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From this week’s cover of NEWSWEEK: Sharon Begley on the science of decision-making
Newsweek/Nurture Shock Creativity Contest: Over on their Nurture Shock blog, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman are asking readers to take questions from the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking. One of the tasks is described below:
In this drawing task, participants start with an incomplete figure, often no more than a scribbled shape. They add to it, turning it into a complete image. Use the incomplete figures to make pictures. Try to make them unusual. They should tell as interesting and complete a story as possible. Give each picture a title.
Here, we’re looking for something a little different, namely, how creative can you be if you’re not constrained by a pencil and paper? Our challenge: Take the above image and make a new image, using any tools you wish. You can print out the image, draw on it, scan it back in and submit, here; you can open up the image in Photoshop and digitally alter it; you can incorporate it into a Flash movie, etc. We’re looking for originality above all. Send us your best efforts, and we’ll publish them here and on Newsweek.com.
Hmm. Does this mean the University of Minnesota Spankological Protocol is no longer considered effective?
Adults with the least-healthy habits didn’t fit this pattern, found scientists led by Suzanne O’Neill of Georgetown University. The unhealthier people’s habits were, the more they latched on to genetic explanations for diseases (in particular, colon cancer, skin cancer, hypertension, and lung cancer). “Those most at risk are often the most likely to downplay and distance themselves from threatening health information,” the scientists conclude.
They suspect that this was a defensive reaction, in which people knew at some level that they were engaging in behaviors likely to lead to illness down the road (remember, these were all healthy adults at the time of the survey) but wanted to blame potential health problems on factors beyond their control. In the study, 25 percent of the participants were smokers, another 25 percent were not physically active five days a week, and 36 percent had a body-mass index above 30. If you think your plaque-clogged arteries, uncontrolled diabetes, or lung cancer will be caused by genes in the fertilized egg that became you—rather than your junk-food diet and two-pack-a-day habit—it absolves you of blame.
Begley, on why it’s not your genes’ fault.
Begley, on what’s going on when nothing is going on.
Begley, on the science of hypocrisy
CureTogether and PatientsLikeMe are cranking out some interesting data findings right now. Notice that antidepressants don’t play a significant role in curing depression. Antidepressants are the modern snake oil. One day we’ll all wake up and realize that reductionist medicine and funny little pills don’t solve life’s complex social, behavioral, and situational challenges.
This reminds us of Begley’s nice “Antidepressants are no better than placebos” piece from earlier this year.
There are serious doubts about how useful genomic information is going to be, outside of a few rare applications such as the ability of a child with leukemia to metabolize chemotherapy, one of the earliest attempts to pair genomics with medicine. Just last year, a study in JAMA concluded that determining whether a patient carries genes that affect the risk of blood clots (venous thromboembolisms) does not necessarily prevent blood clots. In a related setback last year, Medicare concluded that genetic tests that indicate how well patients metabolize the clot-buster warfarin does not meaningfully help doctors determine the safe dose; the agency therefore declined to pay for the tests. This year, another JAMA study, of 19,313 women, found that using multiple genetic markers to assess someone’s risk of cardiovascular disease produces no better a risk assessment than old-fashioned tests such as cholesterol level, blood pressure, and family history. And this was a study that used 101 genetic variants.
How can knowing whether or not someone has genes associated with a disease not be helpful in predicting whether that disease will strike? No one knows for sure. But it must reflect the fact that the effect of a gene depends on a person’s “genetic background”—all the other genes he or she has. And it also reflects a person’s environment. In some environments a gene does lead to disease; in others, it doesn’t.
Begley, on why DNA doesn’t always predict disease