Assorted Links

These final assorted links were found in draft mode. – Amy

  • Postdoc leaves academia (fMRI emotion research). “I actually ran into that process in three different labs, two of which were at TopUniversityA with PIs who I highly revered and respected. It’s just how it goes in those fields…remove all of the negative results, don’t actually report the ridiculous number of fishing expeditions you went on (especially in fMRI research), make it sound like you mostly knew what you were going to find in the first place, make it a nice clean story. When my colleagues (from a well-known, well-respected emotion research lab) were trying to talk me into removing all of the negative results and altering what my original hypothesis was, literally saying “everyone does it…” that was it for me. I had a sinking feeling that everyone did do it that way and that I couldn’t trust the majority of work I had to depend on/reference myself. The level of denial in psychology and human neuroimaging research that this process just clogs the system with useless BS is something I just can’t stomach.” Devastating criticism — especially finding the same thing in three different labs. I believe nothing involving fMRI and psychology. My friend Hal Pashler wrote about this. At UC Berkeley, the fMRI machine used by psychology researchers malfunctioned for years. Nobody noticed. Only when someone from UC Davis got different results at Berkeley was the problem detected.
  • interview with me about the Shangri-La Diet. The questions do a good job of making the mechanism clear.
  • Little or no benefit of antidepressants when children are asked

Thanks to Nile McAdams and Alex Chernavsky.

How Little We Know: Big Gaps in Psychology and Economics

Seth’s final paper “How Little We Know: Big Gaps in Psychology and Economics” is published in a special issue of the International Journal of Comparative Psychology (Vol 27, Issue 2, 2014). This issue is about behavioral variability and is dedicated to Seth. Abstract of the paper follows:

A rule about variability is reducing expectation of reward increases variation of the form of rewarded actions. This rule helps animals learn what to do at a food source, something that is rarely studied. Almost all instrumental learning experiments start later in the learning-how-to-forage process. They start after the animal has learned where to find food and how to find it. Because of the exclusions (no study of learning where, no study of learning how), we know almost nothing about these two sorts of learning. The study of himan learning by psychologists has a similar gap. Motivation to contact new material (curiousity) is not studied. Walking may increase curiosity, some evidence suggests. In economics, likewise, research is almost all about how people use economically valuable knowledge. The creation and spread of knowledge are rarely studied.

The family is grateful to Aaron Blaisdell Ph.D. who completed final edits to Seth’s final manuscript for publication.

Cause of Death

Hello, this is Seth’s mother Justine. I’d like to offer what little information I have to try to answer some of the questions that were posted about Seth’s death. We’re told that we’ll get a full coroner’s report in about 6 months. In the meantime we were given only “Cause A: Occlusive coronary artery disease” and “Other significant conditions: cardiomegaly.”

Most of you won’t be surprised to learn that Seth had not visited his doctor in Berkeley in many years, and, responding to a recent question, said that he hadn’t been to a doctor during his stay in Beijing either. We are left with 3 sets of paper records. The earliest, dated 2009, reports a Coronary Calcium (Agatston score) screening which he discussed here last October. He obtained a second screening 1-1/2 year later. The first report showed his coronary artery occlusion to be about average for a man his age, with an accompanying risk of heart attack, but no cardiomegaly. The second report, following his conclusion that butter was beneficial for him, and his heavy ingestion of it, showed an improvement in his score: “Most people get about 25% worse each year. My second scan showed regression (= improvement). It was 40% better (less) than expected (a 25% increase).” The report showed the calcification to be unevenly distributed, with most found in his left main coronary artery, and none in all but one of the other arteries. Again, no heart enlargement was reported.

The second medical report set, done in December 2011, was from Beijing and covered an exam that may have been required by his employer, Tsinghua University. This included a physical exam, an x-ray and EKG. All reports were negative, i.e., no abnormal findings and no cardiomegaly.

The third set of reports, from a laboratory in St. Charles, Ill., used data collected in Berkeley. They list toxic and essential elements in his hair. The latest report, dated July 18, 2013, showed one element rated “high.” This was mercury, “found to correlate with a 9% increase in AMI [acute myocardial infarction]” according to the report. His level was assumed to indicate exposure gained from eating fish. Presumably Beijing’s toxic smog contributed directly both to the mercury level of the fish that he ate there, and to the level in his hair.

The only information about his blood pressure was in the Beijing report where it was recorded at 117/87. I could find no information about cholesterol levels, though it has not been a familial problem. Of the remaining Framingham Study risk factors: Seth did not smoke or have diabetes. He was not overweight and was physically active. Seth’s father died of a heart attack at 72.

Of course, I can’t end this posting without sending my deepest thanks for all of the kind notes posted here. They were hurtful to read because of the reminding. They were healing to read because of the solace gained from learning about his friends and that he was able to help many people.



Hello, this is Seth’s sister, Amy, with the sad news that Seth died on Saturday, April 26, 2014. He collapsed while hiking near his home in Berkeley, CA. He had asked that any memorial gifts be made to Amnesty International. Thank you to all for following and sharing Seth’s work.

Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3 and ADHD (Part 2 of 2)

by Allan Folz

My story of omega 3 and self-experimentation did not end with my wife and her pregnancy. As I mentioned, I discovered the paleo diet, Vitamin D, and fish oil all about the same time. Mostly for reasons of general good health we began supplementing with vitamin D and fish oil (Mega-EPA Omega-3 supplement). I ordered some of each from the same place online and we began supplementing both at the same time, around January-February of 2010. Continue reading “Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3 and ADHD (Part 2 of 2)”

Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3, Nursing a Baby and Postpartum Depression (Part 1 of 2)

by Allan Folz

My wife had moderately severe postpartum depression (PPD) after the birth of our first child, a boy, in 2004. The depression lifted at the same time the nursing stopped, when he was about two years old. The pregnancy itself was without major or even minor problems so the depression was a big surprise. It was frustrating because nothing we did to alleviate it actually helped. Continue reading “Journal of Personal Science: Omega-3, Nursing a Baby and Postpartum Depression (Part 1 of 2)”

Value of Salt Reduction Supported by Four Studies

For a long time, researchers have found links between high sodium intake and higher blood pressure, and between higher blood pressure and increased risk of stroke. At the same time, critics, including Gary Taubes, have argued that the data do not support the idea that most people should reduce their salt intake. Continue reading “Value of Salt Reduction Supported by Four Studies”

The Link Between Lead and Crime

In the 1960s, a Caltech geochemist named Clair Patterson made the case that there had been worldwide contamination of living things by lead, due to the lead in gasoline. There were great increases in the amount of lead in fish and human skeletons, for example. More than anyone else he was responsible for the elimination of lead in gasoline. (By coincidence, this was just shown on the new Cosmos TV series.) A professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh named Herbert Needleman did some of the most important toxicology, linking lead exposure (presumably from paint) and IQ in children. Children with more lead in their teeth had lower IQ scores. The importance of this finding is shown by the fact he was accused of scientific misconduct. Continue reading “The Link Between Lead and Crime”

Assorted Links

Thanks to Tyler Cowen.

Teaching Children: Adjustment to Individual Differences

After I blogged about my belief that a good teacher tries to bring out what is inside their students (not just transfer brain contents), a reader named Terri Fites commented:

We homeschool, and I see lots of what you said in my kids.

I asked her to elaborate. She replied:

Here is where I learned the most starting on day one of kindergarten with my first child five years ago; it is my job to identify strengths, weaknesses, and to help the learner achieve the goal using what they can. For example, I was embarrassed and appalled that my first child didn’t read or show any interest in reading to herself until about second grade (7 years old). However, I continued to provide the necessary environment–reading wonderful books aloud, having her read a sentence from our selections, occasionally forcing her to read from her own readers. She had a great verbal understanding and would listen to anything I read aloud to her. Eventually, slowly, she transitioned and has NO issues with reading now. Her strength is verbal understanding and listening comprehension. Her weakness is focus on her own activities and sitting still.

My second child came along and was strong in different ways that I had to discover and appreciate. Her verbal skills, although perfectly normal, are not her strength, but music rises out of her at every moment. Clearly we have to do more than music. Using this strength, I make sure to provide plenty of musical CDs in Spanish for Spanish (which she struggles with–we have had tutors come for years with the intent the girls become fluent). We memorize and recite poetry routinely as part of our lessons, and she “sets” hers to song/music. When we do math facts (addition, subtraction, multiplication flash cards), she does best if she hears them in a sing-song voice. Her strengths are effort, music, rhythm, and art. Her weaknesses are verbal reasoning and remembering verbal types of things (not so prominent in math and geography skills so her spatial and math skills overcome this problem remembering things).

I would say, particularly in elementary school, that although the reading, writing, and arithmetic skills needed should not be optional–the timing of learning them and the method of learning them ought to be fluid to a degree. Everybody should learn to read but we’re losing kids because they’re not developmentally ready until second or third grade for some of these verbal/reading things. By then the bulk of the spelling and phonics rules have been expected to have been learned and the child is probably destined to be a poor speller, decoder, and poor at reading aloud. (This would be my husband. Obviously he was able to overcome this, but his spelling and read aloud are not pleasant. He says he remembers the year when words and reading just started coming together for him. Unfortunately, that was fifth grade. Did he need to learn to read and spell then in fifth grade!? I’d argue NO! But, in this case, recognition of a child/type of child is important. He is very, very logical, and the way that spelling/phonics is taught now/then is NOT so logical. A rule is given here. It is broken here. It is ignored here. No explanation is given. A kid learns long A as a_e here or -ay there, but not all the other combinations that make the long A sound– and certainly not all together in a lesson sequence!!!: ea, ae, ei, eigh, ai, etc. The logical child gives up. There are programs out there like Orton Gillingham, for example, designed to teach the “rules” of English in such a logical manner. Or I design my own curriculum. But this is not an option for most school teachers. Autonomy is being denied.) And now, multiplication is being moved forward in school grades, too. And analytical, thinking math is being moved forward. I think we’ll lose students! Good students! “I’m no good at math.” Geesh. Because you can’t do story problems in second grade? Because you’re still mastering the facts and you’re being pushed into application too early?

Lyme Disease and Bad Medicine

I got Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic (2008) by Pamela Weintraub from the library and found something surprising: an angry foreword. Weintraub is a science journalist; the foreword is by Hillary Johnson, another science journalist and apparently a friend of Weintraub’s.

In her anger, Johnson says several things I say on this blog. Continue reading “Lyme Disease and Bad Medicine”

Universities: Expectation versus Reality

A recent Ph.D. from Berkeley named Dragan commented here:

Probably the biggest disappointment of my professional life was realizing that Universities are not very much like what I imagined them to be.

I asked him to elaborate. He replied:

My peers dreamed of being in the sports or movies, of being lawyers, of being rich. Those dreams didn’t seem so great to me. Instead I fantasized about being a scholar and later in life climbed up the educational ladder towards a PhD at a leading research university. The closer I came to becoming a professor — my professional goal in life — the more disappointed I became.

I am somewhat embarrassed to remember this, but I used to say things like: “Universities are places where people can devote themselves to a life of study, investigation, and imagination. In exchange for a home like this, we provide society with ideas. And, of course, we teach.” I guess I thought that there should be a home for people who are capable and devoted to intellectual pursuits, a rather naive notion it seems.

I wanted a place where I would be judged primarily by my intellectual and creative ability. Instead I have been made keenly aware of the importance of networking, of doing favors for the right people, of who to cite, whose criticism to acknowledge and whose to ignore. I used to despise such things, now they’re second nature. The irony, that I now know far more about popularity than I did back in high school. One of the first things I learned is that it is imperative to do research that brings money and/or prestige. In other words: popular research. I didn’t know such a thing existed.

What if I don’t want to do popular research? The most common advice I received during my graduate studies: “Wait till you’re tenured to do that,” always said with good intentions.

Only one person told me: “Do what you believe in. Tenure and accolades will come in time.” I liked this advice more. But the professor who gave it was fully tenured before I was born. Perhaps things were different in his time? I suspect they were. Last year, two retired professors, each from a major research university, assured me that they would never get tenure in this day and age. They took years with their research and published few yet original papers. “You have to wait until tenure nowadays,” they said.

This is not what I thought I’d find. Nor did I expect to find that efficiency and money-making are priorities here. I love what I do, or at least what I want to do. If I could afford to, I’d do it for free. I mean that as an academic, money seems relatively unimportant. Yet universities seem to be run by people who aren’t academics and whose primary interest is making money, rather than fostering research. It occurs to me that these two aims may be in conflict.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that academia is altogether bad. I can honestly say it beats unemployment and the handful of low-wage jobs I had as a teenager. And there are days when all the things I just wrote about seem less important and I focus on my research or my teaching. But other times I think, silly me. If only I was smart enough to get rich in the first place, I could have done anything I wanted to — like pursue research that actually interests me.

As a professor (with tenure) at Berkeley, I was fascinated by how mediocre I was. By the usual metrics, I was in the bottom quarter of the distribution. Yet I had made discoveries that I knew were important — for example, a surprising way to lose weight, a really surprising way to improve mood. Although these discoveries impressed me, they did not impress my colleagues.

High-Frequency Trading and Health Care

High-frequency trading is a misnomer. It’s actually short-latency trading, a name that makes clearer why it is so unsavory. As Michael Lewis explains in Flash Boys, short-latency traders use a buy order on one exchange to quickly buy that stock on other exchanges before the original buy order reaches the other exchanges. Lewis writes:

The deep problem with the system was a kind of moral inertia. So long as it served the narrow self-interests of everyone inside it, no one on the inside would ever seek to change it, no matter how sinister or corrupt it became — though even to use words like “corrupt” and “sinister” made serious people uncomfortable.

I thought of health care. Our health care system — centered on treating symptoms with drugs you take for the rest of your life — serves the narrow self-interests of those inside it, such as doctors and medical school professors. That is surely one reason its predatory aspect is rarely mentioned.

But I also noticed how poorly Lewis, an excellent writer, describes the problem. “Moral inertia”? No, the problem is not that Person X or Person Y is slow to get outraged. “Corrupt”? No, no one is being paid off to look the other way or vote a certain way or introduce a certain bill. “Sinister”? It’s unclear what that means. Is Lewis just using a fancy synonym for “bad”?

Elsewhere Lewis uses the word predatory, which seems accurate. Short-latency traders preyed on those who sold stock, taking advantage of their ignorance. Of course, no one is forced to buy or sell stock and the loss on one trade is small. But everyone gets sick.



Korean Bakery Opens in Berkeley

After I wrote my recent post about Korean innovation, I noticed an example in downtown Berkeley. A few months ago, the Korean bakery Paris Baguette opened a branch in a good location (next to a BART station) that has seen two businesses — two different cafe chains — fail in the last 5 or 6 years. It seemed to be doing well. There were more customers than I’d ever seen with the previous business (Tully’s Coffee). Paris Baguette has about 20 American branches.

Jane Jacobs once called Berkeley a “pretentious suburb” but it is where Peet’s — the original of Starbucks — began and where Chez Panisse is. It had a farmer’s market and an emphasis on organic food long before the rest of America. (A new survey suggests the health benefit of organic food is small or zero.) If you could call a location an “early adopter” Berkeley would qualify, but that would be understating it. Via the Free Speech Movement and the whole notion of student protest, little Berkeley shaped an entire decade (the Sixties). But it seems to have been a long time, like half a century, since anything important started here. The Bay Area, however, remains enormously innovative (Google, Twitter, Intel, and so on).


Mo Ibrahim: My Third Year of Teaching

By the start of my third year of teaching, in 2007, half of my New York City Teaching Fellows cohort had quit teaching. Some for health reasons, some due to differences with their school’s administration, and some due to the difficulty of teaching during the day and going to graduate school at night. Teaching poor students, writing fifteen-page papers on pedagogy and compiling lesson plans proved to be too much.

The day before classes began that year, the principal told me that our students needed to earn an economics credit to fulfill graduation requirements. He asked if I wanted to teach the class. I hadn’t taken economics since freshman year of college, but I reluctantly agreed. The principal said he had an economics curriculum in his office and he would return shortly with the material. He didn’t return and never gave me the material. . However, I was able to develop a curriculum on the fly. I had read Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and watched Gopnik’s Lighting Up New York documentary. I got the idea to make a curriculum based on Gopnik’s four theories of New York City crime reduction: Broken Window, Abortion, Child Boom and Korean Immigration. To supplement my curriculum I read Freakonomics and Park’s The Korean American Dream. I didn’t have to teach math anymore, because I was teaching economics, but I was still teaching English. My class focused on reading poetry and short stories and writing short essays.

By that time I had earned my Master’s degree from the City College of New York, and had learned two principles that proved helpful. During an evening class, an African-American female professor, who insisted we call her Doctor, advised us to use the don’t ask, apologize principle to get around policies with school administrators. For example, instead of asking if I could take my English class to read poetry in Central Park, I should take them knowing that I could simply apologize if I were reprimanded by an administrator. She also told us about a research study done by Lisa Delpit, an education researcher, who advised teachers not use please with inner-city male students. According to her study, when students in that demographic hear the word please they feel they have a choice. For example, a teacher should say, “Go back to your seat,” instead of “Go back to your seat, please.” In my experience, she was right. The command without please worked better.

I can’t recall using any other teaching techniques that I was exposed to during graduate school. There should have been more instruction on how to motivate students to study and how to get parents to make their children do their homework. Talking to my students, I learned that, when they get home, most of my female students took naps and most of my male students played video games. Very few of them did any homework, read or studied.

I didn’t give any homework or quizzes in my English class, which had about 20 students, because most of my students didn’t do any schoolwork at home. I had my English students do all of their writing assignments during class time. I didn’t give any homework in the economics classes as well, which had about 30 students, but I had felt compelled to give quizzes to assess how well the students understood my lessons. I knew that the majority of my students weren’t going to study at home, but I hoped that I had explained the material well enough that they would be able to do well on quizzes. I initially did a quiz review the day before the quiz, but that didn’t seem to help the dismal passing rates. I tried doing the quiz review immediately before the quiz, but that didn’t help. I eventually moved to telling my students exactly what was going to be on the quiz, but surprisingly even that didn’t help. When students don’t understand a lesson or do well academically, teachers are supposed to take responsibility, but that’s very difficult to do when most of the students are very apathetic.

Pregnancy Gingivitis: Failure to Look for the Cause

A few days ago, I learned from a Crest ad that a large fraction of pregnant women, such as half, suffer from gingivitis (inflamed gums). It’s called pregnancy gingivitis. The ad recommended better dental hygiene, such as brushing your teeth more.

Thirty years from now will people think how could they [meaning us] have been that stupid? Faced with pregnancy gingivitis, they brushed their teeth more? Pregnancy gingivitis is supposedly due to “hormones” that increase during pregnancy. In other words, a health expert actually thinks — or claims to think — that pregnancy gingivitis has a different explanation than other gingivitis. Yet he doesn’t know what causes other gingivitis. For example, here is what Mayo Clinic experts say causes gingivitis. This makes no sense. But it is worse than most nonsense, since fetal health is at stake.

Several years ago, I greatly increased my flaxseed intake because I discovered it improved my balance. My gums suddenly went from red (inflamed) to pink (not inflamed), no doubt because flaxseed has lots of omega-3, which is anti-inflammatory. Gingivitis is — usually? always? — caused by too little omega-3.

My theory: pregnancy gingivitis happens because pregnant women need more omega-3 than usual. A growing brain needs lots of omega-3.  If this theory turns out to be true, the gums of pregnant women should be monitored to make sure they are getting enough omega-3. Nowadays pregnant women are given omega-3 to take but there is no test to make sure it is enough. That pregnancy gingivitis is common suggests it often isn’t enough. Actually, everyone’s gums should be checked to make sure they are getting enough omega-3.