AMERICAN MALAISE

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Retreat of Western Liberalism

By: Edward Luce

Narrated by: Julian Eifer

Edward Luce (Author, English journalist, Financial Times columnist and US commentator.)

Edward Luce offers a troubling picture of 21s century America.    His argument depends on one’s definition of “…Western Liberalism”.  If the definition is belief in human individuality and a relaxation of public custom, law, and authority, there is evidence to support Luce’s argument. 

Luce notes the election of Donald Trump is not an American aberration but a symptom of “The Retreat of Western Liberalism”.

The advent of the internet has reinforced a group think driven by belief in alternative facts that create conspiracy theories.  It is a discontent coming from many Americans ignored by rising wealth of a nation controlled by special interests.  Trump taps into that discontent.   

The irony of Trump’s rise is his personal wealth when the American gap between rich and poor is skyrocketing.  Putting that irony aside, Trump suggests America can be “Great Again” by returning to a past.

Trump creates a false hope of re-industrializing America with new jobs. The falseness of Trump’s pitch is that new jobs in America are not being created by industrialization but by technology and human services.  Trump’s appeal is loaded with false representations, amplified by media trolls.  Public custom, law, and authority are undermined by conspiracy theories that convince Americans they have been cheated out of their fair share of America’s wealth.  In truth, they have, and that is why Trump’s false pitch about “Making America Great Again” got him elected.

Trump’s anti-immigrant falsehoods feed conspiracy theories about jobs being taken from poor Americans.  Equal opportunity is a function of rising wealth in the hands of the few.  Public education and health care are unequally distributed in America.  The wealthy can afford higher education and the best health care, the poor cannot. 

Americans are poor because they are being denied equal opportunity, not because of immigration. 

Education and health care are critical for American labor’s adjustment to a changing world.  Private industry and the government have equal responsibility for assisting all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the technological revolution.

Job transition requires re-education and on-job training by employers that offer decent wages and health care. 

Luce’s point is a “rising tide has not lifted all boats”.  The technological revolution offers the same potential for western liberalism as the industrial revolution.  The election of Donald Trump was America’s “wake up” call. 

A large part of America’s population has been left out of the American Dream of western liberalism that came from opportunities provided by the industrial revolution. 

Western liberalism needs to be reinvented by investment in a technological revolution for all Americans, not just those who have benefited from the industrial revolution.  The question is whether private industry and the government are up to the task.  Will western liberalism be reinvented and promoted by ossified industrial leaders and elected representatives?  Most industry leaders and elected representatives are satisfied with the status quo while too many Americans struggle to make mortgage or rent payments.  Luce defines the problem but offers no solution.

CRISPR REVOLUTION

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Editing Humanity (The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing)

By: Kevin Davies

Narrated by: Kevin Davies

Kevin Davies (Author, Ph.D in molecular genetics, Editor of Nature Genetics.)

The famous philosopher Søren Kierkegaard advised “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” 

He Jiankui (Chinese scientist who used CRSPR to modify genes of unborn twin girls.)

Kevin Davies reports the genie is out of the bottle with He Jiankui’s sloppy edit of genes in unborn twins.  Davies suggests science will move forward on gene modification to provide understanding Jiankui’s inept genetic experiment. With that forward movement, Davies implies human extinction will be delayed, extended, or ended by genome experimentation. Proof of Davies conclusion is in Britain’s plan to create a government owned company to investigate genetic diseases and cancer in adults. The pilot project is to sequence the genomes of 200,000 babies according to a May 14th article in “The Economist”.

What remains a danger is that evidence of genomic abnormality is a first step to experiments in changing genetic inheritance at birth. There is a great deal unknown about what some call “dark genetic matter”.

What becomes clear is the potential for great good and great harm in the CRISPR revolution.    

CRISPR-This is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a tech tool that reads DNA sequences that are fragmentary and not normal. In identifying what appears abnormal, the fragments can be manipulated to repeat what is believed to be the correct DNA sequence.                                                                                        

With the discovery of base pairing and the DNA double helix by Watson, Crick, and the (often-unrecognized) assistance of Rosaland Franklin, the basis for genome editing became possible. 

Beyond the syllabus: The discovery of the double helix. Erwin Chargaff (1951): Rule of Base pairing. Rosalind Franklin & Maurice Wilkins (1953): X-ray diffraction pattern of DNA. James Watson & Francis Crick (1953): Molecular structure of DNA.
Davies notes the key to editing genes are the replication errors between DNA strands.  Those spaces are indicative of disease risk that can be modified with CRISPR, a genome editing technique.

Davies offers a picture of Jiankui’s life.  He was educated at the University of Science and Technology of China and received a Ph.D. from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University in Texas.  From a humble life in China, Jiankui climbs a genetic mountain to arrive at a cliff of science.  One might characterize it as a cliff because a misstep in gene editing may injure or kill a patient and ruin a practitioner’s professional reputation.  Jiankui became a living example of a practitioner’s misstep. Jiankui is serving 3 years in prison and has been fined the equivalent of over $430,000 American dollars.  Davies notes the fate of the prenatal female twins is unknown.

Some would argue there are too many unknowns when genes are modified. As noted by Robert Plomin in “Blueprint”, the interconnection of DNA strands is complex.

Plomin notes the results of DNA modification are a matter of probability, not certainty.  Clearly identifying defective genes and modifying their code to eradicate disease or mental dysfunction is presently beyond current science understanding.

Adding to the uncertainty of results is the potential for creating a radical human cohort that defies societal norms, e.g., the creation of a destructive or superior race of humans.  An infrastructure would have to be formed to make decisions about the course of human civilization.  That infrastructure creates potential for radical authoritarian control of humanity by a select group of minders.

On the other hand, DNA modification holds the potential for eradicating disease.  The idea of eliminating HIV, and other viral diseases holds great promise for the future of humanity.  The cost and benefit will only be realized through experiment.  In one sense, it is like the experiments that doctors have taken since the beginning of medical treatment.  Heart disease and cancer treatments have become better over years of trial and error.

DNA modification is extensively used in agriculture to increase field productivity by reducing disease in plants and hardening resistance to blight.

DNA modification opens doors to regeneration when threatened by species extinction.

The light at the end of this tunnel may be a train or a new day. 

Davies’s underlying point is that CRSPR is here and will not go away.  Experiment will continue whether condoned by government or not.  All species on earth have a finite life. 

DNA modification is a fact, not just an idea.  It is here and will be used.  Science is grappling with rules to mitigate its potential downside while trying to insure its upside.  In the end, human survival will be decided by nature and the politics of control.

DNA

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
 Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Blueprint (How DNA Makes Us Who We Are)

By: Robert Plomin

Narrated by: Robert Plomin

Robert Plomin (Author, American Psychologist and behavioral geneticist.)

As a psychologist and clinical geneticist, Robert Plomin seems well suited to explain how understanding of DNA has the potential of mitigating (possibly curing) many human psychological maladies. 

The scientific community notes that 70% of human variability is based on genetic differences among people. 

With a perfect picture of a person’s DNA, there is potential for reducing human mental disorders.  However, Plomin’s argument seems weakened by his research and experience.

Plomin has spent a great deal of his life researching DNA and genetic inheritance. 

What “Blueprint” reveals is how much progress has been made but, at the same time, how far science must advance to clearly understand what the other 30% of human experience has to do with who we are, how we think, and why we act as we do. 

Plomin acknowledges there are different patterns of genetic inheritance.  These patterns show susceptible psychological maladies and other genetic anomalies that cause Huntington disease, Marfan syndrome, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, and others.  The inheritance patterns suggest those diseases are probabilities, not certainties. 

Plomin acknowledges DNA analysis remains too complex for precise understanding of the correlation between cause and effect.  Without precise understanding of genetic manipulation there will be unintended consequence, ranging from disability to death.  Further, there is the ethics of gene splicing that implies creation of a utopian society. 

Who would have the right to determine another’s role in society?  Whether as a philosopher king envisioned in Plato’s “…Republic”, or an Aryan race envisioned by Hitler, genetic manipulation opens a door to predetermined roles for human beings.  Who will make these decisions?  Is a planned society a good thing?  Does a human being want to be classified as a worker, a leader, a thinker, a doer because someone suggests society needs those classifications?

Listening to “Blueprint” leaves little doubt that understanding DNA is important.  What is in doubt is how that understanding is used.  Humanity has survived an estimated five or six million years.  To date, human survival has been based on random modifications of DNA and life experience. 

Maybe genetics offer the next stage in human survival, but abandoning natural selection carries risks based on human thought and action rather than natural selection.  Should science open Pandora’s box?

OOPS

Audio-book Review
           By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Complications (A Surgeon’s Notes on the Imperfect Science)

By: Atul Gawande

Narrated by Robert Petkoff

Several years ago, “Being Mortal” was reviewed with appreciation of what the author had to say about a doctor’s responsibility for improving the quality of life for the elderly and terminally ill.  Atul Gawande reinforces the double meaning of “Being Mortal” in his “Complications…Notes on the Imperfect Science”. 

Gawande explains doctors are not superhuman beings.  They are well-educated mortals that practice medicine with the intent of making the right decisions through attentive communication with patients. 

Knowledge from teachers and practitioners is helpful but it is through practice on patients that doctors become proficient for those needing help.  Gawande’s reflective words “practice on patients” are frightening to one who’s life is threatened by injury or disease.

Gawande notes decisions are not based on omniscience but on a doctor’s education and experience. 

Gawande offers notes on the imperfect science of medicine.  He explains why even the most conscientious physicians, let alone bad practitioners, make mistakes.  To become a skilled physician, as with any skill, requires practice.  The monumental difference is medical practice directly affects human lives.  Other professional practices are indirect.

The compounding difficulty of the science of medicine is that even the most experienced physicians make mistakes.  It may be because of missed diagnosis or motivations inherent in human nature (the drive for wealth, power, or prestige) but it is always at the expense of a patient.

Gawande reflects on the intuitive nature of medicine by telling the story of the fire captain that tells fellow fire fighters to leave a building when he senses the building is going to collapse (an anecdote also told in “Thinking Fast and Slow”).  An experienced doctor often must rely on the same sense and can be perfectly right or catastrophically wrong. 

Gawande tells the story of a young woman who is diagnosed with cellulitis in a leg that is swollen and inflamed.  The attending physician asks Gawande to look at the patient to confirm the diagnosis. 

Gawande questions the patient about how she might have acquired the infection.  He suspects it may be from a rare flesh-eating virus even though all the symptoms are consistent with cellulitis which can be easily treated with antibiotics.  Gawande suggests a biopsy and the diagnosis is changed.  It is found to be to the rare flesh-eating virus.  It is Gawande’s intuition that leads to treatment that successfully saves the young woman’s life.

A medical patient listening to Gawande appreciates his candor but fears the truth of human fallibility of a profession one relies upon. 

Most realize all humans make mistakes.  What is disconcerting is the lack of disclosure by many physicians and the doubt raised by Gawande in some doctor’s veracity in seeking what is best for their patients. 

Gawande explains some organizational methods used to minimize mistakes and modify future medical practices.  However, public disclosure of those mistakes (particularly regarding specific doctors and hospitals) is largely undisclosed. 

Gawande is challenging his profession to do better.  To that, the public should be grateful.

BRAIN FUNCTION

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Secrets of Consciousness

By: Essays in Scientific American

Narrated by: Coleen Marlo

A lot of ground is covered in “The Secrets of Consciousness” but for many who are interested in the subject, little new is revealed. 

Many articles and books have been written about the easy and hard part of the theory of consciousness. 

The easy part is knowledge of the physical characteristics and mechanics of brain function–the “how and where” of information that is stored and transmitted by the brain. 

The hard part remains the explanation of what consciousness means, particularly the “whys”. Why are living things aware of themselves, others, and the world from information transmission within a brain.  Why do humans get angry?  Why do we love?  Why do we hate?  Why are we sad or happy?  Is everything in the universe conscious?

(It is somewhat surprising that “A Thousand Brains” theory is not revealed in “The Secrets…” but it may be timing of publication. Or it may be scientist’s discounting of an engineer’s qualification for understanding consciousness.)

Consciousness is explained as an all-encompassing part of nature.  There is an avenue for consciousness in A.I., once the mechanics of consciousness are fully understood. The focus of first chapters are on scientific experiments showing all living things exhibit consciousness through their actions. 

For example, bees show consciousness by seeing red and in choosing the site of their nests with an ability to consciously navigate the world.

Following chapters explain parts of the brain and the mechanics of brain function.  They explore the complexity and interconnections of the brain and how different parts of the brain have specific functions.  This is the easy part of understanding consciousness because it is something that can be physically measured through brain scans and experiments that correlate actions with brain stimuli.  

Next, there are explanations of how experiments with brain stimuli offers potential for reading one’s mind without verbal communication. 

It opens the door for a consciousness meter that may allow some level of predictability and mind control.  In a positive sense, stimulus experiments might hold a key to reawakening consciousness in comatose patients.  The negative sense is the potential for brain washing a non-conforming human being.

Section 4 of these “Scientific American” articles is about “Altered States of Reality”. 

A particularly bizarre and threatening chapter suggests someone who sleepwalks can murder another person without being legally guilty of murder.

The last two sections of articles deal with psychoactive drugs, spiritual belief, and their effects on brain function.  A listener might view these articles as incentive to experiment with consciousness in two fundamentally different ways. One is with the use of psychedelic’s. The other is to join a monastery or convent.

The last article deals with the end of life. It reveals a possible explanation of why some see a white light just before dying.

Science argues the end of life is the end of consciousness. There is nothing after death–no heaven, no hell, just nothingness.

As an introduction to consciousness, this compendium is interesting.  However, after completion, the hard part of consciousness remains a secret.

AUTISM

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Uniquely Human

By: Barry M. Prizant PhD

Narrated by P.J. Ochlan

Barry M. Prizant, Phd. (Author, adjunt professor at Brown University, authority on autism disorders.)

Many are familiar with the existence of a neurodevelopment disorder called autism.  In a 2015 “Global Burden of Disease Study”, it is estimated that 1-2 people per 1,000 may be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. 

Prizant notes it affects more males than females and has a wide range of exhibited symptoms.

“Uniquely Human” is an excellent introduction to autism.  Prizant explains how symptoms are manifested, and how parents, teachers, and the public can help those within and outside the autistic spectrum. 

Autism is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.  Faulty synaptic connections in an autistic person’s brain affects their way of thinking and acting.

Prizant notes the importance of listening to a person on the autistic spectrum and asking questions to understand their thought and action. 

Prizant becomes an investigator by asking parents, teachers, and acquaintances of their experience with a particular autistic person.  By questioning, Prizant can find why an autistic person acts or reacts in a particular way. 

Prizant explains that a person on the spectrum is no different than any human being. An autistic person is thinking and acting based on facts they perceive and how they interpret those facts. 

If something is thought of as a threat, all people act in similar ways.  The principal difference is that one on the autistic spectrum may be interpreting information differently and reacting in accordance with their unique perception.    

When one realizes how information is being interpreted by someone on the spectrum, it is possible to work on reactions that seem wrong for the circumstances.  Prizant goes through several examples.  Being fearful of a boat ride, a particular corner of a street, or meeting strangers may make one who is on the spectrum act out.  With understanding of an autistic’s perception, one can desensitize and change behavior through explanation, environment change, or avoidance. 

In the case of the boat ride for the autistic child, Prizant suggests explaining the safety measures to be taken, adding a comfort toy on the trip, and showing that many friends will be on the boat.  In the case of a scary corner, Prizant discovers that a white building at the corner reminds the autistic person of a trip to the doctor when he was ill and in pain. Explaining to the frightened child that all white buildings are not the same abates fear of the corner. With more careful understanding of an autistic person’s perception, the object of fear can be addressed directly.  Being afraid of strangers is true of many people whether on the spectrum or not.  Knowing there is fear means one can address that fear by gradually introducing friends that do not have to be feared.

The difficult realization in Prizant’s book is that there are so many commonly understood social conventions assumed by people that are not comprehended by those on the autistic spectrum.  Social conventions are often poorly defined or not taught. 

Social conventions like not saying what you think when it embarrasses a person in front of other people comes from experience, not teaching.  This is just one example of how difficult it is for an autistic person to cope with life because societal norms are not precisely defined.  Those not on the spectrum, take societal norms for granted based on their experience.  Prizant notes a person on the autistic spectrum experiences life differently.  They may be completely unaware of social conventions.

Prizant offers tools for understanding and working with all human beings, not just those on the autistic spectrum.  Whether one is autistic or not, it is important to listen, investigate, and understand why people think and act the way they do.  It might be because that person is on the autism spectrum.  That does not mean those who are not on the spectrum may also interpret facts in a way that is inconsistent with most people’s understanding.

Many experiences early in one’s life have consequences later in life. A child remembers a father’s or mother’s rebuke as an eternal judgement when the reality may have been to protect a child from harm.  The shadow is created and remains with the child for the rest of his/her life.

Understanding human beings can only come from listening and questioning what a person thinks and why they act the way they do.  Easy to say, but time consuming and unlikely to be done in this increasingly fast-paced world.

IGNORANCE IS NOT BLISS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Half Lives

By: Lucy Jane Santos

Narrated by : Deirdre Whelen

Lucy Jane Santos (Author, Freelance writer and Historian.)

              Lucy Jane Santos recounts the perilous history of radioactivity in “Half Lives”.  Her history is not scintillating but offers a lesson in skepticism.  Her focus is the “on again, off again” love affair with radon by scientists, doctors, charlatans, and beauty product entrepreneurs.  The lesson is relevant in some ways to the Covid19 controversy of this century.

Santos recounts the discovery of radium in the late 19th century and shows how it evolved into the discovery of radiology that revolutionized surgical practice and diagnosis

A brighter part of Santos story is the discovery of X-rays (a type of radiation) and the value it gave to diagnosis and repair of internal injuries by providing interior pictures of the human body.  The idea came from an accidental discovery by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895.  While testing whether electrons could pass through glass, Roentgen found a green light appeared on black paper which then projected onto a nearby fluorescent screen.  These electrons are the essence of what became known as radiation.

Wilhem Roentgen (Scientist who discovered x-rays, received Nobel Prize in Physics 1901)

Marie Curie, a chemist and physicist, discovered two new periodic table’ elements, radon, and polonium in developing a theory of radioactivity.  Like Roentgen’s Xray discovery of the dispersal of electrons, Curie found photons may be released from atoms to trans mutate into different elements on the periodic table.  Curie received two Nobel Prizes, one in conjunction with her husband Pierre and a physicist named Henri Becquerel, and another on her own.  She is the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize and only one of four people who have ever been awarded two Nobel Prizes. (The other three were men—Linus Pauling, John Bardeen, and Frederick Sanger.)

Marie Curie (Scientist, chemist, and physicist, received 2 Nobel Prizes, died at the age of 66.

Santos suggests Curie’s death from radiation poisoning is a myth.  She bases that conclusion on an exhumation of Curie’s body to relocate it in France.  In the exhumation, no radiation was found in her remains.

These are two positives’ Santos notes in her history of radioactivity.  With the discoveries of Roentgen and Curie, radiation is used for diagnosis, surgical care, and treatment for physical injuries and cancer. 

However, radioactivity discoveries are misused by many who ignore the negatives of radiation.  Prominent businesspeople, some of which are outright charlatans, suggest radiation will cure numerous diseases, can be used as a luminous paint without concern for its impact on health, and should be mixed in elixirs or emoluments for skin repair and beauty treatments.  The quest for money, power, and prestige seduces the public into using radiation treatments for unproven, often harmful health and beauty benefits.

Radioactivity’s early history reveals shortened lives of many who believed radon was a miracle cure.  Maybe the most famous is Eben McBurney Byers, a wealthy American socialite, athlete, and industrialist who died in 1932.  He was 52 years old.

Byers, at the suggestion of his doctor began drinking a non-prescription liquid called Radithor (radium infused water).  The irony of his doctor’s suggestion is that a person who identified himself as a doctor was actually a college drop-out who manufactured and sold Radithor to Byers and other un-suspecting victims.

Upon autopsy, it is found that radium does not dissipate in the body but accumulates in organs and bones.  Byers is said to have ingested over 1400 bottles in 3 years. His brain became abscessed with holes forming in his skull. He died on March 31, 1932.

Santos notes the dials of watches were painted to glow in the dark, particularly important during WWI when soldiers needed to coordinate their movements.  It was found that the radiated dials were harmful to painters of the dials, but manufacturers denied the correlation until challenged by evidence of many who were physically disfigured or died from their work.

Radium Girls (Women hired to paint watch dials with radium)

Famous beauty product producers in England and France in the 1920s and 30s were promotors of cosmetics infused with Radon.  One wonders how many of these misinformed practices are not a proximate cause of cancer increase in the world.

The cosmetic industry grew exponentially after WWI.  Radon mixing in emoluments were touted for their ability to increase blood flow to the skin to brighten one’s appearance. 

Santos’s story is a warning to humanity.  Be skeptical of cures that purport to be safe and beneficial, and review facts available from reputable sources.  Today’s vaccination for Covid19 is a case in point.  The facts are that over 650,000 Americans have died from Covid19.  Those who have received the “jab” are less likely to die if they are infected by the virus.  The virus is transmitted from person to person and can be mitigated by wearing a mask.  Consider the source of those who promote or deny those facts.  When facts are distorted by politics, we only have ourselves to blame.  Humans need to be skeptical but not ignorant.

CLINICAL PROOF

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Skeptics’s Guide to Alternative Medicine

By: Steven Novella MD

Great Books Lecture Series

STEVEN NOVELLA (AMERICAN CLINICAL NEUROLOGIST, ASST. PROFESSOR AT YALE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE)

Many listener/readers will be disappointed, if not outraged, by Steven Novella’s criticism of alternative medicine and medical treatments.  He notes that many such treatments are untested by properly conducted experiment, and replication.  He notes many alleged medical treatments and cures either fail clinical tests or are not tested at all. 

The significance of Novella’s argument strikes at the heart of anecdotal evidence used to advertise unproven cures for minor, as well as major medical conditions.  With freedom of advertising, unproven claims of miracle cures are fed to the public.  Their claims are to improve health for everything from fatigue, to joint pain, to erectile dysfunction. 

Over the counter supplements and game playing are alleged to improve health and memory. Their only proof is anecdotal experience.  Some advertisements of the OTC’ treatments claim to improve memory, abate Alzheimer’s, and reduce the negative effect of dementia. Support in the media comes from anecdotal stories from users of these alleged remedies. 

One of the most heavily advertised health supplements for brain health today is Prevagen.  Prevagen is dosed with a protein found in jelly fish.

Novella takes on the vitamin and herbal industry by noting vitamin supplements, plant and animal extracts are an unregulated industry.  The FDA gives free reign to manufacturers, advertisers, and sellers of supplements which:

  • 1) vary dramatically in their alleged ingredients, and
  • 2) have no clinically proven benefits. 

Novella explains (and most have heard this) that a balanced diet is the best prescription for healthy living.  Novella notes the only exception is when there is a vitamin deficiency revealed in a blood test.

Many OTC drugs are supported by lab-coat wearing and white-shirt-and-tie actors.  No reputable clinical trials are required to sell Ginkgo Biloba, Ginseng, Echinacea, and other herbal medicines.

Next, Novella takes on the Chiropractic and Acupuncture industry.  Novella argues these two industries have never had clinically proven benefits.  Novella implies Chiropractors talk of “vertebral subluxation” as a cause for disease that can be cured with manipulation of the body. He suggests that is quackery.  Novella implies this is junk science foisted on an unwary public. No clinically reproducible experiments of this Chiropractic diagnosis and treatment have proven such a claim.  Novella attacks the validity of acupuncture with the same argument.  His conclusion is that any positive results are from the placebo effect, not from clinically reproduceable tests.

The body naturally fights disease with one’s own immune system.  People get better and feel better because their immune system cured them. Novella explains feeling better after taking a herbal supplement may be a result of the placebo effect.  Feeling better is reinforced by testimonials of those who say it worked for him or her.  The obvious risk of the placebo effect is that someone who needs medical treatment will choose an alternative medicine that delays proper treatment by a qualified medical professional. 

Novella suggests feeling better is not a measure of efficacy.  Feeling better may be from getting over an illness. 

The public is forearmed by Novella’s critique of alternative medicine.  Be skeptical about what your friend, an acquaintance, a mother, a sister, a brother suggests is a remedy for your malady. Be particularly skeptical of an industry unsupervised by the FDA.  Everyone should be wary of unqualified medical treatment, prescribed medicines, vitamins, and herbs.  Companies in the field of alternative medicine are not in the business for your health. They are in the business of making money.

It seems prudent to suggest one should reserve a measure of skepticism for all purveyors of cures, even medical professionals.  As is true of all humans, medical professionals can be seduced by the desire for money, power, and prestige–even at the expense of those who seek care.

This book is written before Covid19. Politicization of science is a danger to humanity. Science is never perfectly right. There should always be some level of skepticism about new medical or drug treatments. Freedom to choose whether one should get a jab for Covid19 pales in comparison to death statistics of those who ignore the science.

After listening/reading Novella’s book, it seems prudent to be skeptical of all who prescribe cures for mental and physical illness.  However, death statistics from Covid19 are compelling evidence to prove those who choose not to get the jab threaten the lives of others, not just themselves.

EVOLVING PANDEMICS

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

Mysteries of the Microscopic World

By: Bruce E. Fleury (Great Courses)

Lecturer-Professor Bruce E. Fleury

Bruce E. Fleury (Professor of Practice in the Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University)

“Mysteries of the Microscopic World” is a reflection on the “The Invisible Realm”, the world of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. 

It is somewhat dated because of today’s history of Covid19.  However, Fleury offers a modern understanding of pandemics and the role germs play in human life.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)

Fleury explores a world unseen until the 17th century.  Antony van Leeuwenhoek is identified as the first to see the “…Microscopic World” in 1683. 

However, the microscopic world was not considered important until the 19th century when puerperal fever was found to be caused by germs.  A germ theory of disease originated with Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician in the 1840s. Many babies were dying from puerperal fever because doctors were going straight from deceased patients’ autopsies to delivery operating rooms. 

An interesting side note by Fleury is Semmelweis’s germ theory required careful hand washing before delivering babies.  Washing hands is still not carefully followed, even by the medical profession.  Fleury suggests only 50% of doctors and nurses properly wash their hands.

In the late 1850s Louis Pasteur suggested the spread of microorganisms (germs) could explain infectious disease.  Pasteur, and later Robert Koch, began to isolate bacteria of diseases like anthrax, TB, and cholera.  The race for understanding the microscopic world’s relationship to disease is launched.

Fleury explains this microscopic world is not only a disease producer.  It also aids human existence by offering microorganisms that get rid of wastes and remove toxic chemicals from the body.  Fleury notes some humans die from microorganisms, but they cannot live without them.

Fleury explains how the microscopic world follows the same Darwinian evolutionary path as the macroscopic world.  The microscopic world, like the animal world, evolves with random adaptation that sustains all life.

The two edges of this microscopic world can cure or kill.  Fleury explains how this unseen world evolves in the same way the animal kingdom evolves.    Today’s Covid19 virus changes to preserve itself.  Covid19 evolves like any life force to become resistant to current drug treatment. Pfizer and other drug manufacturers are tasked with modification of their drug formulas to defeat viral and bacterial evolution.

In Fleury’s history of pandemics, listeners/readers will find interesting facts that parallel today’s Covid19’ experience.  A striking parallel is the 1918 Flu pandemic. It killed an estimated 50-100 million people. 

Today the world has lost over 2.5 million people from Covid19, but it pales against the 1918 pandemic’ loss of an estimated 50 to 100 million people.

The 1918 world population is estimated at 1.8 billion.   The world’s population today is at 7.674 billion, over a six-fold increase.  Today’s 2.5 million people lost from Covid19 could become several times greater based on today’s population.

This reminds one of the Texas and Mississippi governors’ choice to return to business as usual with no mask mandates and reopened businesses.

It may be that medical science and vaccination is so much better today than in 1918, but these governors are gambling with American lives.  Covid19 may kill many more.

Fleury reminds reader/listeners of the history of wars and how the microscopic world of poisons, and disease-producing germs were used to defeat combatants.  He notes how small armies were able to defeat large armies.  Fleury tells stories of smaller military forces throwing bags filled with poisonous snakes into enemy camps to create chaos and death, lethal gas use in explosive devices that are thrown into enemy foxholes, and deadly smallpox impregnated blankets given to native Americans by American settlers.  He notes how small expeditionary invasions decimated empires by introducing germs that came from their home countries.  Explorers and soldiers were carriers of germs that had never been seen in the new world.  Millions have died from this newly weaponized unseen world.  Fleury notes that biological research and warfare are ongoing threats to the human race.

In the Sunday NYT’s on 3/7/21, an article criticizes the use of public funds to stockpile an Anthrax vaccine when so many problems have arisen in the fight against Covid19. The complaint largely revolves around one company’s high profitability and government influence in preparing an anthrax antidote stockpile to protect against biological attack by terrorists.

Fleury notes that anthrax bacterium is “…a perennial favorite in every nation’s biological arsenal.” Anthrax causes a rapid and painful death within 12-24 hours and the bacterium can last for 40-80 years in soil.

One has to wonder why can’t government “chew gum and walk” at the same time. Stockpiling an Anthrax antidote and being prepared for a Covid19 type of pandemic could be done at the same time. After all, America is the richest nation in the world.

Many presume Aids has been cured because it is not in the press like it used to be.  Something not widely known is that Aids has no known cure.  It remains a killer.  Only palliative treatment has been found to extend life and Fleury notes the treatment is quite expensive.  Aids is caused by a germ that attacks the immune system.  It is introduced through sexual contact or re-use of hypodermic needles. 

Aids eventually kills nearly all Aids carriers, either from cancer or some other disease that takes advantage of a carrier’s compromised immune system.  Fleury notes an exception is a small minority of carriers with a genetic variation that allows them to live a long life.

Fleury explains there is a race between microbes and humans.  As antibiotic treatment improves, microbes mutate into strains that resist treatment.  What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow.  Fleury implies there is a natural balance among all living things.  Humans may be destined for extinction, but Fleury reminds us of the myth of Pandora.  She left hope in the bottom of the box when all the evils were unloosed on the world.

World leaders struggle with opening their economies at the right time, in the right way, to avoid a return to rising death rates from the Omicron varient of Covid19.

MINDING YOUR BRAIN

Audio-book Review
By Chet Yarbrough

(Blog:awalkingdelight)
Website: chetyarbrough.blog

The Disordered Mind (What Unusual Brains Tell Us About Ourselves)

By: Eric R. Kandel

Narrated by David Stifel

Eric Kandel (Author, Austrian-American MD, Neuroscientist. recipient of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology)

In “The Disordered Mind”, Dr. Kandel offers an explanation of what is known about the physiology of the human brain.  What is thinking?  How does the brain work?  What is consciousness?  What causes brain dysfunction?  What is mental illness? How can mental illness be diagnosed and treated?

Most know there are two distinct halves of the human brain.  What is less well known is that the left and right brain hemispheres conflict with each other.

Kandel explains that right brain activity generates much of human creativity while the left brain is tasked with logic.  It is not that the two halves of the brain never cooperate with each other.  However, regions of the brain frequently interfere with each hemisphere’s understanding of what humans see, feel, hear, and think. With those senses, human thought and action is affected.

MAPPING THE BRAIN

Damage or disease of either side of the brain is a proximate cause of psychiatric disorder but the interconnection of the two sides makes diagnosis and cure a hit and miss proposition.  The physiology of the brain is complex and difficult for today’s practitioners. To diagnose or cure symptoms of brain injury or disease requires precise information about location and physiological characteristics of brain function.  Kandel notes that brain imaging has been a boon to understanding how the brain functions and where thought and action originates and initiates, but interconnectedness thwarts precise understanding.

Kandel informs us of symptoms of various brain injuries and diseases and how science searches, stumbles, and recovers to find ways to ameliorate physical and mental disorders caused by brain dysfunction.  He explains how too much or too little of naturally produced chemicals like dopamine and melatonin affect brain function.  Kandel notes how normal behavior becomes unbalanced with excess or diminishment of brain chemistry.

The origin of artist creativity is explored by Kandel.  Kandel implies the dada movement reflects bizarre subconscious images that titillate the public because they resonate with one’s own subconscious.   

Artists are exhibiting right brain evocations.  This reminds one of Edmund Munches’ Scream and his note hidden in the painting that says, “Could Only Have Been Painted by a Madman”. Kandel dismisses that characterization of artists.  Kandel suggests they are simply magnifying right brain neural activity.

Kandel notes the progress that has been made in abating, if not curing, psychiatric disorder.  It is surprising to find how many treatments have been discovered accidently.  This is not meant to diminish leaps of science in mapping the brain, or creating medicinal treatments for psychosis and neuropathy but it discloses much of the luck that leads to palliative, if not curative, care. 

Kandel notes a fundamental cause of certain psychiatric disorders have been found to be misfolded proteins that negatively affect biological activity and, in some cases, increase neuronal toxicity. This misfolding is considered to be a cause of antitrypsin-associated emphysema, cystic fibrosis, and other maladies.

A somewhat surprising disclosure by Kandel is that physical change of the brain is shown from use of psychotherapy as well as physical or chemical intervention.  Kandel suggests psychotherapy is an important part of treatment for patients being treated with drugs or surgical intervention.  Kandel infers physiological change in the brain can be as consequential with psychotherapy as with drug or surgical treatment.  However, he suggests both forms of treatment offer more lasting success.

There is a lot to unpack in Kandel’s book about “The Disordered Mind”.  Many who read/listen to this book will conclude that treatment of drug addiction and other psychological imbalances need more scientific research and better diagnosis and treatment.