Thursday, June 26, 2014

Music Changes the Way You Think

Is it possible that hearing such isolated musical components can change the way you think? An ambitious new paper recently published by Jochim Hansen and Johann Melzner in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology argues precisely that.
What the scientists found is that the simple act listening to either of these two chord sets changed how people processed information in a very basic way. For example, the researchers asked people to take a list of shopping items and organize them into groups. Think detergent and paper towels: same kind of thing, or different? Results showed that “tritone” people formed fewer categories than “perfect fifth” people, indicating that they were thinking in broader, more inclusive categories than their counterparts.
Underlying these seemingly disparate questions is a relatively new theory in social psychology that has shown itself capable of explaining an impressive variety of human behaviors. It’s known as construal level theory, and its core premise is that there’s a link between how far things are from people and how abstractly they construe them. Distant things—a Hawaii vacation next year, say—appear to us general and decontextualized, their basic features (the beach, the sun) forefront in our minds. As they draw near, however, elements we never before considered (the packing, the possibility of rain) suddenly demand our attention. The forest, in other words, becomes the trees. Overall, the theory helps explain many seemingly disparate phenomena, like why we’re bad at predicting how long it’ll take us to fix the kitchen sink, why absence makes the heart grow fonder, and why we rarely follow through on New Years resolutions. In all these cases, what seemed a certain way from afar turns out, up close, to be a different beast entirely.
How does all this relate to repeating chord patterns? What the researchers have done, cleverly, is consider music’s ability to conjure up highly specific mental states. Tiny, almost immeasurable features in a piece of music have the power to elicit deeply personal and specific patterns of thought and emotion in human listeners. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Review: 'The Big Fat Surprise' by Nina Teicholz

What if the government's crusade against fat fed the spread of obesity by encouraging us to abstain from foods that satiate us efficiently?

It is a commonplace in public-health discussions of obesity to warn that the search for "perfect" or "better" evidence is the enemy of good policy and that we can't afford to wait for all the information we might desire when there is a need to do something now. Yet Ms. Teicholz's book is a lacerating indictment of Big Public Health for repeatedly putting action and policy ahead of good evidence. It would all be comical if the result was not possibly the worst dietary advice in history. And once the advice had been reified by government recommendations and research grants, it became almost impossible to change course. As Ms. Teicholz herself notes, she is not the first to point out that saturated fats have been sinned against by bogus science; and yet, the supermarket aisles are still full of low- and no-fat foods offering empty moral victories.
"The Big Fat Surprise" is more than a book about food and health or even hubris; it is a tragedy for our information age. From the very beginning, we had the statistical means to understand why things did not add up; we had a boatload of Cassandras, a chorus of warnings; but they were ignored, castigated, suppressed. We had our big fat villain, and we still do.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vibrating Electronic Glove Teaches People to Read/Write in Braille with Little to No Effort

Reading and writing in Braille can be a frustrating new skill that people who lost their eyesight have to learn. Typically, to become a natural at Braille requires many hours of learning, but researchers at Georgia Tech developed a glove that can help learn Braille without even thinking about it.
The electronic glove has vibrating motors sitting atop each knuckle and was originally used toteach people to play piano. The knuckles can be made to vibrate in different patterns that correspond to phrases written in Braille. In studies, to be presented at the 18th International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC) in Seattle in September, the researchers had volunteers wear the glove while focusing on learning Braille, while other participants played unrelated video games during the same Braille learning sequences. Remarkably, even those that didn’t consciously focus on Braille were able to repeat writing phrases taught by the glove. Moreover, not only did writing of Braille improve, but the study participants were also able to read Braille with greater ease.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

India Has a New Health Care Plan That Will Make Americans Jealous

The news: Millions of Indians are about to get a lot healthier. Dr. Harsh Vardhan, the country's new health minister, is rolling out a new health care initiative that will provide Indians free access to 50 essential generic medicines.
"Fifty basic essential drugs address 75% of the health care needs of the majority, and we plan to make these available free to everyone, from birth to death," Vardhan told the Hindustan Times.
How this will work: India's public hospitals and dispensaries will offer free medicine to treat pain, infections, hypertension, diabetes and many other diseases. Vardhan explained that, "The program" which will be rolled out in phases, "will focus on efficient procurement, quality control and rational use – 50% medicines are wasted or overused, leading to complications and drug-resistance."

Ad-Tech Entrepreneurs Build Cancer Database

Flatiron Health Is Sharing Its Information About 550,000 Cases With Doctors, Medical Facilities

Most treatments for cancer are based on protocols developed from clinical trials. Outcome reporting can lag for a while until papers are published. Flatiron gathers data that weren't previously available and shareable, the 96% of cases where the patient didn't participate in a clinical trial.
Revenue comes to two-year-old Flatiron from charging cancer centers for access to its database and by joining with life-science companies on their research. The centers contribute specific information about actual cases, with patient names taken off. This includes the course of treatment prescribed, and the outcome. Every cancer center has lots of such information: If they contribute theirs, they get access to the whole Flatiron database, and their doctors can see a much wider data set as they prescribe courses of treatment.

Today, Flatiron Health has 105 employees, and half of those are engineers. More than 200 cancer centers in the U.S. either use or are testing its database, which holds information about more than 550,000 cancer cases. This spring, it received Google Ventures' largest-ever investment in a medical-software company, $130 million. Mr. Turner, age 28, recently spoke to The Wall Street Journal about his struggles so far to build the business, which he expects to break even within a few years. Edited excerpts:

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Losing Weight May Require Some Serious Fun

If you are aiming to lose weight by revving up your exercise routine, it may be wise to think of your workouts not as exercise, but as playtime. An unconventional new study suggests that people’s attitudes toward physical activity can influence what they eat afterward and, ultimately, whether they drop pounds.
In aggregate, these three experiments underscore that how we frame physical activity affects how we eat afterward, said Carolina O.C. Werle, an associate professor of marketing at the Grenoble School of Management in France, who led the study. The same exertion, spun as “fun” instead of “exercise,” prompts less gorging on high-calorie foods, she said.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Doccupy, EHRs and the Affordable Care Act

It’s rare for doctors to turn out en masse for a public protest. But that’s what happened at “Doccupy” in Contra Costa County California in 2012. A group of safety net physicians testified before county supervisors — in what they only half-jokingly called “Doccupy” — that the cumbersome move to electronic health records (EHRs) had taken an enormous toll on patient care. The doctors saw half their usual number of patients. As a result, they told supervisors, one in ten patients left the emergency room without being seen and wait times ballooned from one to four hours — with one person waiting 40 hours for a hospital bed.
This protest came on the heels of a letter from a group of county jail nurses asserting concerns about the same electronic records system. A subsequent NYT article pointed out additional productivity and patient safety issues raised about electronic medical records at other locations, even from health care establishments as impressive as the Mayo Clinic.
It might be tempting to think of these stories as an aberrant blip. But surveys show Doccupy may have just been the first sign of trouble with electronic health records nationwide:
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Why You Hate Work -

THE way we’re working isn’t working. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe that what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway. By the time you get home, you’re pretty much running on empty, and yet still answering emails until you fall asleep.
Increasingly, this experience is common not just to middle managers, but also to top executives.

White-Collar Salt Mine

A 2013 survey of 12,115 workers worldwide found that many lacked a fulfilling workplace.
Regular time for creative or strategic thinking
Ability to focus on one thing at a time
Opportunities to do what is most enjoyed
Level of meaning and significance
Connection to your company’s mission
A sense of community
Opportunities for learning and growth
Opportunities to do what you do best
Ability to prioritize your tasks
Overall positive energy
Understanding of how to be successful
Ability to balance work and home life
Ability to disengage from work
Comfort in truly being yourself

Employees are vastly more satisfied and productive, it turns out, when four of their core needs are met: physical, through opportunities to regularly renew and recharge at work; emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions; mental, when they have the opportunity to focus in an absorbed way on their most important tasks and define when and where they get their work done; and spiritual, by doing more of what they do best and enjoy most, and by feeling connected to a higher purpose at work.
We often ask senior leaders a simple question: If your employees feel more energized, valued, focused and purposeful, do they perform better? Not surprisingly, the answer is almost always “Yes.” Next we ask, “So how much do you invest in meeting those needs?” An uncomfortable silence typically ensues.
How to explain this odd disconnect?
Partly, the challenge for employers is trust. For example, our study found that employees have a deep desire for flexibility about where and when they work — and far higher engagement when they have more choice. But many employers remain fearful that their employees won’t accomplish their work without constant oversight — a belief that ironically feeds the distrust of their employees, and diminishes their engagement.
A truly human-centered organization puts its people first — even above customers — because it recognizes that they are the key to creating long-term value.
t also makes a big difference to explicitly reward leaders and managers who exhibit empathy, care and humility, and to hold them accountable for relying on anger or other demeaning emotions that may drive short-term results but also create a toxic climate of fear over time — with enormous costs. Also, as our study makes clear, employees are far more engaged when their work gives them an opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.
The energy of leaders is, for better or worse, contagious. When leaders explicitly encourage employees to work in more sustainable ways — and especially when they themselves model a sustainable way of working — 
Why You Hate Work -
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