Author Archives: Robert McCarthy

Getting Stoned = Broken Bones?

I recently came across this article from EurkeaAlert!, a science news website. The article discusses the findings of a recent study that came out the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, whose findings conclude that those who smoke marijuana are more at risk for bone conditions such as low bone density and increased risk for fracture. The study gained the attention of many after it was published in the American Journal of Medicine, a well respected scientific journal. Here is the link to the study, which was lead by Professor Stuart Ralston. A quick Google search also lead my to many other articles which all revolved around the very same study, with headlines reading “Marijuana linked to bone fractures” or “Marijuana decreases bone health” or other such statements. However, upon reading the articles and looking into the study, I am a bit dubious as to whether or not it is a legitimate claim.

bones arm Can Marijuana Help Heal Broken Bones?

To start, there isn’t much of a clear consensus among scientists as to the effect that marijuana has on your bones. Running a quick Google search of “marijuana effect on bones” yields a wide array of different scientific articles citing a wide array of scientific studies. Some claim that smoking marijuana leads to decreased bone density and increased rate of fractures, some claim that marijuana has no effect on your skeleton at all, some even claim that marijuana increases bone strength and makes for healthier bones! An article on Live Science analyzes a study which claims that CBD (cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana) helps in creating stronger collagen which leads to stronger and faster fracture healing. Although there is not much consensus in this area more research seems to steer towards marijuana having a positive effect on bone healing rather than the opposite. But the biggest issues that I have with this study does not lie with its comparison to other studies, but rather with how it was performed.

The way that these test subjects were put into the experiment, from retrieval to segmentation, was problematic. The source of these test subjects is already questionable: they were all regular patients of routine appointments for general practice surgery, meaning they were already in doctor’s offices very frequently. Why were these pot smokers and non pot smokers taken from a healthy group of people? Why were they not randomly taken from a phone book or another, better, more random method? The variable measured were good, from smoking habits to other drug use to general demographics, etc. However the two groups had something odd in common. You notice earlier I stated the groups were split into pot smokers and non pot smokers, however, all test subjects were smokers of some sort. The test groups comprised of 56 “moderate” pot smokers, 144 “heavy” pot smokers, and a “control” group (and I place heavy emphasis on the quotes around control) of 114 cigarette smokers. So this begs the question: why did they not take any data from non-smokers? After all, there is a more than significant portion of the population which doesn’t smoke any substances at all. Why were they not accounted for in the study?

My other big issue concerns their classification of pot smoking habits. They completely ignore having a “light” marijuana smoking group, ignoring those that get high once in a blue moon or once in a while. It would be interesting to see the effects that marijuana has on them, and it would be more informative to the scientific community, but they are ignored. The way that they classify “moderate”  and “heavy” also is a big concern of mine. Level of smoking is measured purely by the amount of times that a user has smoked ever, rating it by the number of estimated times they’ve smoked pot. So there’s no way to tell the difference between a 20 year old who’s smoked every day since turning 18 or a 30 year old who’s only smoked once a week since the same age. This is inherently problematic as it doesn’t get a true sense for who smokes weed at a more frequent rate. The researchers also mislead quite a bit when defining and analyzing their “heavy” marijuana smoker group. They define “heavy” as having smoked weed 5,000 times or more, which again, cannot truly get a sense for frequency of smoking. But even though they define “heavy” as 5,000 times or more, their “heavy” pot smokers group averaged at having taken the drug more than 47,000 times. That is A LOT of weed. Willie Nelson quantities of weed. If you wanted to smoke marijuana 47,000 times by doing it once a day, it would take you over 128 years to do so! Clearly, this study doesn’t exactly have a good grip on what it means to be a “heavy” smoker and instead collected data from what seems like an “extreme” smoker group.

So does this mean that the study is total nonsense and you should keep smoking weed like a chimney? Not really. There is good variable measurement to show that it is quite plausible for heavy weed use to deteriorate bone structure, particularly in those with lower BMI’s. They believe that the mechanism for more bone fractures and weaker bones comes from the fact that pot smokers tend to have lower BMI’s than non pot smokers. The skinnier and frailer you are the more likely you are to have bone issues, and the more you smoke pot the more likely you are to be skinnier (which I find odd considering how easy it can be for stoned Penn State students to vacuum up a container of Wings Over). So this study may sway you to cut back on smoking weed in order to save your skeletal structure. But should this incentivize you to put the bong down immediately and never touch the devil’s lettuce again? Probably not.

Does Social Media Really Put Us in a Good Mood?

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram… as millennials we spend an enormous amount of time checking different social media networks throughout the day. I travel around campus and constantly see people on their phones, whether it be scrolling through various social media outlets during lectures or taking up space on the sidewalk while I’m  trying to get to class. It far more integrated into our lives than the lives of Baby Boomers or Generation X, and it’s going to be an even bigger feature of life for those in Generation Z. Social media is often praised as a way of increasing connections between people, and as a great form of communication. However there is a growing amount of evidence that social media networks are creating more and more negative effects in people’s mood. Some suggest that Facebook can actually create great feelings of loneliness and anxiety, and as a large part of our culture I believe that it is important to investigate this claim.

FOMO” is a term that has been coined fairly recently and has been used more and more with the advent of social media. It stands for Fear of Missing Out, and it is often the feeling that can occur when scrolling through social media such as Facebook. As your friends post pictures of themselves enjoying an evening out or going on an exciting vacation, it can be difficult to not feel as if one is left out of the experiences of life. But why can it be so much more intense when looking through social media rather than the traditional FOMO that comes from just knowing that your friends are having fun without you? In an article in The New York Times, psychology professor Dan Ariely gives a great analogy to the issue. When you miss a flight, are you more upset if you miss the flight by 2 hours or 2 minutes? The vast majority of us will say 2 minutes, and that’s the point Ariely is trying to make about social media’s mechanism for causing FOMO. It is much easier to envision yourself in a different scenario when missing it by two minutes, as the slightest thing could have changed the outcome. Social media works similarly, it is much easier to see how your evening could have gone in many different angles. Your FOMO isn’t just based on speculations about what your friends are doing that night, the pictures and documentation of your friends’ night  show you exactly what you were missing out on.

Image result for social media unhappy

Negative body image also appears to be a large consequence of the rise of social media. As more and more people post photos of themselves to social media, the pressure to look good in your photographs is at an all-time high. After all, it’s no secret that those who are seen as more attractive tend to get more “likes” or “retweets” on social media outlets. But just how severe has the body image problem become? According to a report by the British Broadcasting Corporation, cosmetic surgery rates in the United Kingdom have increased by 20% since 2008. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), 2008 was the year that Facebook really started to take off in popularity and begin the climb to where it is today. However, this evidence is just a correlation and it is hard to prove that the rise in users of the social media platform lead to a rise in negative body image and in turn, a rise in cosmetic surgery rates. So I’ll look at another example. The popular content aggregating site reddit has a section or “subreddit” called Am I Ugly?, which is unfortunately exactly what it sounds like. People visit the site and post pictures of themselves asking the anonymous audience whether or not they are physically attractive or not in the comments section. A similar subreddit titled Rate Me is based on the same concept, but I’ve found the posters to be a bit less self-deprecating. However the two sections of the site share the same basic idea: posting pictures of yourself in order to gain approval or feedback on their own appearances. Reddit keeps metrics of their subscribers to the site and each specific subreddit’s rates of subscribers, and the data on “Am I Ugly?” and “Rate Me” show interesting details in societal views of image. Both sections of the site had big increases in subscribers over the past three years, “Am I Ugly?” having grown to thrice its size since 2013 and “Rate Me” having grown to 10 times its size in that stretch! Obviously, the need to feel attractive has grown with the cultivation of social media over the years.

Graphs shows the growth in subscribers for both r/AmIUgly and r/RateMe

Graphs shows the growth in subscribers for both r/AmIUgly and r/RateMe

So is social media all fun and games with your friends throughout life? Not really. There are definitely some negatives to using social media, especially at the rates we see in the millennial generation. Increases in sadness due to FOMO and an increase on the focus of body image have been some negative side effects of using social media, and these types of emotional impacts have the potential to do more damage than we can explore at the current time. I’m not writing this to knock social media though, of course it can have its benefits and has done a tremendous job in increasing the lines of communication among society. Maybe just take a look up once in a while and enjoy what’s going on with you rather than what’s going on with your friends.

Oysters: Nature’s Brita Filter?

I was browsing through the front page of reddit, a popular content gathering site, looking through interesting articles and pictures when suddenly I came upon this picture that was posted:

The title of the post claimed that both tanks had been filled with water from the exact same source and time, the only difference is that the tank on the right has oysters placed in it. Being on the very front page of reddit meant that a lot of people were wondering the same thing that I was: are these oysters actually filtering the water? As it turns out, the answer is yes!

Much to my disbelief, there was no fluke going on with this image. No other process was going on in order to make the water appear clearer. The oysters were actually filtering the tank, and they were doing it for their food source! The mechanism is through the process of “filter feeding,” a task typically performed by bi-valve mollusks. According to In A Half Shell, oysters’ primary diet consists of small plankton and algae that is floating around the water. “Bi-valve” indicates two valves for the animal; one to suck in water, and one to expel water. Once sucked in, the water is filtered through the gills of the oyster. Plant material, plankton, and other particles are trapped along the mucousy portion of the gills and taken to the stomach for digestion. Digested food is excreted as feces, and the remaining undigested particles are then expelled back as pseudofeces, undigested food particles covered in mucous. To add for clarification: the feces and pseudofeces are not expelled out through the second valve, but out of the oyster’s anus. The second valve spits out filtered water after it has been taken in through the first valve and has gone through the filtering process. Through this mechanism oysters get fed and the waters get cleaned up: a real win-win scenario.

The post had a picture of oysters, however I thought to myself, “can other bi-valves do this?” Can clams, mussels, and scallops clean up our waters as well? After some digging online, I found that the answer is a yes. All bi-valve mollusks are capable of filtering water using the same type of digestion system, oysters are no special exception. However, oysters apparently do the best job at it. When fully grown, Eastern oysters are able to filter as much as 50 gallons per day (In A Half Shell). To put that in perspective, that is about as much water as you can fit in a modern bathtub being filtered by an organism the size of your wallet!

Well if the ocean is full of oysters, many of which are capable of filtering large quantities of water, then why is our coastline still full of dirty water? Unfortunately, there may not be as many oysters as we think. Due to overfishing of these mollusks (overclamming?) as well as drastic changes in the water of the East Coast, oyster and other mollusk populations have been whittled down dramatically. In particular, the Chesapeake Bay region near Virginia and Maryland has been hit very hard by this problem. According to an article from baybackpack, the oyster population used to be able to filter the entirety of Chesapeake Bay in less than a week’s time. The oyster population now stands at only 1% of that former glory, and it is estimated that it would take about a year to filter the entirety of the bay. With mollusk populations down, the waters of the Chesapeake do not get the typical filtration that they need, leaving very dirty water with high algae count.

Taken from the Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (

Taken from the Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (

Hope appears to be on the horizon, however. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been working hard in attempting to restore oyster populations back to their former glory. Although it will be a very long time to recover from this low, they believe that increasing the oyster populations will be key in increasing the quality of our ecosystems on the East Coast. NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office has been working since 1997 in an effort to accomplish this around the Virginia and Maryland area. From then until 2009, NOAA spent over $30,000,000 on this project, and the efforts still continue today. They have created “harvest” areas for which it is okay to clam there, and “sanctuary” areas for the oyster populations to grow and develop. They have also created better environments for the oysters to flourish, so that they can live in homes better than the ones destroyed by overfishing during the 19th and 20th centuries.

They may be oysters, but with progress getting better and better for them, you could say that they’re happy as a clam.



Do Physical Traits Shape Leadership Ability?

I was browsing the internet the other evening, as one does when procrastinating on Accounting homework, and I came across an interesting link. It was an online collection of art pieces by Argentinian artist Alejandro Almaraz titled Portraits of Power. This is a collection of 15 digitally created works whereby Almaraz blended together the portraits of different world leaders, each individual piece is a compilation of a country’s leaders within a certain time period. For instance, the 3rd work in the installation is a mash-up of the portraits of all United States presidents from the years 1960 to 2008. The 8th work uses the same technique but for all of the men who ever lead the Soviet Union. Aside from being creative art pieces, all of the works in Portraits of Power have something in common: they all seem to create an eerily similar face, or all of the leaders in a work make the face of what could be their shared relative. This got me thinking: if all of these leaders within certain time periods in certain nations share some physical qualities, does that mean that having those qualities in question make you more likely to become a leader? While I was unfortunately unable to find a conclusive answer, I discovered some findings that made me to believe that the idea isn’t so far-fetched after all.

Almaraz’s 2nd piece in the collection features all of the U.S. presidents from 1789-1889, a 100 year span

The first physical characteristic that I looked into was probably the most obvious one to begin examining: height. Aside from being the characteristic that can make someone the most physically dominating in a room, height has been consistently shown in statistical data to be a correlative feature among leaders. Among the general population, 3.9% of people are 6 feet 2 inches or taller. However, among CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, 30% of them are that height or above (“The Look Of A Leader | The Economist”). Height isn’t just prominent among industry leaders either, it extends to political leaders as well. Across time, average height of the presidents within a century have been greater than the average height for the general populations of each century. In terms of average male height, it was approximately 5′ 3.5″ in the 1800’s, 5′ 9″ in the 1900’s, and 5′ 10″ in the 2000’s (Kennedy). The average presidential height for each century was larger, approximately 5′ 10″ in the 1800’s, 6′ 0″ in the 1900’s, and 5′ 11″ in the 2000’s (Papathanassiou). Unfortunately for you shorties out there, it looks like being on the shorter end puts you at a bit of a disadvantage. Yet sometimes like many musicians, it’s not about the look of the leader, but the sound of one.

The quality of one’s voice has been found to be an important component in one’s appearance as a leader. Many of us have heard that having a deeper voice, whether that be for men or women, makes someone more memorable and more attractive (PsyBlog). Aside from being more successful in your love life, deeper voices are also very helpful in the business world. Researchers from UC San Diego and Duke University listened to presentations for investors from 792 male CEOs, and found that those whose voices are on the deeper end of the spectrum made about $187,000 more per year than the average CEO (“The Look Of A Leader | The Economist”). Now things are really starting to look good for all of you height-gifted baritones out there, however in my Management 301 class I learned about another, unexpected factor that can play potentially a role in your leadership ability: handedness.

(clockwise from top left) Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford all sign legislation using their left hands

(clockwise from top left) Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Gerald Ford all sign legislation using their left hands

Good news for the 12% of you out there who are left-handed, because you may be more likely to become the President of the United States over right-handed folks. Five of the last seven presidents have all been southpaws, or have dominate left hands (“Odds Are Next U.S. President Will Be Left-Handed | Toronto Star”). So for the last 7 presidents that means 71.4% of them were lefties, a big difference when looking at the general population. No real explanation can be given for why there seems to be a trend for left-handedness among presidents, I believe that it may appear more formal when the cameras are facing them but I don’t have any research to back this theory. Until then, the southpaws reading may want to look towards a career in politics.

In the animal kingdom, those animals whose physical presence is the most frightening tends to be the top of the food chain. In the world of leadership, whether it be in business or government, physical dominance also seems to have a large part in how successful you are. I know that this blog post may be sad to read for those of you who are short, have high voices, are right-handed, etc. But fear not, my advice is to keep your backs tall and speak confidently wherever you go, maybe you can help in eliminating this bias towards the more physically prominent so everyone can be a leader, no matter the look.


“10 Ways Your Voice Influences Other Minds – Psyblog”. PsyBlog. N.p., 2013. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

“Alejandro Almaraz / Portraits Of Power”. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

Kennedy, Rita. “The Average Height Of Humans Over Time”. LIVESTRONG.COM. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

“Odds Are Next U.S. President Will Be Left-Handed | Toronto Star”. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

Papathanassiou, Manolis. “USA Presidents – Height & Weight”. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

“The Look Of A Leader | The Economist”. N.p., 2016. Web. 8 Sept. 2016.

(The first photo comes from Alejandro Almaraz’s Portraits of Power)

Presidential Signatures Collage:


What is India’s Plumbing Problem Doing to the Environment?

I was speaking to my friend from Sri Lanka this weekend and I asked him how often he had been to India. He said that he has been several times, and I asked about the living conditions there. I had heard that indoor plumbing was a problem in India, and as a result many people urinated or defecated outdoors. After doing some internet research, I was blown away at the magnitude of this issue. According to an article by Public Radio International, approximately 60 percent of the country’s population, or 720 million people, still defecates outdoors! (Chatterjee). In 2016, the thought that the majority of one of the most populous countries in the world was still didn’t use indoor plumbing boggled my mind. Obviously, this kind of an issue has major impacts to the overall health of the Indian population. However, my curiosity led towards the direction of the environment. I wondered as to how 720 million people relieving themselves without indoor plumbing has affected the ecology of India. I was expecting the news to be bad, to my surprise it turns out as more efforts have been made to increase plumbing there have been many positive results for the environment.

Image result for indian people shitting

The problem comes from a general lack of infrastructure in India. While it has made its way up in terms of economic expansion and moving towards the first world and has been successful in becoming #4 in the world for manufacturing competitiveness (Prentice), India is still very much a developing country and as such it still has many motions to go in terms of getting to the infrastructure of a first world country. Unfortunately for the Indian people, they are very far behind in terms of getting to the first world’s level of plumbing due to there not being central disposal systems in place. It’s not a problem of widespread repairs that are necessary in each town/village’s waste disposal system, the problem is that there is no waste disposal system. Putting in waste disposal systems is no easy task, as they require large amounts of water that poor countries typically lack. So for now, the concept of India getting any waste treatment systems is too far into the future to do anything about now.

However, it seems that the introduction of ecologically-friendly toilets have started to make the living situation as well as the environment in India much better. Banka BioLoo, an Indian business enterprise that partners with a variety of different firms to further developmental well-being, has been introducing and installing “bioloos” into the Indian population. Bioloos are waterless toilets that go far beyond what the traditional porta-potty can do. They can be installed in any area, even onto moving trains, meaning that they can now access every corner in India’s borders, from densely populated urban areas to isolated villages (The Guardian).

The environmental benefit that comes from the introduction of the bioloos is the use of the human waste product for productive purposes. Now rather than a portion of fecal matter going into water sources, bioloos help properly gather feces to be used for manure and composting material. This can further the progress in agriculture and getting proper nutrition to the people of India. Bioloos leave behind clean, pathogen-free water that can also be used for agriculture, as well as clean drinking water for the population that would have otherwise been thrown away. In addition to that, methane can also be collected in order to be used as an alternative fuel source that burns much less carbon than traditional gasoline engines (The Guardian).

India’s lack of indoor plumbing is without a doubt a very bad health issue that has lead to negative effects in the well-being of the Indian population. However, using bioloos as opposed to traditional indoor has been providing positive effects on the environment in India, reducing the carbon footprint while simultaneously providing more ways to improve agriculture and potable water. In implementing the use of bioloos, India may have found a way to effectively tackle their human waste problem as well as improve the environment and economy. Maybe it won’t be so soon before their lives aren’t so crappy.


Chatterjee, Rhitu. “In India, Access To Toilets Remains A Huge Problem — Worst Of All For Women And Girls”. Public Radio International. N.p., 2016. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

“Eco-Friendly Bio-Toilets Improving Health And Dignity For India’S Poor”. The Guardian. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

Prentice, Courtney. “Effects Of India’s Poor Sanitation – The Borgen Project”. The Borgen Project. N.p., 2014. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.

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Science is just too cool for me

Hi folks! My name is Jack McCarthy, I am a sophomore here at Penn State and I am a prospective Marketing major at the Smeal College of Business. I’m from Fairfield County, Connecticut.

Science has always been a fascinating area of study for me, and like many others posting I also have a father who pushed me to enjoy science and loved sitting down with me to watch scientific movies/documentaries. However, I am not planning on becoming a science major for two main reasons:

  1. I am too dumb. This isn’t to say that I’m a total bonehead who couldn’t struggle and eventually get a degree in science if I wanted to (we are Nittany Lions after all), I just know it would be a disservice to the scientific community if I were to become a player in the world of science. After taking chemistry and physics in high school, it was quite obvious that I have no place in the scientific process, unless that place were as a test subject. Due to how much mathematics is involved in science this would also be another reason for me to not pursue a scientific career.
  2. It doesn’t peak my interests as much as other subjects. Science has always been interesting to me, however I just find the humanities as well as other aspects of academia to be more interesting.

To be totally honest, I am taking this class because last Sunday I was facing a bit of a scheduling snafu and I enrolled in order to make the Add/Drop period before I got closed out. I heard this was an interesting class to take and was fine to add it in as another GN credit. My scheduling error was resolved and as it turns out I don’t really have to take this class, however I think I’ll still keep up with it in order to get my last 3 GN credits done. The class seems interesting so far and I don’t think I’ll mind juggling the extra work.

Thank you for reading. If you’ve ever wanted to know who is in space right now, this website shows how many people are in space and who they are. I’ve included a picture of Beaver Stadium to remind everyone of the first home game this Saturday. WE ARE!

(Photo from