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Published: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 20 Oct 2017 10:16:46 -0400


Do Psychedelics Make People Less Likely to Commit Crimes?

Thu, 19 Oct 2017 14:00:00 -0400

People who have used psychedelics are less likely to commit property and violent crimes than people who haven't, according to a new analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). A press release from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where three of the study's four authors work, says these findings "suggest that treatments making use of classic psychedelics like psilocybin could well hold promise in reducing criminal behavior." Although I agree that psychedelic-assisted therapy looks promising based on other studies, this interpretation of the survey data seems dubious to me, mirroring the faulty logic of prohibitionists who assume that associations between drug use and antisocial behavior are causal. UAB psychologist Peter Hendricks and his colleagues looked at 13 years of NSDUH data and found that "lifetime classic psychedelic use [i.e., use of ayahuasca, dimethyltryptamine, LSD, mescaline, peyote or San Pedro cactus, or psilocybin mushrooms] was associated with a 27% decreased odds of past year larceny/theft, a 12% decreased odds of past year assault, a 22% decreased odds of past year arrest for a property crime, and an 18% decreased odds of past year arrest for a violent crime." That is after controlling for sex, race, education, income, marital status, religiosity, and several other potential confounding variables. Hendricks et al. say their results "were consistent with a protective effect of psilocybin for antisocial criminal behavior" and "contribute to a compelling rationale for the initiation of clinical research with classic psychedelics, including psilocybin, in forensic settings." They argue that the associations they found bolster the evidence from three studies conducted in the 1960s indicating that psychedelics might help rehabilitate criminal offenders: two LSD studies with tiny samples and one psilocybin study with a larger but still small sample. The latter study, known as the Concord Prison Experiment, was conducted by Timothy Leary. Hendricks et al. note that a 1998 review of the Concord Prison Experiment by Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, "concluded that these findings were overstated, inadequate support was provided outside of psilocybin sessions, and that serious methodological flaws preclude any conclusions." It is certainly worth trying to replicate those early, tentative findings. But so far the evidence that psychedelics curb criminal tendencies is thin, and the NSDUH results do not make it much thicker, because they could be due to pre-existing differences in the sort of people who are inclined to try psychedelics. Only 15 percent of Americans say they have tried psychedelics, and they are bound to be different from the 85 percent who haven't in ways that a) cannot be readily measured and b) may affect their propensity to commit crimes. In seems plausible, for instance, that they are, on average, more introspective, more patient, more tolerant, and more open to alternative perspectives, even before they have dropped acid, drunk ayahuasca, or eaten magic mushrooms. Hendricks et al. concede that cross-sectional data like the NSDUH results "limit causal inferences," that "a number of shared underlying or 'third' variables may be responsible for the associations reported here," and that "we could not evaluate potential mechanisms of action underlying the associations of classic psychedelic use with criminal behavior." The importance of those points becomes clearer when you consider what NSDUH tells us about people who use other illegal drugs, who unlike the psychedelic fans are more likely to commit property and violent crimes. Hendricks and his colleagues found that people who had tried heroin were almost twice as likely to be arrested for property crimes as people who hadn't. You might assume that association has something to do with heavy users who steal to support their habits (a problem magnified by prohibition-inflated prices). But marijuana users were also about twice as likely to be arrested fo[...]

DIY Biohackers Are Editing Genes in Garages and Kitchens

Wed, 18 Oct 2017 11:30:00 -0400

"A biohacker for me is somebody who is doing something clever or interesting in biology," says Josiah Zayner, a molecular biophysicist who runs The ODIN, a company that sells do-it-yourself genetic engineering kits. "They're usually these people that have been fucked by the system who are trying to unfuck themselves." Zayner is one of the leading figures in the biohacking movement and is the main organizer of the BioHack the Planet Conference, a yearly gathering of citizen scientists. This year, over 100 members of the biohacking community met in Oakland, California to discuss a wide array of issues from at-home genetic engineering to questions on bioethics. Biohackers have often been compared to computer hackers of the 1980s, but instead of breaking into and manipulating information technology systems, they're focused on hacking living organisms with the hopes of curing illnesses and in some cases obtaining superhuman powers. Their shared mission is to put this technology into the hands of as many people as possible. "People should be able to use all the technologies that science develops," says Zayner. "It shouldn't just be patented and given to companies or exclusively given to certain people." These do-it-yourself biologists say the democratization of science has given them the freedom to do work on projects that are often ignored by larger institutions. They're using gene editing technologies like CRISPR to create personalized treatments for those suffering from rare diseases or cancer, reverse engineering pharmaceuticals like Epi-Pens so people can make their own medicine at home, and even creating glow in the dark beer. "I think this is the most exciting time thus far in the history of the world to be alive with respect to what we can and will do with life forms," says Hank Greely, the director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford University. But breakthroughs in the world of biohacking are drawing more scrutiny from federal regulators. Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration began placing restrictions on non-human genetic modifications and declared that genetically edited animals must be classified as drugs. This gives the agency broad authority over a number of do-it-yourself genetics tests and requires experiments involving animals to go through the same vetting process as a new drug. "I guess they couldn't call them cosmetics and they couldn't call them foods, so they're like dogs are drugs," states David Ishee, a Mississippi canine breeder who is working on editing out genetic diseases in dogs. "Everybody's worried about what someone could do with this technology and nobody seems to care about the damage that not doing it will cause because these animals are dying." Increasing regulation could undermine biohacking breakthroughs for humans as well. "I'm a huge fan of deregulation because I believe in the inherent goodness of capitalism," says Zayner. "Stuff doesn't progress unless people do useful things with it." Produced by Alexis Garcia and Justin Monticello. Camera by Garcia, Monticello, and Zach Weissmueller. Ascent by Jon Luc Hefferman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: Cut and Run - Electronic Hard by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: New Dawn by Bensound is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Artist: Sci-Fi by Bensound is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license ( Source: Arti[...]

Man Busted for Meth That Was Actually Donut Glaze Gets $37,500 for His Trouble

Mon, 16 Oct 2017 13:05:00 -0400

A man who was arrested for possession of "methamphetamine" that turned out to be donut glaze recently received $37,500 from the city of Orlando for his trouble. The payment settles a lawsuit that Daniel Rushing, a 65-year-old retiree who used to work for the city's Parks Department, brought after a traffic stop that illustrates the limits of drug field tests and the cops who perform them. Cpl. Shelby Riggs-Hopkins pulled Rushing over on the afternoon of December 11, 2015, ostensibly because he did not make a complete stop as he pulled out of a 7-Eleven parking lot and subsequently exceeded the speed limit. But those offenses seem to have been pretexts. Riggs-Hopkins had been keeping an eye on the convenience store because of "citizen complaints about drug activity" and thought it was suspicious that Rushing, who was giving a lift to a friend, left without buying anything, in the company of a "black female employee of the 7-11." When Rushing opened his wallet to retrieve his driver's license, Riggs-Hopkins noticed that he had a concealed-carry permit and asked if he was armed. He said he was, and she asked him to get out of his car "for my safety." At that point Riggs-Hopkins "observed in plain view a rock-like substance on the floor board where his feet were." The eagle-eyed, street-savvy cop recalled that she "recognized, through my eleven years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer, the substance to be some sort of narcotic." The suspect "stated that the substance is sugar from a Krispy Kreme Donut that he ate," but Riggs-Hopkins knew better: Two field tests of the "rock-like substance" gave "a positive indication for the presence of amphetamines." Rushing said Riggs-Hopkins initially was not sure what "sort of narcotic" she had discovered. "I kept telling them, 'That's…glaze from a doughnut," Rushing told the Orlando Sentinel. "They tried to say it was crack cocaine at first. Then they said, 'No, it's meth, crystal meth.'" Adding insult to injury, Rushing was accused of possessing meth "with a weapon" (his legally carried handgun), which made a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison, into a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. He was handcuffed and taken to the county jail, where he was strip-searched and locked up for 10 hours before being released on $2,500 bail. Three days later, after a lab test found no illegal substance in the evidence recovered by Riggs-Hopkins, the charges against Rushing were dropped. The lab test was not specific enough to identify which brand of donut the glaze came from, so we'll just have to take Rushing's word that it was indeed a Krispy Kreme. Rushing told the Sentinel he had tried to start a security business but could not find work because "people go online and see that you've been arrested." The Orlando Police Department (OPD) initially defended the arrest. But according to the Sentinel, the OPD "ended up training more than 730 officers on how to properly use the field test kits," and "Riggs-Hopkins was given a written reprimand for making an improper arrest." In addition to the city of Orlando, Rushing sued the Safariland Group, which made the test kit used by Riggs-Hopkins. Although the OPD evidently attributes the two false positives that preceded Rushing's arrest to Riggs-Hopkins' inept performance of the drug test, such field kits are notoriously unreliable and may react to a wide range of legal substances. Faulty field tests were at the center of a 2012 Kansas marijuana raid triggered by loose tea, a case that last summer resulted in a rebuke by a federal appeals court panel. One of the judges faulted "junk science" as well as "an incompetent investigation" and a thirst for publicity.[...]

Reality Contradicts Study Linking Movie Guns to Fatal Firearm Accidents

Wed, 27 Sep 2017 14:45:00 -0400

A study reported this week in JAMA Pediatrics found that children who watched a movie excerpt in which characters used firearms were more interested in playing with a handgun than children who watched an expurgated version from which images of firearms had been excised. The researchers think their findings could be important in reducing fatal firearm accidents involving children. Jenny Anderson, who wrote a Quartz story about the study, thinks it tells us something about the roots of gun violence. Here is why they are wrong. In the experiment, Wittenberg University communication researcher Kelly Dillon and Ohio State psychologist Brad Bushman used 20-minute excerpts from two PG-rated movies, National Treasure and The Rocketeer. They randomly assigned 52 pairs of 8-to-12-year-olds to watch either the original scenes or the expurgated, gun-free version, then let the kids play for 20 minutes in a room that contained a disabled handgun in a drawer as well as various toys and games. The subjects were monitored by a video camera and an infrared sensor in the gun that recorded trigger pulls. On average, the subjects who watched movie excerpts featuring firearms held the handgun longer and pulled the trigger more than the subjects who watched the firearm-free versions. The difference in handling time was not statistically significant after Dillon and Bushman adjusted the data to take into account potential confounding variables such as sex, age, aggressiveness, and attitudes toward guns. But the difference in trigger pulls was robust and dramatic. Whether it has any practical significance is another matter. Dillon and Bushman worry that children who see guns in movies will be more likely to play with them in real life, with potentially fatal consequences. The implication is that more guns in the movies kids see will mean more fatal gun accidents. But there is no evidence of such a correlation. To the contrary, unintentional firearm fatalities involving children have been falling for decades even though, according to Dillon and Bushman, "gun violence in movies is increasing, especially in movies that target younger viewers." Dillon and Bushman cite a study that found the depiction of guns in popular PG-13 movies "has more than doubled since 1985" and a follow-up study that found "the amount of gun violence in PG-13 films continued to increase through 2015." During that period, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental gun deaths involving children 14 or younger fell by 83 percent, from 278 in 1985 to 48 in 2015. Reasonable people may disagree about the best way to make further progress in reducing the number of children accidentally killed by guns. But even if we assume that the behavior observed in the highly artificial conditions of Dillon and Bushman's experiment carries over into the real world, securing guns so that children cannot play with them seems like a much more practical approach than restricting their movie viewing or banning guns from PG-13 films. While Dillon and Bushman focus on accidental deaths, Jenny Anderson worries in her Quartz piece that seeing guns in movies will make kids "more violent." Again, there is no evidence that is happening. Even after increases in 2015 and 2016, the violent crime rate in the United States is much lower today than it was in the mid-1980s, notwithstanding the proliferation of cinematic gun play that worries Anderson. "This research suggests violent media merits our attention," Anderson concludes. "Exhausting as it may be for parents, being overbearing would seem to pay off." No one who disagrees with that sentiment will change his mind after reading this study.[...]

'I'm Appalled,' Says Source of Phony Number Used to Justify Harsh Sex Offender Laws

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 09:15:00 -0400

A New York Times "op-doc" posted this week zeroes in on a persistent myth that has helped inspire and sustain harsh policies aimed at sex offenders: the idea that their recidivism rate is "frightening and high," as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy put it in a pair of cases decided a decade and a half ago. David Feige, a former public defender who directed Untouchable, a 2016 documentary about sex offenders, shows how an uncorroborated assertion in a 1986 Psychology Today article continues to influence the politicians who pass laws and the judges who uphold them. In McKune v. Lile, a 2002 decision that upheld a mandatory prison therapy program for sex offenders, Kennedy said "the rate of recidivism of untreated offenders has been estimated to be as high as 80%," a number he called "frightening and high." He repeated that claim the following year in Smith v. Doe, which upheld retroactive application of Alaska's registration requirements for sex offenders. As of 2015, according to a review published in Constitutional Commentary, Kennedy's phrase had been echoed in 91 judicial opinions and the briefs filed in 101 cases. Yet there was never any evidence to support Kennedy's assertion, and research conducted during the same period when it was proliferating indicates that it is not even remotely true. As Feige notes in a commentary that accompanies his video, "Nearly every study—including those by states as diverse as Alaska, Nebraska, Maine, New York and California as well as an extremely broad one by the federal government that followed every offender released in the United States for three years—has put the three-year recidivism rate for convicted sex offenders in the low single digits, with the bulk of the results clustering around 3.5 percent." Studies covering longer periods find higher recidivism rates, but still nothing like 80 percent, even for high-risk offenders. The authors of the Constitutional Commentary article, Ira Ellman and Tara Ellman, found that the original source of the 80-percent figure—which Kennedy apparently got from Solicitor General Ted Olson, who cited a 1988 Justice Department handbook—was a 1986 Psychology Today article by Robert Longo, a counselor who ran a treatment program at an Oregon prison, and Ronald Wall, a therapist who worked for him. "Most untreated sex offenders released from prison go on to commit more offenses," they wrote, explaining the value of the work from which they earned their livelihoods. "Indeed, as many as 80% do." As Ellman and Ellman pointed out, it was "a bare assertion" with "no supporting reference." Longo himself repudiated the estimate in a March 2016 interview with Joshua Vaughn, a reporter at the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Sentinel, saying it does not accurately reflect recent research and should not be used as a basis for public policy. In Feige's video, Longo says it is "absolutely incorrect" to suggest that anything like 80 percent of sex offenders commit new crimes after serving their sentences. That number, he says, was the high end of the range indicated by research at the time, although he once again fails to cite any actual studies. "You don't cite popular psychology magazines" as a basis for upholding laws, Longo says. "It's not a scientific journal. I'm appalled that this could happen. This is not my intent." Feige also tracked down Barbara Schwartz, the psychologist who wrote the 1988 DOJ manual that cited Longo's article and was in turn cited by Olson. "I couldn't find any" information on sex offenders' recidivism rates, Schwartz says, "so basically I just made up a model." She had a grand total of six references, including a dictionary and "the paper that Rob Longo did for Psychology Today." Schwartz adds that "the best we were doing was making a bunch of guesses." Relying on such speculation makes no sense, she says, now that there is "hard-core, scientifically based research." She says ignoring the work that has been done since the[...]

More Evidence That Everything the Government Teaches Us About Eating Is Wrong

Wed, 30 Aug 2017 12:38:00 -0400

An international nutrition study spanning more than a decade has turned up unexpected findings that researchers say should cause health experts to reconsider global dietary guidelines. The ongoing Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) project has found both saturated and unsaturated fat intake linked to better heart health, that a high-carb diet is a better predictor of health risks than fat consumption, and that the health benefits of fruit, vegetables, and legumes like beans and chickpeas may plateau at three to four servings per day. The new analysis, presented at the European Society of Cardiology meeting this week in Barcelona, included 135,000 adult participants between ages 35-70 living in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, south Asia, southeast Asia, China, and the Middle East. These participants responded to food-intake and lifestyle surveys between between January 2003 and March 2013, with an average follow-through of 7.4 years. Researchers considered health outcomes for participants through March 31, 2017, recording 5,796 deaths in total and 4,784 "major cardiovascular events" such as strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure. Overall, carbohydrate intake in the highest versus lowest consumption groups was associated with 28 percent higher risk of death. "Our findings do not support the current recommendation to limit total fat intake to less than 30 percent of energy and saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of energy," said Mahshid Dehghan, a nutritionist from Canada's Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University. Dehghan is the author of one of several papers on the latest PURE-study findings. Dehghan recommends "a total fat intake of about 35 percent of energy" in conjunction with lowering carbohydrate intake. Looking Again at Legumes, Fruits, and Vegetables Perhaps most notably, while higher fruit, vegetable, and legume consumption was associated with lower total mortality risk and less risk of death from non-cardiovascular causes, this benefit appears to max out at three to four servings, or around 375-500 grams, per day. "Previous research, and many dietary guidelines in North America and Europe recommended daily intake of these foods ranging from 400 to 800 grams per day," said Andrew Mente, lead researcher on the fruits and veggies study published this week in The Lancet. "Our findings indicate that optimal health benefits can be achieved with a more modest level of consumption." Fruit intake was linked to lower risk of death from heart disease and from other causes; frequent consumers of legumes had lower rates of death from all causes and from non-cardiovascular causes; and raw vegetable intake "was strongly associated with a lower risk of total mortality," while "cooked vegetable intake showed a modest benefit against mortality," Mente and his team found. (See more data from the study here and Mente's presentation to the European Society of Cardiology here.) Cut Some Carbs, Keep the Fat Looking at the link between macronutrients and heart disease, researchers found high carbohydrate consumption—defined as diets where more than 60 percent of calories come from carbs—increased the risk of overall death (though not the risk of heart disease or death from heart-related causes specifically). Meanwhile, eating saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty-acids was associated with lower death risk. "Each type of fat was associated with significantly reduced mortality risk: 14 percent lower for saturated fat, 19 percent for mono-unsaturated fat, and 20 percent for polyunsaturated fat," according to the study. Higher saturated fat intake was also linked to a 21 percent decrease in stroke risk. (See more data from the study here, and Dehghan's conference presentation here.) The same group of researchers also looked at the effect of fats and carbohydrates on blood lipids like cholesterol, triglycerides, and apolipoprotein. [...]

Researcher Says V.A. Obstruction Jeopardizes Study of Marijuana As PTSD Treatment

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 18:15:00 -0400

The first U.S. study to test marijuana as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, which had been in the works since 2009, finally got under way last February and has enrolled 25 subjects since then. But the lead researcher, Phoenix psychiatrist Sue Sisley, says the study, which needs a total of 76 subjects, has been jeopardized by a lack of cooperation from the local Veterans Health Administration hospital. "Despite our best efforts to work with the Phoenix VA hospital and share information about the study," Sisley writes in a recent letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, "they have been unwilling to assist by providing information to their patients and medical staff about a federally legal clinical trial happening right in their backyard that is of crucial importance to the veteran community." At the current recruitment rate, she says, the study will not be completed within the time required by a $2.2 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. According to Sisley's letter, the hospital's director, RimaAnn Nelson, "is citing regulations that she cannot support research that does not utilize VA personnel." Sisley is asking Shulkin to intervene so that she can post flyers advertising the study at the hospital, distribute referral letters that can be used by interested patients, and present a lecture about the research to the medical staff. (She says she gave a talk at the hospital four years ago and was told she'd be invited back once the study had received all the approvals needed to proceed with recruitment.) Sisley also asks that the hospital "include information about the PTSD/cannabis study in any kind of electronic communications that are shared with VA staff and patients." Sisley and her colleagues are looking for veterans in the Phoenix area with "chronic, treatment-resistant PTSD arising from their combat-related service in the US armed forces and with duration of PTSD lasting at least six months." The FDA-approved protocol for the study, which is sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), lists 14 inclusion criteria and seven exclusion criteria. Sisley says she and the other researchers had to screen more than 300 potential subjects to identify 25 who met the criteria. They need 51 more, which Sisley figures will require screening another 700 or so veterans. "If we cannot recruit enough veterans," Sisley writes in her letter to Shulkin, "we will need to change the inclusion criteria to allow subjects with PTSD from any cause to enroll in the study. This is a change that we do not want to make if at all possible." Sisley says the subjects enrolled so far have nearly completed the study. "Once those vets are through, there will be no reason to pay lab staff to sit aimlessly waiting for more veterans to miraculously appear," Sisley says. "There will be no improvement in veteran volunteers until the Phoenix V.A. hospital agrees to start cooperating with us. They have blocked access to appropriate Phoenix area veterans with PTSD for the past two years now." When I ask Paul Coupaud, director of communication at the Phoenix V.A. hospital, why Sisley can't advertise her study there, he notes that "marijuana is still considered federally illegal," adding that "we can't tell people to go and try something that's illegal." When I point out that the study has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is therefore legal under federal as well as state law, Coupaud says the real obstacle is that department regulations say "we cannot advertise any research study other than what V.A. is doing; we can't advertise outside research." He said Secretary Shulkin could amend that rule. I emailed the Department of Veterans Affairs about Sisley's complaints last week but have not heard back. The MAPS study has been focused on veterans from the beginning. Rick Doblin, executi[...]

FDA Deems MDMA, Banned Since 1985, a 'Breakthrough Therapy'

Mon, 28 Aug 2017 12:30:00 -0400

Two decades after the Drug Enforcement Administration banned MDMA, classifying it as a dangerous intoxicant with no accepted medical use, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed the same substance a "breakthrough therapy." The designation should speed MDMA's approval as a prescription medicine, which could happen as soon as 2021. That remarkable turnaround is thanks to the hard work of a plucky and persistent organization known as the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), founded the year after the DEA banned MDMA. Last fall the FDA gave MAPS a green light for Phase III studies of MDMA as a treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the last stage before approval of a new medicine. MAPS, which plans to start enrolling subjects for its first Phase III study this spring, announced on Saturday that MDMA had qualified as a breakthrough therapy. The designation, created by the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012, means the FDA thinks MDMA "may demonstrate substantial improvement over existing therapies on one or more clinically significant endpoints, such as substantial treatment effects observed early in clinical development." It is not hard to see why the FDA reached that conclusion, given the very promising results of the MAPS-sponsored Phase II studies conducted by Charleston, South Carolina, psychiatrist Michael Mithoefer and his wife, Annie, a psychiatric nurse. The subjects in the first study were crime victims, mainly women who had been raped or sexually abused. More than four-fifths of the subjects who received MDMA in conjunction with psychotherapy showed a clinical response, meaning they saw reductions greater than 30 percent in the severity of their PTSD, as measured by the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The mean CAPS score in this group fell from about 80 to less than 30. Ten of the 12 subjects, all of whom began with CAPS scores indicating severe PTSD, no longer qualified for the diagnosis. By comparison, 25 percent of the subjects who received placebos saw improvements of more than 30 percent. Seven of the eight subjects in the control group subsequently chose to take MDMA, and all of them showed a clinical response. That study, published by the Journal of Psychopharmacology in 2011, had a small sample, and blinding probably was less than fully effective, since subjects may have surmised they were getting the real thing based on the effects they perceived. But follow-up evaluations conducted 17 to 74 months after the last treatment found that the improvements experienced by the subjects who received MDMA generally persisted. While two of the 16 subjects who completed all of the evaluations relapsed, the average CAPS score was essentially unchanged. A subsequent MAPS-sponsored study involved 21 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, plus three firefighters and one police officer. The results, which have been shared with the FDA but have not been published yet, were similarly impressive. Instead of using an inactive placebo, as the earlier study did, this one randomly assigned subjects to receive either 30 milligrams, 75 milligrams, or 125 milligrams of MDMA, followed by supplementary doses equal to half the original upon request. Summarizing the results at a MAPS conference last April, Mithoefer said there was "not much improvement" in the 30-milligram group but "quite a lot of improvement with the other doses." Mean CAPS scores, which ranged from 80 to 90 at the beginning, fell to between 70 and 80 in the low-dose group, less than 50 in the high-dose group, and less than 30 in the medium-dose group. In addition to the breakthrough-therapy designation, the FDA has reached an agreement with MAPS on the design for the Phase III studies. Among other things, the FDA agreed with Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of MAPS, that an inactive placebo, as in [...]

Can Science Reverse Aging?

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 12:15:00 -0400

"In 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older," says José Luis Cordeiro, who's a founding faculty member at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley-based think tank devoted to futurism. "Why? Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now." A mechanical engineer with a degree from MIT, Cordeiro has worked in fields ranging from monetary policy to petroleum engineering, and he created the first formal "future studies" course at the Austrian School of Economics in Venezuela, his birth country. Cordeiro is an extreme optimist, who says technological progress will solve most of the world's problems. He sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie at the annual libertarian conference Freedom Fest in Las Vegas to discuss immortality, artificial intelligence, and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Edited by Ian Keyser. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Zach Weissmueller. Music: "Aspirato" by Kai Engel, Creative Commons. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about the future of two things. One about Singularity University, and then also about Venezuela, your home country. Singularity University is a place that is dedicated to exploring, and analyzing, and coming up with what the future looks like, especially in terms of, kind of, life enhancements, human life enhancement, longevity, life extension. What's the most, what are the things that you're most interested about right now? José Cordeiro: Well, things are accelerating. We really live in exponential times, and medicine is being radically transformed. There is a disruption, and we are going to be living longer lives, healthier lives, probably indefinite life spans, very soon. Gillespie: Define very soon. Cordeiro: Well, we talk, delayed as by 2045. Gillespie: Okay. Cordeiro: Ray Kurzweil, who is the chairman of Singularity University, he says that he plans to become immortal by 2045, and I believe in that as well. In fact, I do not plan to die. Even more interesting, in 30 years, I will be younger than today, not older. I will be younger. Gillespie: Oh, so– Cordeiro: Why? Gillespie: Yeah. Cordeiro: Because we are going to have rejuvenation techniques, and these experiments are beginning right now. There are patients that are being rejuvenated with experimental treatments. Gillespie: What are some of those treatments, and how do we know that they will work, either immediately, or in the long term? Cordeiro: Well, one of the things that are being experimented with is increasing the telomeres at the end of the chromosomes. Actually, this is what cancer does. Cancer cells are biologically immortal. They do not age, so scientists are trying to understand why cancer has discovered how not to age, so that we can apply that to the rest of the body. This is one of the most interesting things that are being experimented, and there is already one human patient that has undergone this kind of treatment for over one year, and her cells, actually, are becoming younger, according to the length of the telomeres. They are regrowing, they are becoming longer, which means she is younger today. Gillespie: Wow. From a policy angle, what are the regulatory angles that most intersect and block this kind of research, or this kind of advancement? Cordeiro: Well, this is an excellent question because this experimental treatment cannot be done in the USA right now, because it is illegal. In order to do an experimental treatment, even in yourself, with your own money, you need approvals. So, this person that is undergoing this treatment, Liz Parish, who lives in Oregon state, she actually had to fly to South America. I helped her, also, to find some doctors that could [...]

Red Teaming Climate Change

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 14:53:00 -0400

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt wants to set up a Red Team vs. Blue Team approach to evaluating climate change science and policy, E&E News reports. "Defined loosely, red teaming is the practice of viewing a problem from an adversary or competitor's perspective," notes Red Team Journal. In this context, the idea is to assemble a group of climate science and policy experts who would dispassionately seek to challenge the assumptions, data, and policy proposals that constitute the climate consensus. In a sense, science is supposed to be Red Team vs. Blue Team all the way down. Researchers test each other's hypotheses and findings, trying to poke holes in what has been reported. If a hypothesis survives numerous attempts to falsify it, it is generally accepted as provisionally true. Clearly, Pruitt and some researchers who are skeptical of the more catastrophic predictions believe that the normal processes for evaluating evidentiary and policy claims have broken down with respect to climate science. One of those researchers is John Christy, a climatologist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. In his March 2017 testimony before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Christy claimed that a "climate establishment" consisting of a small coterie of like-minded researchers has forged a "consensus of those selected to agree with a particular consensus." These gatekeepers, he argued, exclude the views and findings of more skeptical climate scientists from consideration in various scientific reports, most especially the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's periodic global climate assessment reports. Christy's solution: climate-change Red Teams. Panels of well-credentialed scientists would produce "an assessment that expresses legitimate, alternative hypotheses that have been (in their view) marginalized, misrepresented or ignored" by the climate establishment. The topics they'd address would include "(a) evidence for a low climate sensitivity to increasing greenhouse gases, (b) the role and importance of natural, unforced variability, (c) a rigorous and independent evaluation of climate model output, (d) a thorough discussion of uncertainty, (e) a focus on metrics that most directly relate to the rate of accumulation of heat in the climate system, (f) analysis of the many consequences, including benefits, that result from CO2 increases, and (g) the importance that affordable and accessible energy has to human health and welfare." Steven Koonin, a physicist who served as undersecretary of energy for science under Obama, endorsed the idea in an April 20 Wall Street Journal op-ed. Red Teaming, Koonin argued, would "put the 'consensus' to a test, and improve public understanding, through an open, adversarial process." This, he hoped, would lead to "transparent apolitical science" and better-informed policy discussions. As examples of successful Red Teaming, Koonin pointed to the Rogers Commission for the Challenger disaster in 1986, the Energy Department's review of cold fusion in 1989, and the Clinton-era National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC). The Rogers Commission did identify the malfunction of the O-ring as the proximate cause for the Challenger space shuttle explosion, though some critics argue its final report failed to hold high NASA officials accountable for the accident. The Department of Energy's 1991 report concluded that there was no "convincing evidence that useful sources of energy will result from the phenomena attributed to cold fusion." The NBAC supported President Bill Clinton's ban on human cloning and recommended a moratorium on federal funding for any attempt to create a child using cloning techniques. All of Koonin's examples addressed issues that are far more contained and discrete than climate. Nor were [...]

EPA Bureaucracy Strikes Back: The Case of the Board of Scientific Counselors

Tue, 09 May 2017 10:45:00 -0400

In the 1980s British sitcom Yes, Minister, Department of Administrative Affairs Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby regularly frustrated the efforts of the Department's Minister Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP to enact reforms, reduce bureaucracy, or change policy. In fact, Sir Humphrey seeks, as a matter of principle, to uphold and maintain the status quo in the civil service. This notably includes maintaining the prestige, power and influence of the civil service. Consequently, Sir Humphrey seeks to stymie any efforts that Hacker makes toward preventing the expansion of the civil service or reducing the complexity of its bureaucracy. From the point of view of the bureaucrats, as Sir Humphrey observes, "It makes very little difference who the Minister is." The efforts of the permanent bureaucracy at the Environmental Protection Agency to hand the the new political leadership a fait accompli regarding the membership of that agency's Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC) brought to mind the antics of Yes, Minister. The civil servants at the EPA had apparently assured the members of the BOSC whose three-year terms were ending that they could stay on for another term just as the Obama administration was winding down in January. Since the terms for more than half of the BOSC's members ran out in late April, the agency bureaucrats essentially went to the new EPA leadership with the old list of Obama administration appointees at the last minute and said, "Sign this." The new team appointed by Trump declined to do so. Scorned bureaucrats then leaked the decision to the media shaping the narrative as a Trumpian anti-science "firing" of brave truth-tellers. The Washington Post and the New York Times duly reported just that story. But is it so? "We're not going to rubber-stamp the last administration's appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool," EPA spokesperson J.P. Freire told the Post. "This approach is what was always intended for the board, and we're making a clean break with the last administration's approach." Rifling through the Federal Advisory Committee Act database, I find that the terms of 12 members of the BOSC officially expired on April 27, 2017. Another ended in March. Composed of outside researchers, the 18-member BOSC is supposed to provide objective and independent counsel to the agency's Office of Research and Development (ORD). The committee aids the ORD on research and development with the aim of identifying, understanding, and solving current and future environmental problems; by reviewing ORD's technical support to EPA's program and regional offices; by providing leadership in assisting ORD in identifying emerging environmental issues; and by helping to advance the science and technology of risk assessment and risk management. BOSC members are must be nationally recognized experts in science or engineering. The board should be balanced in disciplines, diversity, and geographic distribution area and include representatives from academia, government, industry, environmental consulting firms, and environmental associations. Last May, the agency issued a BOSC Membership Balance Plan that among other things noted that approximately 8 months prior to expiration of committee members' terms the DFO [designated federal officer] starts devising an outreach plan for new committeee members. Among other things, the DFO is supposed to solicit candidate names through a Federal Register notice and from individuals who are actively engaged in interests relating to environmental scientific and technical fields, human health care professions, academia, industry, public and private research institutes and organizations, and other relevant interest areas. The DFO reviews the pool of nominees [...]

Climate Change, Scientism, and the Politics of Certitude

Mon, 01 May 2017 12:30:00 -0400

The balance of the scientific evidence supports the claim that man-made climate change is happening. That being said, there are many uncertainties with regard to how fast the climate might warm over the course of this century, how much it might warm, how fast sea level will rise, and so forth. Climate scientists try to get a handle on the trajectory of climate change using computer climate models. When compared to observational temperature trends, the models' outputs have been somewhat less than robust. University of Alabama at Huntsville climatologist John Christy, who is a long-time skeptic of projections of future catastrophic warming, finds that computer model temperature increases average about 3 times greater than the actual temperature trends. A January 2017 paper in the Journal of Climate by researchers who unquestionably represent mainstream climate science corrected for satellite data trends and the inclusion of stratospheric cooling and also found that the models are warming 1.7 times faster than the observational temperatures. In his column "Climate of Complete Certainty," New York Times opinion writer Bret Stephens sought to account for the skepticism of high percentage of Americans toward the dire warnings from environmentalists about impending catastrophic climate change. Stephens accepts that man-made warming is real; however, he observes that much else is still a matter of probabilities. From his column: That's especially true of the sophisticated but fallible models and simulations by which scientists attempt to peer into the climate future. To say this isn't to deny science. It's to acknowledge it honestly.... Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one's moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts. None of this is to deny climate change or the possible severity of its consequences. But ordinary citizens also have a right to be skeptical of an overweening scientism. They know—as all environmentalists should—that history is littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power. As it happens, hundreds of thousands of climate activists this past weekend participated in the Peoples Climate March in Washington, D.C., along with subsidiary marches in 300 other cities. It is evident that many progressive marchers would eschew Stephens' warning against marrying uncertain science to political power and are entirely certain that climate change requires the complete transformation of the U.S. economy and society along more communitarian lines. It is not too much to say that environmentalists' apocalyptic climate rhetoric helped elect our current president. The New York Post is reporting the nasty progressive backlash against Stephens who aim to get him fired from the Times. For more background on the human wreckage of scientific errors made by political environmentalists see my book, The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the 21st Century. I also reprise failed predictions of impending environmental catastrophe from the first Earth Day in 1970.[...]

Where Science - And Sexuality - Goes To Die: Bill Nye's Netflix Show

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 19:11:00 -0400

A few days ago, Netflix dropped its series Bill Nye Saves the World in which the eponymous host "explores various problems and misconceptions from a scientific point of view."

Well, at least when he isn't hosting godawful video bits like this one featuring Rachel Bloom, one of the creators and stars of the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Titled "My Sex Junk," I first saw this in my Twitter feed yesterday, where any number of people pointed out that whatever your feelings about the topics under discussion, this video pretty much makes all of humanity want to cringe and die.

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There is so much wrong here, it's almost painful. But we should ask, who is the possible audience for this sort of thing? It seems both smug and off-putting in equal measures, so much so I can't imagine anyone wanting to be identified with it under any circumstances. But that only means I am not the target audience, I suppose.

Related: That time Bill Nye said he was open to jail time for climate change skeptics.

March for Science: R&D Funding Is Not Falling - It's at an All Time High

Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:35:00 -0400

On Saturday I wandered down to the National Mall to hang out with the folks who were participating in the March for Science. Despite the rain, the crowd was mostly in a celebratory and not too overtly partisan mood. The event's kick-off on the grounds of the Washington Monument was a series of short speeches punctuated by musical interludes. For instance, the crowd was amused by Thomas Dolby performing his hit "She Blinded Me With Science." Several of the speakers mentioned their worries about proposed cuts in federal R&D funding, and a couple even suggested that R&D funding had been falling for decades. "Federal support has been dropping since the 1960s," declared Lydia Villa-Komaroff, former CEO of a cell biology company called Cytonome and a co-chair of the March to NBC News. Villa-Komaroff's claim is at best misleading. It is true that the percentage of the federal budget devoted to R&D has been falling since the space race with Soviet Union abated, but the amounts in real dollars that the Feds have spent on R&D have risen more or less steadily over the past four decades. In November 2016, the National Science Foundation reported that U.S. R&D spending is at an all time high of $499 billion in 2015. As the American Institute of Physics noted, "Businesses funded $355 billion, or 69 percent, continuing a long-term trend of private enterprise financing an increasingly large majority of R&D nationwide. The federal government, the second-largest funder of U.S. R&D, sponsored an estimated $113 billion, or 23 percent of the total." "Those private sector efforts are now the dominant form of research activity in the United States, with business spending $3 on research for every $1 invested by the U.S. government. In the 1960s the federal government outspent industry by a two-to-one margin, but the balance tipped in 1980," noted Science in its report on the NSF's R&D funding study. Of course, many of the Marchers for Science are concerned that President Trump's "skinny budget" that aims to cut federal R&D funding to support his military buildup might actually happen. This seems unlikely. That being said, I share below some of the signs at the March for Science rally that I rather liked. [...]

Scientists’ March on Washington

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:30:00 -0400

In the flush of excitement after the post-inaugural Women's March on Washington, someone in a Reddit conversation suggested, "There needs to be a Scientists' March on Washington." Sensing that a march on Washington might sound too aggressively partisan, the organizers have now renamed the event the March for Science. That march will take place tomorrow, on Earth Day, which the coordinators somehow figured would be the perfect nonpartisan date on which to muster tens of thousands of scientists and their comrades on the National Mall. "We face a possible future where people not only ignore scientific evidence, but seek to eliminate it entirely," warns the march's mission statement. "Staying silent is a luxury that we can no longer afford. We must stand together and support science." From whom do the marchers hope to defend science? Certainly not the American public: Most Americans are fairly strong supporters of the scientific enterprise. An October 2016 Pew Research Center poll reported, "Three-quarters of Americans (76%) have either a great deal (21%) or a fair amount of confidence (55%) in scientists, generally, to act in the public interest." The General Social Survey notes that public confidence in scientists stands out among the most stable of about 13 institutions rated in the GSS survey since the mid-1970s. (For what it's worth, the GSS reports only 8 percent of the public say that they have a great deal of confidence in the press, but at least that's higher than the 6 percent who say the same about Congress.) The mission statement also declares, "The application of science to policy is not a partisan issue. Anti-science agendas and policies have been advanced by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and they harm everyone—without exception." I thoroughly endorse that sentiment. But why didn't the scientific community march when the Obama administration blocked over-the-counter access to emergency contraception to women under age 17? Or dawdled for years over the approval of genetically enhanced salmon? Or tried to kill off the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility? Or halted the development of direct-to-consumer genetic testing? One problem is that many of the marchers apparently believe that scientific evidence necessarily implies the adoption of certain policies. This ignores the always salient issue of trade-offs. For example, acknowledging that man-made global warming could become a significant problem does not mean that the only "scientific" policy response must be the immediate deployment of the current versions of solar and wind power. The mission statement proclaims that the marchers "unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest." Setting aside the fact that the march was conceived in the immediate wake of the decidedly partisan and specifically anti-Trump Women's March on Washington, how credible are these claims to non-partisanship? As it happens, I received an email on Thursday from the publicist for Shaughnessy Naughton, who is a chemist, a cancer researcher, and the founder of the activist group 314 Action. Naughton's group is one of the March's 170 partner organizations. 314 Action's political action committee is recruiting scientists, engineers, and other technologists to run for political office, and it plans to provide them with the "resources they need to become viable, credible, Democratic candidates." The publicist informed me that Naughton is "available to discuss this weekend's March for Science in Washington, D.C., which will assemble scientists from across the cou[...]