Author Archives: Wesley Scott Alexander

Does Creatine Really Work?

The fitness industry has become a booming cash cow. Every day, new companies spring up promoting new supplements and new training regimes to make you “fit fast”. One of the most recent and popular trends to catch on in the supplement sphere is the use of creatine during weightlifting workouts. Creatine is an amino acid that has been billed as a supplement to be used in high intensity workout to increase energy production. Many swear by creatine, but it certainly has its skeptics as well. As someone who works out often I wondered is this something I should be using, or is it just another ploy to get my money out of my pocket and into those of the fitness industry tycoons?

The results of an examination could be as follows:

We could accept the Null Hypothesis, that taking creatine has effect on workout performance. If the Null Hypothesis is rejected, and we come to the conclusion that creatine supplementation is, indeed, causing an effect, this could take the form of two different Alternative Hypotheses. One, that creatine has benefits and increases performance in workouts, or two, that taking creatine actually has averse effects and decreases workout performance.

First, for those who do not know exactly what creatine and how it works, creatine is naturally occurring in meat and fish and is also produced by your liver. Creatine is used in the creation of ATP, the compound that muscles consume for energy. The idea behind creatine supplements claims that if you take creatine, your body creates more ATP and therefore more energy is available for your muscles during workouts, especially high intensity workouts, where your muscles are consuming large amounts of energy during the workout and in the brief periods of recovery.

In a 2003 meta-analysis of creatine studies, it was found that there was, in fact, a correlation between creatine and explosive energy during workouts. It was found that people who partook in weight training while taking creatine increased their max rep, or the maximum weight they could lift on any given exercise one time, by around 8-14% as compared to those in the study who did not take creatine. There was also a correlation between taking creatine and muscle mass gain, however the study contributed this not directly to the creatine, but as an indirect product of being able to lift more weight during workouts.

Another meta-analysis also supported these findings, as the results showed that out of 300 creatine related studies, 70% showed that creatine was correlated to an increase in that was statistically significant. This means that by taking creatine, the increase in strength was significant enough when compared to the control group that scientists concluded it was very unlikely to be due to chance alone. The same meta-analysis also showed that creatine is correlated with gains overall muscle mass.

These two pieces of evidence, being meta-analyses of hundreds of studies, present fairly strong evidence that the observed correlation between creatine and increased strength performance during workouts is causal. Of course, all conclusions could be subject to chance or other Alternative Hypotheses. The use of creatine is still a controversial topic that is under heavy investigation in an attempt to either further support its effectiveness or to find any previously undiscovered averse side-effects. While creatine use has by no means been proven to be effective, it is clear there is at least a strong correlation creatine use and the Alternative Hypothesis that it increases workout performance.


Social Media and Mental Health

In today’s society, social media has taken the world by storm. Billions of people worldwide use social media constantly every day. This effect is especially true, where social media has become a staple of communication and interaction. However, what are the effects that this heavy use of social media is having on our mood and psychology? Could it be that using social media is, in fact, bad for us?

A study done in 2012 in the UK found results that use of social media networks could be causing depression and anxiety. Participants exhibited addiction to social media, reporting the only way they could stop themselves from checking it was to turn off their device. However, they could in fact be addicted to something that is having huge negative effects on their mental health. Many participants in the study reported feeling less confident about themselves when they compared themselves to their friends’ achievements they viewed on social media. However, overall this study is not entirely compelling. The study was only conducted with 298 people, making it a small study and therefore does not provide as strong of results. It also was only conducted only on people in the UK, meaning it is not necessarily a conducive result for Americans or the global population. Additionally, the study was merely a survey, meaning it could not have controlled for confounding variables or an inverse correlation that people who have mental health issues like depression and anxiety use social media more. Overall, this study points us in the direction that there could be a an issue with social media use, but does not go a long way towards proving this is the case.

Another study conducted in 2013 by the University of Michigan provides similar results. The study examined 82 Facebook users. They were asked questions everyday about their levels of happiness and satisfaction to establish a baseline. Then, they increased their social media usage for a 14 day period and were asked the same questions. The results showed that their general state of happiness decreased over the period of increased social media usage. However, again this study is not entirely conclusive. It was only conducted on 82 people, making it another small study. It too, was also a survey, albeit a more scientifically conducted one, but still a survey. This means they did not control for confounding variables, and they also only used people who were already active on Facebook, which could have some effect on the results. In conclusion, this study again points towards the fact that social media usage may have ill effects on mental health, however is not scientifically compelling enough to prove the point.

Further confounding a conclusion on the topic is the fact that there are study results that conclude a positive effect from social media usage on mood and mental health. A study done by the University of California, San Diego concluded that emotion is “contagious”, spreading from person to person, and this effect applies to social media. They also found, when testing over a billion Facebook posts, that posts were contagious, with happy or negative posts leading to friends being more likely to post statuses of this same emotion. However, the study found that happy posts were overall more “contagious”, and they even concluded that the contagious nature of interactions online was even stronger than they had predicted and their study was unable to fully measure the effect. However, this study is highly correlational as it relies on computer software to determine the emotional content of posts and does not provide concrete, science based evidence of the effects the researchers concluded.

Overall, this idea of social media affecting human mental health is still very much left up for debate, and is still being researched. A study conducted as recently as 2014 concluded that while there seems to be a suggested correlation between social media and ill mental health, we still really don’t know. However, with the number of users on social media and with the frequency of its use, it is crucial we continue research on this topic to get to the bottom of a conclusion, before social media takes a toll on all of us.


The Effects of Eating Sugary Cereals

Everyone has heard the saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. However, could what you actually eat for breakfast have an influence on this? Today, many kids eat sugar laden cereals for breakfast. Could this excessive sugar consumption be counteracting the health benefits of breakfast and instead turning it into a detriment?

In a study done by the Environmental Working Group, it was found that sugary cereals, packaged as a part of a “healthy breakfast”, can contain upwards of 50% sugar by weight. This is more sugar per serving than Twinkies or 3 chocolate chip cookies. This high level of sugar can be detrimental to the biology of your body, especially at breakfast. When you consume this much sugar in your first meal, blood sugar spikes, then drops, signaling your brain that you need more sugar. This can lead to a vicious cycle throughout the day of blood sugar highs and lows, which effect energy levels, concentration, and lead to the consumption of other sugary foods.

From 1970-2005, American sugar consumption increased by 19%. This increase has show correlation to increased weight gain, heart disease, and other adverse health effects. This increase in sugar can be attributed to the rise of sugary cereals, among other things. These added sugars add up to an additional 355 calories per day in a person’s diet, while the American Heart Association reports additional calories due to sugar should not exceed 100-150 calories per day.

Furthermore, a study done in 2010 reported that kids, on average consume more sugary cereal than nutritional cereal, further increasing the negative results. However, the silver lining on this report was the fact that they found children were just as likely to report satisfaction with nutritional cereal as they were with sugary cereal. In addition, they were more likely to put fresh fruit on nutritional cereal, further benefiting the nutritional value. The conclusion the report came to is that children will consume low-sugar cereals when they are provided them, and the health benefits of these cereals when compared to consumption of high sugar cereals was immense.

In conclusion, it is clear that having sugary cereal, especially for breakfast has hugely negative health implication. It causes an unstable fluctuation in blood sugar levels, and is correlated with weight gain and other inverse health effects. Furthermore, there is no reason to serve children these sugary cereals. Children have reported equal satisfaction with low-sugar cereals, all while consuming less cereal and adding fresh fruit, only furthering the health benefits. With all of these taken into consideration, there is really no reason to further the trend of sugary cereal consumption, as it only provides negative health implication and Americans should take steps to avoid providing these cereals to their children if they truly value their children’s health.



Can Money Buy Happiness?

All our lives, we have heard the time honored phrase “money can’t buy happiness”. However, has anyone really looked into this? Or have we as a society just been taking this as a known truth without really examining the evidence behind it. It has to be true that, to some extent, money does buy happiness. Someone who is starving or dying of thirst can’t be as happy as someone living with shelter and enough money to keep themselves comfortable, can they? In a study done by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson school, it was found that money can, in fact buy happiness, to an extent. The results of the study found that people’s levels of happiness directly increase with their income, up to the point of $75,000 a year. After this point, however, the study claims that they found no further increase in happiness due to increase in annual income. It is at this income level that the stresses of poverty are diminished, and people start to gain additional happiness from other sources. This study, however, by no means proves that money can buy happiness. We need to examine additional studies to determine just how strong the correlation these results provide really is.

Next, these results are corroborated by the results found in a poll conducted by CNN. The poll, conducted on a group of just over 1,000 participants found that 51% of participants stated they would feel happy with a salary under $100,000 a year, with 25% of participants stating they would be happy with a salary range of $50,000-$75,000. Taking a closer look at the data, the median value that people stated they would need to be happy rests at $80,000 a year. This $80,000 is close enough to the value of $75,000 found in the previous Princeton study to further strengthen the idea that after a certain point of comfort, money in itself is not enough to create happiness.

So, if strict financial health can only increase happiness to a point, what is it that further increases our life-satisfaction? Professor Ryan Howell of the University of San Fransisco argues that it is experiences, rather than material items, that increase our levels of satisfaction. He argues that people believe material goods are a better investment, as experiences are not physically lasting. However, after conduction a study of satisfaction at the time of purchase, two weeks after, and four weeks after, Howell found that the satisfaction of consumer decreases with material purchases, while increasing substantially with experience based purchases. Ultimately, by the four week mark, the study reports that consumers consider the experiences to have far surpassed material goods in terms of generating satisfaction. It is due to this that Howell argues that experiences, as well as the connections and memories they give us with others, are much more important to our feeling of happiness than mere material goods.

In addition, as part of the CNN poll, 6% of people stated that money can in no way buy happiness. People that have these beliefs cite family, health, religion, and many other aspects as the sole sources of happiness in their lives. These people could, in fact be correct. Happiness could come solely from these facets, or they could in some significance contribute to happiness and act as confounding variables in the other, monetary studies.

Overall, it is nearly impossible to say for certain whether money can truly buy happiness. There seems to be a strong correlation between having enough money to be comfortable and happiness, but after that it is uncertain whether more money will make you more happy, or whether it is purely left up to experiences, personal connections, and a score of other facets to influence your happiness. Ultimately, with so many confounding variables and such a tough depended variable to measure, happiness, this is a difficult conclusion to pin down. However, with the correlations seen in multiple studies it would be smart to continue research in this field and continue to map out the ever elusive science of the pursuit of happiness.


Would Drug Decriminalization Help?

Drug addiction in America represents a huge problem. Drug abuse costs American taxpayers millions of dollars in health care, tears apart families, and ruins the lives of countless people everyday. It is due to these harmful properties that illicit drugs are illegal in America. However, there are theories garnering significant traction that call for the decriminalization of all drugs in order to remedy the drug abuse problem in America. While this may seem counterintuitive, countries like Portugal and Switzerland have seen a correlation of decreased drug abuse after implementing drug decriminalization policies.

Ultimately, the only way to truly determine whether decriminalizing drugs in America would lead to a decrease in drug abuse would be to do a randomized experiment. However, the design of an experiment of this nature would be impossible to produce. It would involve randomizing groups of people into two different countries, one where drug use is completely legal and one where all drug use is illegal. This would be incredibly difficult to create, as it would involve uprooting people and moving them to a different country for an extended period of time, as well as implementing national policy in favor, or against legalization of drugs. Clearly, this is not an experiment that can be realistically conducted, however we can gather evidence for a hypothesis through observational studies of countries that have already implemented some sort of drug decriminalization within their borders.

When conducting these observational studies, there are three potential conclusions that could be reached. One, the null hypothesis- that decriminalizing drug use has no effect on drug abuse, could be deemed accurate and accepted. Alternatively, that null hypothesis could be rejected, leaving two remaining alternative hypotheses. One, that decriminalizing drug use reduces the ill effects of drug abuse, or two, that decriminalizing drug use increases the effects of drug abuse.

First, the country of Portugal can be used in an observational study due to their unique drug policy. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drugs. Today, if a person is found with any drugs, they are sent to a committee made up of a lawyer, doctor and social worker called a Commission for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction. They are either given a fine, sent to a rehabilitation class, or, often sent home with no penalty at all. When examining the statistics, ill effects due to drug abuse: frequent drug use, drug-related deaths, HIV infections, and imprisonment on drug related charges have all decreased greatly following the decriminalization of drugs. However, Portugal may be an isolated case where decriminalization was effective, similar in scientific gravity to an anecdote. It does not necessarily create a strong correlation between decriminalization and decreased drug abuse.

Next, Switzerland can be included in the observational study due to their drug policy. Switzerland has long had a unique stance on drug use, recently decriminalized the use of marijuana as well as providing opiate substitutes and clean needles to heroin addicts. HIV infections, as well as death related to drug overdose have both been reduced by half, leading people to applaud Switzerland’s system. The opiate substitutes, issued by the government through health care facilities, are also successfully being used to wean people off of heroin addictions, with health care experts proclaiming Switzerland as a model to be used for the rest of the world, however they may be speaking prematurely.

It is impossible to tell if the decriminalization is actually leading to a decrease in drug abuse without a proper experimental trial, as there could be a number of confounding variables effecting the situations. Anything from geological location, to cultural factors, to relative access to illicit drugs are not being controlled in these observations and therefore could be affecting the observed results. Also, while several countries in Latin America, such as Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, among others, have taken steps towards the decriminalization of drugs, yet still experience huge drug problems with no observable improvement. It is conflicting anecdotes like these that make the issue of the benefits or drawbacks of decriminalization of drugs so difficult to judge.

Ultimately, while we can conduct observations of countries in various stages of drug decriminalization, the combination of confounding variables as well as conflicting anecdotes makes it impossible to come to a strong conclusion, or even correlation, about the effect of drug decriminalization on drug abuse. The only way to come up with strong results would be to conduct a controlled experiment, however the design of this potential experiment would be nearly impossible to properly execute. Therefore, science is unable to come up with a substantial conclusion on this issue, and we are still left with the question, would decriminalization of drugs really help drug abuse?



How Latin America May Lead the World in Decriminalizing Drug Use

Music and Mood


I love listening to music. Whether it is at the gym, while doing homework, or just casual listening, music is an integral part of my day and my life. However, I recently started realizing the impact that music has on my mood. When I am listening to an upbeat song, I feel happy and energized, while a slower song makes me feel calm and relaxed. I found this effect very interesting and wanted to delve into just how much music really does affect mood.

It turns out the evidence behind music affecting mood is quite significant. The reason for music’s strong influence over us is rooted in music’s rhythm and tone, and its effect on our biology. For example, when we listen to music, our heart actually begins to beat in time with the beat of the song. This is why, when listening to a song with a slow, soothing beat our heart rate slows and we feel relaxed, while listening to an uptempo song makes our hearts begins to race and generates a feeling of excitement. The tone of the song also has an equally significant effect on our mood. Songs played in a predominantly major key send a signal of cheerfulness to our brain while songs in minor keys relay solemnity and sadness. Our brain then takes these communicated feelings and relays the message to the rest of our body, actually making us feel these emotions.


Because of music’s strong influence over our mood, the science of Music Therapy has become popular in treating depression and other mental health disorders. Music is a very effective means of combating depression. Listening to music has been shown to increase mood and overall happiness within two weeks of treatment. This is due to the fact that listening to happy music actually triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals in our brain responsible for making us feel good. Because of this biological reaction, music actually physically triggers us to feel happier. Listening to music is also an effective sleep therapy. Studies show that listening to soothing music releases the chemical melatonin, which regulates relaxation and sleep cycle in the body. This can be an effective therapy for those who have insomnia or trouble sleeping.

Overall, music is a powerful tool due to its strong connection to our brain and biology. It can have significant effects on mood for both the casual listener, or for those using it as an aid for mental disorders. After finding these results in my research, I will definitely continue to listen to music as part of my daily routine, as perhaps even use it as a tool to control my mood throughout the day.



Keep on Walking

Walking is a quintessential part of life on campus. By looking at the pedometer on my iPhone, I found that on a typical day of classes I average around 9 miles of walking, and I am not alone. Every day I see thousands of students out walking to classes, to dining halls, or just taking a casual stroll. Not only is walking the most effective means of transportation on campus, but it also could have great health benefits for students and faculty. Walking has been found to have surprising health benefits.

For example, walkers were found to have significantly less risk of heart disease. The benefits of walking on heart disease were found to be even better than running, as walking decreases your chances of heart disease by about 4.5% more than running. Also, walking is a good form of exercise. Running clearly trumps walking in terms of calories burned and aerobic intake, but briskly walking has been found to be a surprisingly good workout. Walking also puts less strain on your heart than running. When doing intense exercise such as running for a prolonged period of time, your heart chambers over-expand, causing micro-tears. If you repeatedly experience this, you can actually develop scar tissue on your heart and be more prone to heart disease later in life. Walking, and exercise in general have significant mental health benefits as well. A brisk walk has been found to release endorphins, the chemical in our brain that make us feel good. The endorphins released from a brisk walk have been found to have the same effect as an antidepressant for people with mild depression. Other benefits of walking are the improvement of circulation, bone density, and muscle strength.

Overall, walking has too many significant health benefits to pass up. So next time you find yourself sitting at a bus stop waiting for the next Blue Loop, keep your health in mind and get walking.



Danger in Football

concussion movie

As the closing credits scrolled across the screen, all I could think to myself was, how bad, really, is this thing?

I had just finished watching the movie Concussion starring Will Smith. The movie focuses on Dr. Bennet Omalu who through autopsies and research on former NFL football players discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy, commonly referred to as CTE. CTE is a degenerative disease of the brain where protein deposits build up on the brain tissue due to concussive blows to the head. It is essentially scar tissue developing on the brain itself. The dangers of CTE were brought to light by Dr. Omalu when he began investigating former football players who died seemingly strange deaths while in good health at young ages. After further investigation, Dr. Omalu found that all of the players had exhibited strange behavior before their deaths such as memory loss, unusual behavior, poor judgement, and depression. Today these are all known to be prominent symptoms of CTE.

ab concussion

In a sport where players experience impacts that can deliver similar g-force trauma as that of a serious car accident, head injuries and their repercussions have risen to the top as a major concern. Constant conversation about the issue of concussions, attempts to create new and better technology and significant rule changes have all helped mitigate the damages and help bring greater safety to the sport that America loves, but significant damage has already been done. In fact, the NFL just recently reached a $765 Million settlement with former players in restitution for concession related law-suits. However, the damage does not stop there. Mothers are pulling their sons out of youth football in favor of less risky sports, players like 24 year old San Francisco 49ers Linebacker Chris Borland are retiring early to avoid health concerns later in life, and still every week thousands of youth, college, and professional players continue to be diagnosed with concussions due to the head trauma experienced playing the game of football.–nfl_mezz_1280_1024.JPG

As a former High School football player, I wanted to know just how at risk I was to experience any form CTE. While much is still not known about CTE, I have found that even High School football players are exposed to enough head trauma to develop CTE. One recent study found evidence of CTE in 18 year old Eric Perry, the youngest person every to be diagnosed with CTE. CTE essentially develops from repeated trauma to the head, like that football players can face on any given play. In fact, high school football players have been found even more likely to sustain significant head injuries than college football players. Research shows high schoolers suffer more concussions per game than college players. These statistics, in fact may be conservative as many concussion go unreported by youth players who do not want to be pulled out of a game. However, while studies have shown that while more often than not concussion symptoms disappear within two weeks, there are cases where symptoms persist weeks, months, or in rare cases even years. If a player is to go back out onto the playing field while the brain is still trying to heal, the player is much more prone to suffering a more serious concussion and therefore at a greater risk to develop CTE.


CTE is still something very much unknown to us. We are constantly learning and doing research on head injuries and the ramifications of them, but until we shine more light on this problem we cannot completely prevent head injuries from happening in the sport of football. However, ultimately, football is a sport ingrained into American culture and for better or worse will persist in the face of these risks.

High School Football Players Face Bigger Concussion Risk

Science just isn’t Me

Hi, my name is Wes Alexander and I’m a freshman from Wayne, PA about 20 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I am taking this course because when I was scheduling classes I was told to pick a science course, any science course, in order to fulfill my science general education requirement. After looking over a list of hundreds of science courses I came across this class at just about the bottom of the list. My advisor told me it is an interesting class, that the professor has a cool New Zealand accent, and that its geared for students who aren’t necessarily ecstatic about science. Sign me up. Majoring in some field of science just wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind. I have never hated or necessarily done poorly in my science classes, it just wasn’t something that came easily to me or I enjoyed. I then made the mistake of taking AP Physics my senior year of High School and as i sat bored out of my mind through a year of vector addition and force diagrams I had pretty much made up my mind, there was no way I was going to be a science major.

physics meme

In other news, if anyone is looking for a good show to binge watch on Netflix, I would highly recommend “Stranger Things”. It just came out in July and has already received record breaking ratings. It also has a sic-fi kind of theme so it is partially relevant to science. Here’s the trailer if anyone is interested.