Category Archives: Science

Study reveals where psychedelics zap your brain


This is your brain on drugs, or, more specifically, how three different psychedelic drugs, psilocybin [‘shrooms]. LSD, and ketamine [“Special K”], as revealed in a new scientific study revealing that psychedelics trigger neuronal excitement in specific brain areas,  as reported in Nature [open access], the world’s premiere scientific journal [click on the image to enlarge]:

We’ve long been fascinated with a certain class of drugs, the so-called psychedelics [from the Greek for mind-manifesting], drugs taken not to numb or physically stimulate but to reveal normally hidden dimensions of our inner mental lives.

New research is revealing that psychedelics may be the one reliable route to relieving depression [previously], a condition with which esnl has struggled for most of our years on the planet, as well as stopping smoking and even reducing spousal abuse.

Now a new study show where three such compounds impact the the brain

More from the University of Sussex:

Scientific evidence of a ‘higher’ state of consciousness has been found in a study led by the University of Sussex.

Neuroscientists observed a sustained increase in neural signal diversity – a measure of the complexity of brain activity – of people under the influence of psychedelic drugs, compared with when they were in a normal waking state.

The diversity of brain signals provides a mathematical index of the level of consciousness. For example, people who are awake have been shown to have more diverse neural activity using this scale than those who are asleep.

This, however, is the first study to show brain-signal diversity that is higher than baseline, that is higher than in someone who is simply ‘awake and aware’. Previous studies have tended to focus on lowered states of consciousness, such as sleep, anaesthesia, or the so-called ‘vegetative’ state.

The team say that more research is needed using more sophisticated and varied models to confirm the results but they are cautiously excited.

Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex, said: “This finding shows that the brain-on-psychedelics behaves very differently from normal.

“During the psychedelic state, the electrical activity of the brain is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during normal conscious wakefulness – as measured by ‘global signal diversity’.

“Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of ‘conscious level’, we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal – but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.”

For the study, Michael Schartner, Dr Adam Barrett and Professor Seth of the Sackler Centre reanalysed data that had previously been collected by Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff in which healthy volunteers were given one of three drugs known to induce a psychedelic state: psilocybin, ketamine and LSD.

Using brain imaging technology, they measured the tiny magnetic fields produced in the brain and found that, across all three drugs, this measure of conscious level – the neural signal diversity – was reliably higher.

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Polar ice hits the lowest levels ever recorded


A very sobering report from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

In March 2017, Arctic sea ice reached a record-low maximum extent, according to scientists at NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). In the same month, sea ice on the opposite side of the planet, around Antarctica, hit its lowest extent ever recorded at the end of the austral summer—a surprising turn of events after years of moderate sea ice expansion.

On February 13, 2017, the combined Arctic and Antarctic sea ice numbers were at their lowest point since satellites began to continuously measure sea ice in 1979. Total polar sea ice covered 16.21 million square kilometers (6.26 million square miles), which is 2 million square kilometers (790,000 square miles) less than the average global minimum extent for 1981–2010. That’s the equivalent to losing a chunk of sea ice larger than Mexico.

The line graphs above plot the monthly deviations and overall trends in polar sea ice from 1979 to 2017 as measured by satellites. The top line shows the Arctic; the middle shows Antarctica; and the third shows the global, combined total. The graphs depict how much the sea ice concentration moved above or below the long-term average. (They do not plot total sea ice concentration.)

Arctic and global sea ice totals have moved consistently downward over 38 years. Antarctic trends are more muddled, but they do not offset the great losses in the Arctic. The maps below give a closer look at the record lows that occurred at each pole this year.

The ice floating on top of the Arctic Ocean and its surrounding seas shrinks from mid-March until mid-September. As the Arctic temperatures drop in the autumn and winter, the ice cover grows again until it reaches its yearly maximum extent, typically in March. This winter, a combination of warmer-than-average temperatures, unfavorable winds, and a series of storms stunted sea ice growth in the Arctic.

The first map shows the concentration of Arctic sea ice on March 7, 2017, when it reached its maximum extent for the year. Opaque white areas indicate the greatest concentration, and dark blue areas are open water. All icy areas pictured here have an ice concentration of at least 15 percent (the minimum at which space-based measurements give a reliable measurement), and cover a total area that scientists refer to as the “ice extent.”

The maximum extent on March 7 was a record low, measuring 14.42 million square kilometers (5.57 million square miles). That’s 97,00 square kilometers (37,000 square miles) below the previous record low that occurred in 2015.

“We started from a low September minimum extent,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “There was a lot of open ocean water, and we saw periods of very slow ice growth in late October and into November because the water had a lot of accumulated heat that had to be dissipated before ice could grow. The ice formation got a late start and everything lagged behind—it was hard for the sea ice cover to catch up.”

This year’s record-low maximum will not necessarily lead to a new record-low minimum extent in summertime, since weather has a great impact on the melt season’s outcome, Meier said. “But it’s guaranteed to be below normal.”

Sea ice around Antarctica behaves in a similar manner, but with the calendar flipped—it usually reaches its maximum in September and its minimum in February. This year, Antarctic sea ice reached a record-low minimum on March 3. The second map shows the concentration of sea ice on that day.

The extent on March 3 measured 2.11 million square kilometers (815,000 square miles). That’s 184,000 square kilometers (71,000 square miles) below the previous record low in the satellite record, which occurred in 1997. This year’s low happened just two years after several monthly record-high extents in Antarctica and decades of moderate sea ice growth.

“There’s a lot of year-to-year variability in both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, but overall, until last year, the trends in the Antarctic for every single month were toward more sea ice,” said Claire Parkinson, a senior sea ice researcher at NASA Goddard. “Last year was stunningly different, with prominent sea ice decreases in the Antarctic. To think that now the Antarctic sea ice extent is actually reaching a record minimum, that’s definitely of interest.”

Meier said it is too early to tell if this year marks a shift in the behavior of Antarctic sea ice.

“It is tempting to say that the record low we are seeing this year is global warming finally catching up with Antarctica,” Meier said. “However, this might just be an extreme case of pushing the envelope of year-to-year variability. We’ll need to have several more years of data to be able to say there has been a significant change in the trend.”

How Trump could cause a 21st Century witch hunt


Way back when esnl was an undergrad majoring in anthropology, one of our professors relentlessly hammered in one point: People are territorial group animals just like chimpanzees, our closest primate cousins [the bonobo hadn’t be recognized yet as a separate species even closer to us than chimps].

We also know that violence breaks out among chimps when resources are scarce and groups come into conflict.

We’ve also learned that humans who see themselves and their groups under threat can respond in those same primal ways.

And history teaches us that demagogues with dark agendas can exploit those same instincts to enhance their own positions of power by targeting popular anger towards the weak and those readily distinguishable from our own groups.

Some of our first television memories, after we got one of the first sets in town when we were six years old, was of the Army/McCarthy hearings, when a right wing demagogue in the Senate who had built a career out of whipping up fear of communists finally past the point of no return.

And now, with Donald Trump in the Whoite House the stage may be set for another witch hunt, writes Peter Neal Peregrine, Professor of Anthropology and Museum Studies at Lawrence University in this essay for The Conversation, an open-source academic journal written in everyday English:

As an anthropologist, I know that all groups of people use informal practices of social control in day-to-day interactions. Controlling disruptive behavior is necessary for maintaining social order, but the forms of control vary.

How will President Donald Trump control behavior he finds disruptive?

The question came to me when Trump called the investigation of Russian interference in the election “a total witch hunt.” More on that later.

Ridicule and shunning

A common form of social control is ridicule. The disruptive person is ridiculed for his or her behavior, and ridicule is often enough to make the disruptive behavior stop.

Another common form of social control is shunning, or segregating a disruptive individual from society. With the individual pushed out of social interactions – by sitting in a timeout, for example – his or her behavior can no longer cause trouble.

Ridicule, shunning and other informal practices of social control usually work well to control disruptive behavior, and we see examples every day in the office, on the playground and even in the White House.

Controlling the critics

Donald Trump routinely uses ridicule and shunning to control what he sees as disruptive behavior. The most obvious examples are aimed at the press. For example, he refers to The New York Times as “failing” as a way of demeaning its employees. He infamously mocked a disabled reporter who critiqued him.

On the other side, the press has also used ridicule, calling the president incompetent, mentally ill and even making fun of the size of his hands.

Trump has shunned the press as well, pulling press credentials from news agencies that critique him. Press Secretary Sean Spicer used shunning against a group of reporters critical of the administration by blocking them from attending his daily briefing. And Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shook off the State Department press corps and headed off to Asia with just one reporter invited along.

Again, the practice cuts both ways. The media has also started asking themselves if they should shun Trump’s surrogates – such as Kellyanne Connway – in interviews or refuse to send staff reporters to the White House briefing room.

Accusations of witchcraft

Witches persecuted in Colonial era. Library of Congress.

But what happens when informal means of control don’t work?

Societies with weak or nonexistent judicial systems may control persistent disruptive behavior by accusing the disruptive person of being a witch.

In an anthropological sense, witches are people who cannot control their evil behavior – it is a part of their being. A witch’s very thoughts compel supernatural powers to cause social disruption. If a witch gets angry, jealous or envious, the supernatural may take action, whether the witch wants it to or not. In other words: Witches are disruptive by their very presence.

When people are threatened with an accusation of witchcraft, they will generally heed the warning to curb their behavior. Those who don’t are often those who are already marginalized. Their behavior – perhaps caused by mental disease or injury – is something they cannot easily control. By failing to prove they aren’t a “witch” – something that’s not easy to do – they give society a legitimate reason to get rid of them.

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Chart of the day: Republican science-blindness


From the Pew Research Center, which reports:

People’s level of science knowledge helps to a degree to explain their beliefs about climate change, but the relationship is complicated. While there are wide political divides in public views of the potential for harm from climate change. A majority of Democrats holding medium or high levels of science knowledge said it was “very likely” that climate change would lead to rising sea levels that erode beaches and shore lines, harm to animal wildlife and their habitats, damage to forests and plant life, storms that are more severe, and more droughts or water shortages. But there are no differences or only modest differences among Republicans holding high, medium and low science knowledge levels in their expectations of harms to the Earth’s ecosystems because of climate change.

Similarly, Democrats with high levels of knowledge about science, based on a nine-item index, almost all agree that climate change is mostly due to human activity (93%). By contrast, 49% of Democrats with low science knowledge think this is the case.

But among Republicans, there are no significant differences by science knowledge about the causes of climate change. Put another way, Republicans with high levels of science knowledge are no more likely than those with lower levels of knowledge to think climate change is mostly due to human activity.

This pattern did not occur on all judgments related to climate change, but to the extent that science knowledge influenced judgments, it did so among Democrats but not Republicans. (See our report “The Politics of Climate” for the results from statistical models of these patterns.)

Kids in religious countries lose in science, math


A new study of the impact of religion on the minds of growing children reveals a disturbing finding: When religion dominates, kids fare poorly in science and mathematics.

The study offers a hint of things to come in the United States, where the government is now controlled by a party eager to hand off education to church schools while simultaneously declaring an allegiance to improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

With the Department of Education headed by a confirmed Christianist who made her billions off private schools, the outlook is bleak for our children.

From Leeds Beckett University:

The more religious people are, the lower children in that country perform in science and mathematics, according to new research at Leeds Beckett University.

The research [$35.95 to access] , published today in the academic journal Intelligence, reveals that more religious countries had lower educational performance in science and mathematics.  The study also shows that levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role in students’ attainment.

The research, led by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett, alongside David Geary, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, is relevant for the government’s announcement in the budget that it will be investing £320 million into new free schools, including faith-based schools.

Professor Stoet explained: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making.”

The researchers combined data from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), OECD’s Education at a Glance, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the United Nationals Human Development Report.

Analysis of the data sets allowed conclusions to be drawn about international levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development (measures in regard to health, education, and income).

Levels of religiosity were determined using representative questionnaires carried out around the world in the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey among the adult population. Levels of school performance in mathematics and science literacy were based on scores from children aged between 14 to 15 years old.

Considering the relationship between religiosity and educational performance, the findings suggest that by engaging with religion, this may lead to a displacement of non-religious activities.  Although relatively few countries have data on the time spent on religious education, it appears that the time spent on religion has a negative correlation with educational performance in mathematics and science.

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Graphic Representation: Magical Misery Tour


With apologies to the Fab Four.

We begin with the Los Angeles Times, reading the fine print:

David Horsey: The joke is on voters who trusted Trump’s healthcare promises

While the Minneapolis Star Tribune looks at one of the impacts of EPA cuts:

Steve Sack: Clean water, the musical

The Miami Herald completes a slogan:

Jim Morin: Dirty work

A little sleight of hand from the Lexington Herald-Leader:

Joel Pett: Look! Up in the sky! It’s….

While the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covers the art of the steal:

Mike Luckovich: Let’s make a deal.

From the Kansas City Star, going down?:

Lee Judge: Establishing a trend

And from the Sacramento Bee, one character in 140:

Jack Ohman: Mad Men, the sequel…

The Arizona Republic draws a parallel:

Steve Benson: ‘I am not a. . .Dick’

From the Washington Post, the amen chours chimes in:

Tom Toles:  Does Donald Trump cry? Only like this. Sad!

From the Illinois Times, down at the heels:

Chris Britt: Trumpcare

The Buffalo News covers a case where ignorance isn’t bliss:

Adam Zyglis: Scott Pruitt remarks

The San Diego Union-Tribune sounds a similar note:

Steve Breen: New E.P.A. Chief Doubts CO2 Plays Big Part in Global Warming

From the Newark Star-Ledger, standard operating mode:

Drew Sheneman: Our paranoid President Trump

But paranoia may be reasonable, notes the Baton Rouge Advocate in the first of two spooky offerings:

Walt Handelsman: Turn off the TV

And the Tulsa World covers tools of the trade:

Bruce Plante: CIA spying tools

Finally, via the Washington Post, strike up the brand:

Ann Telnaes: The seal of approval

Global warming linked to massive coral reef dieoffs


Donald Trump and his crew of wreckers may believe climate change is a hoax, but nearly all of country’s scientists disagree huuugely.

So, too, does the American public, which is growing increasingly worried about what lies ahead, as new polling from Gallup reveals:

Yet mroof of the power of global warming to devastate vast ecosystems comes from new research from the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies:

Coral researchers are remobilising to conduct aerial and underwater surveys along the Great Barrier Reef and elsewhere in Australia as coral bleaching reappears for the second year in a row. The decision coincides with the release today of a study [$32 to read] in the prestigious journal Nature warning the Reef’s resilience is rapidly waning.

Scientists and Reef managers from ten research institutions across Australia, representing the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, have returned to the Reef only one year after scorching temperatures caused the worst coral bleaching event on record in 2016. Teams will spend the next few weeks in the air and underwater measuring the extent of the damage from this summer compared to last.

“We’re hoping that the next 2-3 weeks will cool off quickly, and this year’s bleaching won’t be anything like last year. The severity of the 2016 bleaching was off the chart,” explains lead author and Taskforce convener, Prof. Terry Hughes (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies). “It was the third major bleaching to affect the Great Barrier Reef, following earlier heatwaves in 1998 and 2002. Now we’re gearing up to study a potential number four.”

Dead staghorn coral killed by bleaching on the northern Great Barrier Reef, November 2016. Credit: Greg Torda, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

“We have now assessed whether past exposure to bleaching in 1998 and 2002 made reefs any more tolerant in 2016. Sadly, we found no evidence that past bleaching makes the corals any tougher.”

While protecting reefs from fishing, and improving water quality is likely to help bleached reefs recover in the longer term, the study also revealed that it made no difference to the amount of bleaching during the extreme heatwave of 2016.

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