Simple Rules for Healthy Eating

Probability in Health and Medicine – 

It’s much easier, unfortunately, to tell you what not to do. But here at The Upshot, we don’t avoid the hard questions. So I’m going to put myself on the line. Below are the general rules I live by. They’re the ones I share with patients, with friends and with family. They’re the ones I support as a pediatrician and a health services researcher. But I acknowledge up front that they may apply only to healthy people without metabolic disorders (me, for instance, as far as I know).

Aaron E. Carroll, New York Times, April 20, 2015


New study finds a surprising placebo effect from “environmentally friendly” labeling

Probability in Psychology, Climate –

It has long been known, in medicine, that your mind has some control over how you feel — or at least how you think you feel. Thus, the so-called placebo effect occurs when patients receiving a fake treatment like a sugar pill report feeling better afterwards. This is so common that “placebo controlled trials” are used to prove that the drug being tested not only performs better than nothing at all, but also better than the false belief that you’ve received a treatment.

But could there also be placebo-type effects induced by (of all things) environmentally friendly products?

Perhaps so, suggests a recently published study (available open access) in the Journal of Environmental Psychology by Patrik Sörqvist of the University of Gävle in Sweden and his colleagues. It’s a small study, with only 48 student research subjects. Nonetheless, the finding is pretty remarkable.

Chris Mooney, Washington Post, April 23, 2015

Lost Siblings Find Each Other On Dating App

Probability in Relationships – 

Good morning. I’m David Greene. Erik de Vries and Josephine Egberts were two single people in the Netherlands. They met on the dating app Tinder, and things got off to a good start. They flirted a little online and found a lot in common. Both had parents who split in a divorce. Both had a sibling they hadn’t seen in years because of that divorce. And both soon realized they had found their long-lost sibling – each other. No dates for these two. But they did get to take their first family portrait in 15 years. You’re listening to MORNING EDITION.

David Greene, NPR, April 24, 2105

Maybe You Should Rethink That Daily Aspirin

Probability in Health and Medicine – 

We’ve all heard that an aspirin a day can keep heart disease at bay. But lots of Americans seem to be taking it as a preventive measure, when many probably shouldn’t.

In a recent national survey, more than half the adults who were middle age or older reported taking an aspirin regularly to prevent a heart attack or stroke. The Food and Drug Administration only recommends the drug for people who’ve already experienced such an event, or who are at extremely high risk.

The survey, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that 52 percent of people aged 45 to 75 are taking aspirin daily or every other day. And 47 percent are taking it even though they have never had a heart attack or stroke.

“That’s very controversial in the medical community,” says Craig Williams, a pharmacologist at Oregon State University, who led the study.

Aspirin thins the blood and can help prevent blood clots that can clog blood vessels and cause strokes and heart attacks. But long-term use of the drug also increases the risk of ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and bleeding in the brain.

“Everyone agrees that for people who have already had a cardiac event, the benefits outweigh the risk,” Williams says.

Maanvi Singh, NRP, April 27, 2015

Fan Wins $1 Million At Patriots Game With Help Of Tom Brady’s Number

Probability in Gambling

“At halftime of the New England Patriots‘ game against the Miami Dolphins, a Patriots fan had the opportunity to win $1 million in a Massachusetts State Lottery drawing. Ernest Tomascik had to choose one of 24 different oversized scratch-off lottery tickets. Tomascik went with No. 12, Brady’s number, opened the envelope attached to the ticket, and boom: instant millionaire.”

By Jay Busbee, Yahoo! Sports, December 14, 2014


Among professional women, African Americans are most likely to want top executive jobs, report says

Probability in Psychology, Economics and Business

The number of women holding CEO positions among America’s largest corporations is, as everyone knows, very small. Just 23 women are CEOs of companies in the S&P 500. But the number of female African American chief executives among those top businesses is downright minuscule: There is only one black woman, Xerox’s Ursula Burns, at this pinnacle of corporate power.

Black women in the sample also reported being more confident they can succeed in powerful positions than white women (43 percent versus 30 percent) and more likely to say high earnings were important to their careers (81 percent versus 54 percent).

Jena McGregor, Washington Post, April 22, 2015

Is your community a good place to grow old? Plug your zip code into AARP tool to find out

Probability in Economics and Business

Are you considering staying put as you grow older, but aren’t sure whether it would be a wise move? A new online rating tool  ranks nearly every neighborhood in the United States on its suitability for aging-in-place.

The AARP Livability Index uses factors such as safety, security, ease of getting around, access to health care, housing affordability, and even the prevalence of WiFi, farmers markets and public policies that promote successful aging.

Users punch in their Zip code or street address, and the Web site crunches data to show how a community lines up against others. Ratings come on a scale of 0-100. Users can also rejigger the weight placed on certain factors to suit themselves. Someone who doesn’t care whether his town has adopted energy-efficient policies could reduce their importance in the calculations while boosting the relevance of housing costs.

Frederick Kunkle, Washington Post, April 20, 2015

Doctors’ Muddled Statistical Knowledge May Harm Patients

Probability in Health and Medicine

“With final exams bearing down on them this month, nearly 1,000 students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond turned out for “Paws for Stress” — a chance to pet and play with therapy dogs…. The benefits of animal-human interactions may extend to physical health, too. In May of 2013, the American Heart Association released a statement concluding that pet ownership is “probably associated with decreased cardiovascular disease risk.”

Christie Aschwanden, Washington Post, December 16, 2014



Still sharp, Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 with a cloudy future

Probability in Science

The Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 on Friday, but no one should call it old. It’s mature. It’s the great silverback of astronomy, grizzled from wear and tear and yet still powerful and utterly dominant in its field.

The Hubble helped change our understanding of the age of the universe, the evolution of galaxies and the expansion of space itself. Along the way it has had the equivalent of knee and hip replacement surgery: Five times, astronauts on the space shuttle paid a visit to swap out old batteries and install new instruments, including, in 2009, the best camera the telescope has ever had.

The Hubble was designed to be serviced by the space shuttle. But the space shuttle fleet was retired in 2011, and the Hubble hasn’t had a repair job since that 2009 mission. At some point, under the laws of entropy that dominate the cosmos, the Hubble will begin to deteriorate — for example, losing its navigational ability as its gyroscopic sensors fail one by one.

“It’s kind of like predicting when’s the next time your car’s going to break down,” said Jim Jeletic, deputy project manager for the Hubble at NASA Goddard, who on a recent morning led a reporter and photographer on a tour of the telescope’s operations center in Greenbelt, Md.

Joel Achenbach, Washington Post, April 21, 2015

Hesitant Parents Can Be Nudged to Use Measles Vaccine – To get measles vaccine coverage for all, try small nudges to hesitant parents

Probability in Health and Medicine, Psychology

Powerful measles protection rests on numbers: 92 to 94 percent. That is the portion of people in a community that must be vaccinated to prevent outbreaks of a disease that killed more children around the world in 2013 than car accidents or AIDS. At that immunization level, the virus has trouble finding victims, even the unvaccinated, as shown by both direct experience and models of disease. Libya and Tanzania, for instance, have passed that bar, with vaccination rates of 99 percent. The U.S., dragged down by parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, has not. Coverage is as low as 86 percent in states such as Colorado and Ohio, and the national average is 91 percent. Last year, as a consequence, 644 people in the U.S. were sickened by measles—more than in any year since 2000. What is to be done to keep things from getting even worse?

Some policy makers have called for new laws that would require MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) shots for all school-age children. Eight out of 10 Americans would support such laws, one CNN poll found. But strong-arm tactics would probably backfire and reinforce the antivaccine movement, which is driven by fears that shots cause autism and other side effects. A better way, highlighted by behavioral science research, is to change other parents’ hesitant attitudes with little nudges.

Scientific American, April 14, 2015