Summary of “What do we actually know about the risks of screen time and digital media?”

Recently, PNAS took a look at what we actually know about these risks, publishing a series of papers focused on “Digital Media and Developing Minds.” Collectively, this work explores the current state of research on this broad question lingering in the back of many minds: what impact do screens have on our brains, especially the developing noggins of everyone from children to young adults?
The new series of papers includes a look at childhood screen use and ADHD, the effects of media multitasking on attention, and the link between violent video games and aggression.
The separate papers are a good reminder that these are really separate issues; even if screen time ends up being problematic in one area, it doesn’t mean it can’t have a positive effect in another.
For Jay Hull, one of the authors of the headline-grabbing paper, video games and violence wasn’t a primary research interest.
The meta-analysis showed an effect: the more violent the video game play, the more the aggression.
Relative risk might be better, they suggest-how much more likely is your kid to be aggressive with access to violent games? A previous study of Hull’s found that kids with high exposure to mature games got sent to the principal’s office for fighting twice as much as those with low exposure-but even then, the rate was approximately ten kids out of every thousand, compared to five out of every thousand.
Markey, who is highly critical of the idea that games lead to violence, thinks that the analysis is sound but has bones to pick with the way the research is presented in the paper and the media.
“All this focus on video games! Meanwhile we’re not worried about things like gun control, economic issues, or media portrayals of. If we become distracted with things like video games, it takes our eyes off what might be a bigger issue.” That’s where the practical significance of the finding looms large: if video games explain only a tiny portion of aggressive behavior, other factors should probably be getting a lot more airtime.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Growing Up Surrounded by Books Could Have Powerful, Lasting Effect on the Mind”

Respondents, who ranged in age from 25 to 65, were asked to estimate how many books were in their house when they were 16 years old.
The surveys, which were taken between 2011 and 2015, showed that the average number of books in participants’ childhood homes was 115, but that number varied widely from country to country.
Across the board it seemed that more books in the home was linked to higher proficiency in the areas tested by the survey.
Growing up with few books in the home resulted in below average literacy levels.
Being surrounded by 80 books boosted the levels to average, and literacy continued to improve until libraries reached about 350 books, at which point the literacy rates leveled off.
The researchers observed similar trends when it came to numeracy; the effects were not as pronounced with information communication technology tests, but skills did improve with increased numbers of books.
What are the implications of the new study? Take adults who grew up with hardly any books in the home, but went on to obtain a university degree in comparison to an adult who grew up with a large home library, but only had nine years of schooling.
Further research is needed to determine precisely why exposure to books in childhood fosters valuable skills later in life, but the study offers further evidence to suggest that reading has a powerful effect on the mind.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Your boss has a huge effect on your happiness, even when you’re not in the office”

People who think of their immediate supervisor as more of a “Partner” than a “Boss” are significantly happier with their day-to-day lives and more satisfied with their lives overall, according to a new working paper by a team of Canadian and Korean economists.
In the realm of happiness research, that’s huge: “Equivalent in life satisfaction terms to more than a doubling of household income,” according to the paper.
The researchers found similar effects for supervisors’ influence on their workers’ day-to-day happiness.
Over the years, happiness researchers have consistently found that happiness usually follows a U-shaped curve throughout the course of a person’s life.
Only as people approach the later stages of their lives in their late 50s and beyond – when the kids move out and work starts to wind down – does happiness tend to start trending upward again.
If work stress is driving part of the decrease you’d expect that workers with different work environments might follow different happiness trajectories through middle age.
One of the questions that survey asks is how employed respondents view their immediate supervisor: as a “Boss” in the traditional sense? Or more as a “Partner”? Pooling millions of responses together over a period of several years, the researchers plotted life satisfaction, by age, dependent on the type of supervisor respondents said they had. As the chart at the top of this story shows, people with boss-supervisors exhibit a much more significant drop in life satisfaction between their early 20s and mid-40s. But for people with partner-bosses, the first half of the curve is much flatter.
Marriage is a big one, with married people showing much less decline in happiness as they approached middle age.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Huge reduction in meat-eating ‘essential’ to avoid climate breakdown”

Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the food system’s impact on the environment.
“Feeding a world population of 10 billion is possible, but only if we change the way we eat and the way we produce food,” said Prof Johan Rockström at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who was part of the research team.
“Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today.”
“But dietary and technological change [on farms] are the two essential things, and hopefully they can be complemented by reduction in food loss and waste.” About a third of food produced today never reaches the table.
The researchers found a global shift to a “Flexitarian” diet was needed to keep climate change even under 2C, let alone 1.5C. This flexitarian diet means the average world citizen needs to eat 75% less beef, 90% less pork and half the number of eggs, while tripling consumption of beans and pulses and quadrupling nuts and seeds.
The millions of people in poor nations who are undernourished need to eat a little more meat and dairy.
Reducing meat consumption might be achieved by a mix of education, taxes, subsidies for plant-based foods and changes to school and workplace menus, the scientists said.
A global change is needed, he said: “I think we can do it, but we really need much more proactive governments to provide the right framework. People can make a personal difference by changing their diet, but also by knocking on the doors of their politicians and saying we need better environmental regulations – that is also very important. Do not let politicians off the hook.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Pentagon’s Plans to Program Soldiers’ Brains”

What lies beyond bionics? Sanchez described his work as trying to “Understand the neural code,” which would involve putting “Very fine microwire electrodes”-the diameter of a human hair-“Into the brain.” When we do that, he said, we would be able to “Listen in to the music of the brain” and “Listen in to what somebody’s motor intent might be” and get a glimpse of “Your goals and your rewards” and then “Start to understand how the brain encodes behavior.”
The Restoring Active Memory program develops neuroprosthetics-tiny electronic components implanted in brain tissue-that aim to alter memory formation so as to counteract traumatic brain injury.
“School in its most fundamental form is a technology that we have developed as a society to help our brains to do more,” he said.
“In a different way, neurotechnology uses other tools and techniques to help our brains be the best that they can be.” One technique was described in a 2013 paper, a study involving researchers at Wake Forest University, the University of Southern California, and the University of Kentucky.
Event in 2015-meaning that researchers took the neural-firing patterns encoding the memory of how to perform the more complex task, recorded from the brains of the more educated rats, and transferred those patterns into the brains of the less educated rats-“And that stupid animal got it. They were able to execute that full thing.” Ling summarized: “For this rat, we reduced the learning period from eight weeks down to seconds.”
Some people like to think about the brain as if it were a computer, Weber explained, “Where information goes from A to B to C, like everything is very modular. And certainly there is clear modular organization in the brain. But it’s not nearly as sharp as it is in a computer. All information is everywhere all the time, right? It’s so widely distributed that achieving that level of integration with the brain is far out of reach right now.”
Neuroscientists understand the brain’s relationship with the vagus nerve more clearly than they understand the intricacies of memory formation and recall among neurons within the brain.
“If a brain can control a robot that looks like a hand,” Ling said, “Why can’t it control a robot that looks like a snake? Why can’t that brain control a robot that looks like a big mass of Jell-O, able to get around corners and up and down and through things? I mean, somebody will find an application for that. They couldn’t do it now, because they can’t become that glob, right? But in my world, with their brain now having a direct interface with that glob, that glob is the embodiment of them. So now they’re basically the glob, and they can go do everything a glob can do.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “Vitamin D: millions of Americans take it and most should just stop”

The new research, published in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, looked at 81 randomized trials on whether vitamin D prevents fractures and falls, and improves bone mineral density in adults.
“Something like 40 percent of older adults in the US take vitamin D supplements because they think it’s going to prevent against fractures and falls or cancer,” said Alison Avenell, the clinical chair of health services research at the University of Aberdeen and an author on the Lancet study, “And we’re saying the supplements for fractures and falls aren’t going to do that.”
For a health boost in people with no symptoms of deficiency, the tablet shows so little utility that doctors are even questioning why we bother measuring vitamin D levels in people who aren’t at risk.
So why all the hype about vitamin D? The hype about the vitamin during the past two decades started with early vitamin D science.
Early observational research on the benefits of vitamin D uncovered associations between higher levels of vitamin D intake and a range of health benefits.
More recent randomized trials – that introduce vitamin D to one group and compare that group with a control group – have shown little or unclear benefit for both vitamin D testing and supplementation in the general population.
“About 80 to 90 percent of vitamin D comes from sunlight, and even 15 minutes in the midday will boost vitamin D levels to a good level.”
All that screening led to an explosion in diagnoses, and millions of Americans now pop daily vitamin D pills.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Scientists Have Connected The Brains of 3 People, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts”

Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people share their thoughts – and in this case, play a Tetris-style game.
The researchers behind the new system have dubbed it BrainNet, and say it could eventually be used to connect many different minds together, even across the web.
Apart from opening up strange new methods of communication, BrainNet could actually teach us more about how the human brain functions on a deeper level.
“We present BrainNet which, to our knowledge, is the first multi-person non-invasive direct brain-to-brain interface for collaborative problem solving,” write the researchers.
In the experiment set up by the scientists, two ‘senders’ were connected to EEG electrodes and asked to play a Tetris-style game involving falling blocks.
Receivers were able to detect which of the senders was most reliable based on brain communications alone, which the researchers say shows promise for developing systems that deal with more real world scenarios where human unreliability would be a factor.
The same group of researchers has previously been able to link up two brains successfully, getting participants to play a game of 20 questions against each other.
“Our results raise the possibility of future brain-to-brain interfaces that enable cooperative problem solving by humans using a ‘social network’ of connected brains,” writes the team.

The orginal article.

Summary of “What if everything we know about dark matter is totally wrong?”

SNOLAB detectors scour the cosmos for the elusive stuff thought to make up the bulk of matter in our universe: dark matter.
The rest is unknown stuff, dark matter and even the more enigmatic dark energy.
Our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is thought to live in a vast cloud of dark matter – the so-called dark matter halo.
The leading theory is that dark matter is made out of particles that interact with normal, atomic, matter or light only through gravity – by exerting a gravitational pull.
“We’re particularly worried about muons, which can interact with the matter surrounding our detectors and create neutrons, which can mimic a dark matter signal,” says Coderre.
The detector and everything around is made of low-radioactivity materials, to reduce background ‘noise’ – just like at SNOLAB, radioactive materials emit electrons, gamma rays or neutrons that the detector is able to spot, messing up the picture of a potential arrival of a rare dark matter particle.
“The hunt for traditional heavy WIMPs will reach a natural conclusion with the next stage of the LHC and the big XENON dark matter experiments,” says Daniel Bauer from FNAL. “It is still possible these will be found in the next few years but, if they are not, then the standard WIMP hypothesis looks like the wrong answer.”
He is convinced that so far, the searches for dark matter “Have been looking for the wrong thing”.

The orginal article.

Summary of “If You Want To Help Your Child’s Brain Development, Start When They’re Born”

If You Want To Help Your Child’s Brain Development, Start When They’re Born According to a team of Harvard researchers, the key to addressing the achievement gap lies in connecting parents’ natural instincts with what we know about developmental science.
There’s a whole body of research on how caregivers can encourage brain development before a child starts any formal learning.
Research shows feeling safe can have a lasting influence on development.
“When you point at something, that helps the baby to start to associate words with objects,” Ferguson explains.
Babies love numbers and counting, and there’s research to show they’re actually born with math ability.
It’s never too early to start reading aloud – even with babies.
Back in Register’s class, she holds one of the babies and points to his head – and the developing brain inside.
It’s essentially the thesis behind all five of the Boston Basics: “Our babies are incredible,” she tells the new moms.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Cornell Food Researcher Brian Wansink’s Downfall Raises Larger Questions For Science”

Cornell Food Researcher Brian Wansink’s Downfall Raises Larger Questions For Science : The Salt Brian Wansink made a name for himself producing pithy, palatable studies that connected people’s eating habits with cues from their environment.
Brian Wansink, the head of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, announced last week that he would retire from the university at the end of the academic year.
Less than 48 hours earlier, JAMA, a journal published by the American Medical Association, had retracted six of Wansink’s studies, after Cornell told the journal’s editors that Wansink had not kept the original data and the university could not vouch for the validity of his studies.
In an internal review spurred by a wide range of allegations of research misconduct, a Cornell faculty committee reported a litany of faults with Wansink’s work, including “Misreporting of research data, problematic statistical techniques, failure to properly document and preserve research results, and inappropriate authorship.” Cornell apologized for Wansink’s “Academic misconduct,” removed him from his teaching and research posts, and obligated him to spend the remainder of his time there “Cooperating with the university in its ongoing review of his prior research.”
The most promising postdoctoral students, Wansink wrote, “Unhesitatingly say ‘Yes'” to research projects, “Even if they are not exactly sure how they’ll do it.”
While Wansink is perhaps the most prominent researcher in recent history to be brought down by allegations of p-hacking, this type of academic malpractice is not specific to one lab at one university, say van der Zee and Althouse.
“We never kept the surveys once their data was entered into spreadsheets. None of us have ever heard that a person was expected to keep all of those old surveys,” Wansink told NPR in an email last week.
For all of Wansink’s influence in the field of food and marketing Althouse says he worries that the lessons of Wansink’s mistakes will not be a wakeup call to the broader scientific community.

The orginal article.