Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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EPA to limit science used to write public health rules

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking. A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their

We are running out of unpolluted air

The Atlantic reports: Officials have implored the people of New Delhi to stay inside, indefinitely. Five million children in India’s capital have been handed face masks. Everyone is to keep windows closed. Contrary to the most fundamental medical advice, the city’s chief minister urged residents this week to “avoid outdoor physical activities.” News images seem cut from an apocalyptic outbreak film. One of India’s holiest rivers is covered in toxic

The EPA disbanded our clean air science panel. We met anyway – and found that particle pollution regulations aren’t protecting public health

Vehicles are a major source of particulate air pollution. Deliris/Shutterstock By H. Christopher Frey, North Carolina State University Since 1980, emissions of six common air pollutants have decreased by 67%, thanks largely to government regulation. At the same time, U.S. gross domestic product has increased by 165%. While some assert that regulation acts as a drag on the economy, this record indicates that environmental protection does not have to undercut

Mapping the human oral microbiome

In an interview with Knowable Magazine, Floyd Dewhirst says: We don’t really know the number of bacteria in an average mouth. But there are something like 1011 [100 billion] organisms per gram of plaque — so we’re looking at a large number. What people usually talk about is how many species are in there. The Human Oral Microbiome Project identified a little over 700 different species of bacteria. (There are

EPA set to revoke restrictions on toxic metals poisoning drinking water

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is expected to roll back an Obama-era regulation to limit dangerous heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury from coal-fired power plants, according to two people familiar with the plans. With a series of new rules expected in November, the Environmental Protection Agency will move to weaken the 2015 regulation by relaxing some of the requirements on power generators and also exempting

Explaining illness with belief in evil

Live Science reports: Where did the spiritual concept of evil originate? One possible explanation might be people’s attempts to understand and cope with infectious diseases. Linking diseases and their symptoms to mysterious evil forces is a practice that emerged in traditional belief systems prior to the mid-19th century, when germ theory was introduced, scientists wrote in a new study. Germ theory revealed that microscopic pathogens, rather than malevolent spirits, were

One skill that doesn’t deteriorate with age

Reading and writing can prevent cognitive decline. AJP/ By Roger J. Kreuz, University of Memphis When Toni Morrison died on Aug. 5, the world lost one of its most influential literary voices. But Morrison wasn’t a literary wunderkind. “The Bluest Eye,” Morrison’s first novel, wasn’t published until she was 39. And her last, “God Help the Child,” appeared when she was 84. Morrison published four novels, four children’s books, many

First major center for psychedelic research opening in the U.S.

Discover magazine reports: The launch of a new privately-funded research center dedicated to investigating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic drugs was announced today at Johns Hopkins University. The Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research will be dedicated to understanding how psychedelics alter consciousness, behavior and brain function. The bulk of the research will focus on psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic” mushrooms, which has been demonstrated as a powerful tool

Australian Medical Association declares climate change a health emergency

The Guardian reports: The Australian Medical Association has formally declared climate change a health emergency, pointing to “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future”. The AMA’s landmark shift, delivered by a motion of the body’s federal council, brings the organisation into line with forward-leaning positions taken by the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association and Doctors for the Environment Australia.

Microbiome-drug interactions are largely being ignored by the pharmaceutical industry

Megha Satyanarayana reports: Matthew Redinbo remembers the day he entered the murky waters of the gut microbiome. He had popped in to say hi to Lisa Benkowski, a colleague in the Chemistry Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was 2002, Benkowski had colon cancer, and she was taking a powerful chemotherapy called irinotecan. “She said the side effects were a nightmare,” Redinbo says, describing how

Trump administration limits scientific input on recommendations for healthy diet

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration is limiting scientific input to the 2020 dietary guidelines, raising concerns among nutrition advocates and independent experts about industry influence over healthy eating recommendations for all Americans. For the first time, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture, which oversee the committee giving recommendations for the guidelines, have predetermined the topics that will be addressed. They have narrowed

The American diet is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S.

Dariush Mozaffarian and Dan Glickman write: Americans are sick — much sicker than many realize. More than 100 million adults — almost half the entire adult population — have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Cardiovascular disease afflicts about 122 million people and causes roughly 840,000 deaths each year, or about 2,300 deaths each day. Three in four adults are overweight or obese. More Americans are sick, in other words, than are healthy.

Meditation and yoga practice linked to reduced volume in brain region tied to negative emotions

PsyPost reports: Meditation and yoga practice is associated with smaller right amygdala volume, a brain region involved in emotional processing, according to research published in Brain Imaging and Behavior. For their study, the researchers analyzed data that had been collected during the Rotterdam Study, an ongoing population-based study that has been conducted in The Netherlands since 1990. The study has recruited more than 15,000 subjects aged 45 years or over.

Ebola treatment breakthrough highlights Wall Street’s obsession with profit and indifference to saving lives

Barron’s reports: Monday brought a spot of good news in a bleak summer: Scientists testing Ebola drugs in the Democratic Republic of Congo found some that seemed to work. Wall Street shrugged. Scientists cut short a trial of four experimental Ebola drugs after two of them, including one developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (ticker: REGN), showed extremely promising results. Ninety percent of patients who took the drugs soon after infection survived.

Metabolic health is inseparable from the health of our gut microbes

James Hamblin writes: The relationship between microbes and weight gain has long been overlooked in humans, but people have known about similar effects in animals for decades. After World War II, antibiotics became affordable and abundant for the first time. Farmers began giving the drugs to their livestock—for example, to treat a milk cow’s infected udder—and noticed that animals who got antibiotics grew larger and more quickly. This led to

While mothers are drinking more than ever, the sober-curious movement challenges ‘wine-mom’ culture

The Washington Post reports: The turning point came at an evening soiree in the middle of December, when Mai Trinh spotted a friend’s luminous face amid a crowd of cocktail-quaffing party­goers. “She stood out — she looked absolutely radiant,” recalls Trinh, 44, a corporate wellness consultant and mom of three in Alexandria. “So I asked her, ‘What’s your secret, what are you doing?’ ” The secret, it turned out, was