well randomized, with 74 habitual knuckle crackers, and 226 non-knuckle crackers. Castellanos found no difference in the arthritis of the fingers, but through several tests found that lower grip strength was weaker in the crackers than the non-crackers and the crackers tended to have more hand swelling. Castellanos concluded by saying that knuckle cracking leads to hand impairment.

Personally, I don’t believe cracking your knuckles is very bad. I think it feels good to do every once in a while. Older people seem to suggest that cracking leads to arthritis, but in my opinion, knuckle crackers are no more susceptible to arthritis than non-knuckle crackers.

This is what it looks like to crack a knuckle.

This is what it looks like to crack a knuckle.

Sources:

http://tech.mit.edu/V129/N41/ignobels.html

http://ard.bmj.com/content/49/5/308.full.pdf

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0119470

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/15/cracking-your-knuckles_n_7074354.html

Is Too Much Running Bad For You?

Finally, a study supporting all of us lazy people.  Running is bad!  Well…..not really.

Too much rigorous exercise is bad for your health, a study by British Journal Heart says.  In an article by Active.com “The editorial authors reviewed decades’ worth of research on the effects of endurance athletics. They found numerous studies that showed that moderate exercise was good, but excessive exercise was damaging. For instance, in one German study published in European Heart Journal, researchers compared the hearts of 108 chronic marathoners and sedentary people in a control group. Surprisingly, the runners had more coronary plaque buildup, a risk factor for heart disease.”(Active).  A study by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise also revealed after a study of more than 52,000 people over 30 years that “Overall, runners had a 19 percent lower death risk than non-runners. However, the health benefits of exercise seemed to diminish among people who ran more than 20 miles a week, more than six days a week, or faster than eight miles an hour.”(Active).  This is a very strong demonstration that too much running or working out can be bad for your health and your heart.  The study shows that the sweet spot for running is 5-19 miles a week, at a pace of 6-7mph over 3 or 4 sessions a week.  These runners received the greatest benefit and least repercussions from their running.

Your body is good at burning stress and fat that fuels you for your workout, but with this comes a price.  Like burning wood, burning fat and sugar creates a “smoke” inside of your body.  This smoke can build up and cling to cholesterol in your body and begin to cause problems (Active).  James O’Keefe, MD, Director of Preventative Cardiology at the Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, has stated “Your body is designed to deal with oxidative stress that comes from exercise for the first hour, but prolonged intense exercise causes excessive oxidative stress, which basically burns through the antioxidants in your system and predisposes you to problems.”

This also doesn’t mean that your should stop working out and running altogether.  Like anything else in life, exercise is best done in moderation; pushing yourself every now and then is good (Active).  Personally, I feel it builds a little character and grit.  Just, when you feel your workouts taking it a little too far, sometimes it’s best to call it quits.

Sources:

http://www.active.com/health/articles/why-too-much-running-is-bad-for-your-health

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Is Technology Really Making Us Less Social?

We’ve all heard our parents say it; “Look up from your phone every once in a while”, “Hey, talk to me don’t text”, “why are you being so anti-social on your phone?”

Not only our cellphones, but also our laptops, televisions, creations like Facebook and other social media platforms.  Are all of these inventions and enhancements in technology making us less social?

Some would say yes.  People who lived before the day and age of technology would say people communicated more without these inventions.  They ARE partially right.  The only difference is their communication was face-to-face, ours is over the internet or some other form of technology.  When teens are looking at their phones instead of talking to their parents, usually they are talking to friends, or on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  All these are alternate forms of being social, just not face-to-face.

Keith N. Hampton, a Professor at Rutgers University of Communication and Information says technology is enriching our social relationships.  Professor Hampton teaches “Yes, some things have changed—but maybe not as much as you might think. Consider ‘what a strange practice it is…that a man should sit down to his breakfast table and, instead of conversing with his wife, and children, hold before his face a sort of screen on which is inscribed a world-wide gossip.’ These words ring as true today as when they were written, in 1909. They were the observations of one of America’s first and most renowned sociologists, Charles Cooley, about how morning delivery of the newspaper was undermining the American family. Thank goodness the scourge of the newsman is in decline.”(Hampton).  He has studied his students and colleagues and found the students have many more close relationships because of their cellphones and media usage than the older colleagues (Hampton).

In contrast, Professor Larry Rosen, a Psychologist from the University of California State, Dominguez Hills says the opposite.  He holds that the multiple relationships we make online are not very fruitful, they aren’t really close friends.  He believes that technology has forced us to pay less attention to our real world communication and more to online communication.  Professor Rosen says, “As a research psychologist, I have studied the impact of technology for 30 years among 50,000 children, teens and adults in the U.S. and 24 other countries. In that time, three major game-changers have entered our world: portable computers, social communication and smartphones. The total effect has been to allow us to connect more with the people in our virtual world—but communicate less with those who are in our real world.” (Rosen).  Rosen believes we need to put the phones down and technology away and stay focused on our real life communication, even if that means less communication altogether.

What do you think?  Is technology making us less social?

Source for all facts:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/is-technology-making-people-less-sociable-1431093491

And our phones are the ones making us anti-social.

And our phones are the ones making us anti-social.

 

9/11 Death Toll

With the recent yearly passing of the 14th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, and my connection to them, I only felt fitting to write a post on the matter.

To start off, I have a very strong connection to the day, as do many others.  My dad worked on the 100th floor of the North Tower, the first hit, with the tall spire.  Luckily my dad was not up to his office yet, and he survived, many others were not as fortunate.

But, when I reflected on the people who lost their lives due to the attacks, 2,977 to be exact, it occurred to me that the death toll didn’t just end their.  We give our prayers and our thanks to the people who gave their lives on that specific day, but in fact the death toll due to 9/11 is still rising today.

If you’re wondering how this is possible, it can happen in many ways.  According to USAToday.com, 2,620 people have already been approved for eligibility from the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund for cancer-related issues, probably due to smoke inhalation.  Other reasons include respiratory problems due to smoke and debris inhalation, asthma, sarcoidosis, and inhalation of jet fuel, asbestos, cement dust, silica, and glass fibers according to Health24.com.

So far this year, almost 21,000 people have filed for eligibility in the September 11th Victims compensation fund, and over 6,000 have been approved.  Most of the approvals are of firemen and first-responders, approx. 5,300 in all.  The amount of money given by this fund is now $1.44 billion (USAToday.com).

Another devastating result of the attacks is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  The Journal of Traumatic Stress found that over 30,000 first responders, residents, passersby, and recovery workers had suffered from PTSD or depression due to the attacks (Journal of Traumatic Stress).  As most of us know, depression is one of the leading causes of suicide; suffice to say, the amount of suicides committed due to depression from the attacks is untraceable.

One of the most famous pictures from 9/11is the one of three first responders raising the American flag at Ground Zero, shown below.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 11: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY - NO COMMERCIAL SALES) Firefighters raise a U.S. flag at the site of the World Trade Center after two hijacked commercial airliners were flown into the buildings September 11, 2001 in New York.  (Photo by 2001 The Record (Bergen Co. NJ)/Getty Images)

Sadly, due to results of smoke and debris from the Ground Zero site, only the man on the right, Billy Eisengrein, is still alive today.

It is truly terrible what happened on this tragic day in 2001, and I offer anybody who knew someone who did’t have a family member return that night my condolences.  Rest In Peace.

Sources:

http://www.health24.com/Medical/Cancer/News/The-911-death-toll-keeps-rising-20150911

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jts.21972/full

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/09/09/911-death-and-injury-total-still-rising/71943340/

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response

Any insomniacs out there?  You might want to tune into this.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR as many Youtubers call it for short, is a neurological response to sights of sounds, that triggers a “tingly” sensation in the scalp, neck, and other areas of the body, according to Peerj.com.  I myself have trouble falling asleep at night, and usually one ASMR video knocks me out.  You may have heard of this phenomenon before: a Youtube named GentleWhispering has a video with over 7,000,000 views showcasing the phenomenon.  The response is often categorized as “relaxing” and “soothing” by listeners.  But not everyone has the ability to be affected by this occurrence.  I’m sure some of you have come across this phenomenon before, have you ever been watching television or heard a sound during the day that all of the sudden gave you chills?  That is the affect of ASMR.  Some popular triggers include crinkly things such as bags or clothing, the sounds of tapping on objects, whispering in the ears, and scratching on objects.

No formal or surgical study has been done on ASMR per se; interviews have been conducted on the content creators and the listeners, and various mass media sources have published articles on the phenomenon.  According to a Peerj.com article, it is reported that ASMR can even provide “temporary relief to individuals with depression, stress and chronic pain”.  The phenomenon is usually expressed through videos, in which a person is making the noises or doing the visual representation.  The Washington Post and Huffington Post have both published articles on the bizarre phenomenon.

I must admit, the videos are a little awkward when you first start watching.  Personally, I use these videos to fall asleep every night.  Nobody knows exactly what it is or why the response happens yet, but as the Washington Post article said “Something is happening here”.

The most popular ASMRtist, as they are so affectionately called, is named GentleWhispering.  Some other popular content creators include TheWaterWhispers, ASMRresquests, and my personal favorite, Heather Feather.

If you ever want an explanation as to what is happening, here is a beautifully done video explanation by Heather Feather as to what ASMR is all about.

This is Maria, otherwise known as GentleWhispering.

This is Maria, otherwise known as GentleWhispering.

Sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/autonomous-sensory-meridian-response-brain-orgasms-sleeplessness_n_4913080.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/a-whisper-then-tingles-then-87-million-youtube-views-meet-the-star-of-asmr/2014/12/12/0c85d54a-7b33-11e4-b821-503cc7efed9e_story.html

https://peerj.com/articles/851/

https://peerj.com/preprints/719/

Is “Deflategate” the NFL’s Scapegoat?

Many, I would assume almost all of us, have heard in one way or another about this “Deflategate” scandal between Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the NFL.  The investigation, and issuing court appearances, have been going on since the news came out the the Patriots deflated footballs used in the AFC Championship game last year against the Indianapolis Colts-a game in which the Patriots handily won 45-7.  To some, including me, this seems ludicrous to still be arguing about.  Nearly eight months later and the league still hasn’t stopped arguing about it.  The Patriots easily won the game, and then easily won the next game, the Super Bowl, with fully inflated footballs.  So why make such a big deal of it?

Because the NFL was being crushed the past few years about concussion related injuries.  This past season alone, 6 players under the age of 30 have retired because of worries about concussion related problems.  A concussion, according to the Mayo Clinic Staff is “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions.”.  Concussions are very common in football, a sport which hard contact is unavoidable.  But the problem isn’t just getting one concussion, it’s multiple concussions.  Recently, several former players have agreed to donate their brains, once they die, to science, to have doctors and professionals try and learn more about the long-standing effects of concussions.  Most notably was Junior Seau, a prolific linebacker who killed himself via gunshot in May of 2012.  Seau was suffering a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, believed to be brought on from repeated blows to the head and concussions, according to the National Institutes of Health.  Seau was also not the first post-NFL player diagnosed with CTE after committing suicide, Dave Duerson and Ray Easterling were also diagnosed post mortem.  34 former professional football players have been diagnosed with the disease, and nine players who had only played college football had been diagnosed, according to a Boston University study in December of 2012.  Another incident in December of 2012 happened when Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher lost his mind and shot himself and his fiancé, Kasandra Perkins, orphaning their infant daughter Zoey.  Upon further inspection of his brain, Belcher was also found to have CTE, brought on by repeated blows to the head.

This year alone six players under the age of 30 have already retired from football, and many of them were big stars.  Amongst the biggest names are former Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, San Fransisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, and Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker.  San Fransisco 49ers linebacker Chris Borland, as well, retired after his rookie season last year.  He reported fear of results from concussions are the reason he backed away.

Young players are retiring left and right because of fear of head injury.  But, the big story this offseason has been the slight depressurizing of a few footballs in a game that ultimately the victors would have won regardless.

Rest in Peace, Junior.

Rest in Peace, Junior.

Sources:

http://www.kansascity.com/sports/nfl/kansas-city-chiefs/article2296030.html

http://www.denverpost.com/broncos/ci_28268227/renck-six-players-30-or-under-retired-this

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/10/nfls-junior-seau-had-brain-disease-cte-when-he-kil/?page=all

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/concussion/basics/definition/con-20019272

http://espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=400749520

Initial Blog Post

What’s up everyone my name is Tyler Meerholz I’m a freshman and I’m majoring in Journalism.  I am not majoring in science because I was never very good at thinking scientifically.  I like being imaginative and not having to stick to facts and findings,which until this course was all I learned about science: facts.  I chose this course because I expected it to give me a new perspective on the world of science, and give me a greater appreciation of the art.

I love country music, so this is a picture of me and my girlfriend at a Florida Georgia Line concert:

IMG_1967

And for those of us who love Charlie Chaplin, here is one of my favorite speeches ever by him.