William Emlen Cresson (1843-1868)
Oil on canvas
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts
SEATTLE, July 30 (Reuters) - The Seattle Police Department has reassigned an officer who single-handedly issued about 80 percent of the marijuana tickets handed out in the city during the first half of this year, authorities said on Wednesday.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said staff reviewing data to prepare the department’s first biannual report on marijuana enforcement found that 66 of 83 citations for public pot use were given out by just one officer.
"In some instances, the officer added notes to the tickets," O’Toole said in a statement, adding that some of the notes requested the attention of City Attorney Peter Holmes and were addressed to "Petey Holmes."
In one case, she said, “the officer indicated he flipped a coin when contemplating which subject to cite.”
Why do we bite our nails?
By Tom Stafford
[…]Given this lack of prior scientific treatment, I feel free to speculate for myself. So, here is my theory on why people bite their nails, and how to treat it.
Let’s call it the ‘anti-theory’ theory. I propose that there is no special cause of nail biting – not breastfeeding, chronic anxiety or a lack of motherly love. The advantage of this move is that we don’t need to find a particular connection between me, Gordon, Jackie and Britney. Rather, I suggest, nail biting is just the result of a number of factors which – due to random variation – combine in some people to create a bad habit.
First off, there is the fact that putting your fingers in your mouth is an easy thing to do. It is one of the basic functions for feeding and grooming, and so it is controlled by some pretty fundamental brain circuitry, meaning it can quickly develop into an automatic reaction. Added to this, there is a ‘tidying up’ element to nail biting – keeping them short – which means in the short term at least it can be pleasurable, even if the bigger picture is that you end up tearing your fingers to shreds. This reward element, combined with the ease with which the behaviour can be carried out, means that it is easy for a habit to develop; apart from touching yourself in the genitals it is hard to think of a more immediate way to give yourself a small moment of pleasure, and biting your nails has the advantage of being OK at school. Once established, the habit can become routine – there are many situations in everyone’s daily life where you have both your hands and your mouth available to use.
Understanding nail-biting as a habit has a bleak message for a cure, unfortunately, since we know how hard bad habits can be to break. Most people, at least once per day, will lose concentration on not biting their nails.
Nail-biting, in my view, isn’t some revealing personality characteristic, nor a maladaptive echo of some useful evolutionary behaviour. It is the product of the shape of our bodies, how hand-to-mouth behaviour is built into (and rewarded in) our brains and the psychology of habit.
And, yes, I did bite my nails while writing this column. Sometimes even a good theory doesn’t help.
All you need to measure the speed of light is a microwave, a ruler & a bar of chocolate! To show you how to do this quantum kitchen experiment, here’s Ross & Nerys in this week’s portion of tasty science: http://youtu.be/kpB1wezpJeE
Prolonged exposure to loud noise alters how the brain processes speech, potentially increasing the difficulty in distinguishing speech sounds, according to neuroscientists at The University of Texas at Dallas.
In a paper published this week in Ear and Hearing, researchers demonstrated for the first time how noise-induced hearing loss affects the brain’s recognition of speech sounds.
Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) reaches all corners of the population, affecting an estimated 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD).
Exposure to intensely loud sounds leads to permanent damage of the hair cells, which act as sound receivers in the ear. Once damaged, the hair cells do not grow back, leading to NIHL.
“As we have made machines and electronic devices more powerful, the potential to cause permanent damage has grown tremendously,” said Dr. Michael Kilgard, co-author and Margaret Fonde Jonsson Professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “Even the smaller MP3 players can reach volume levels that are highly damaging to the ear in a matter of minutes.”
Before the study, scientists had not clearly understood the direct effects of NIHL on how the brain responds to speech.
To simulate two types of noise trauma that clinical populations face, UT Dallas scientists exposed rats to moderate or intense levels of noise for an hour. One group heard a high-frequency noise at 115 decibels inducing moderate hearing loss, and a second group heard a low-frequency noise at 124 decibels causing severe hearing loss.
For comparison, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association lists the maximum output of an MP3 player or the sound of a chain saw at about 110 decibels and the siren on an emergency vehicle at 120 decibels. Regular exposure to sounds greater than 100 decibels for more than a minute at a time may lead to permanent hearing loss, according to the NIDCD.
Researchers observed how the two types of hearing loss affected speech sound processing in the rats by recording the neuronal response in the auditory cortex a month after the noise exposure. The auditory cortex, one of the main areas that processes sounds in the brain, is organized on a scale, like a piano. Neurons at one end of the cortex respond to low-frequency sounds, while other neurons at the opposite end react to higher frequencies.
In the group with severe hearing loss, less than one-third of the tested auditory cortex sites that normally respond to sound reacted to stimulation. In the sites that did respond, there were unusual patterns of activity. The neurons reacted slower, the sounds had to be louder and the neurons responded to frequency ranges narrower than normal. Additionally, the rats could not tell the speech sounds apart in a behavioral task they could successfully complete before the hearing loss.
In the group with moderate hearing loss, the area of the cortex responding to sounds didn’t change, but the neurons’ reaction did. A larger area of the auditory cortex responded to low-frequency sounds. Neurons reacting to high frequencies needed more intense sound stimulation and responded slower than those in normal hearing animals. Despite these changes, the rats were still able to discriminate the speech sounds in a behavioral task.
“Although the ear is critical to hearing, it is just the first step of many processing stages needed to hold a conversation,” Kilgard said. “We are beginning to understand how hearing damage alters the brain and makes it hard to process speech, especially in noisy environments.”
Scientists Warn Of Inevitable Super Solar Storm Propelled Towards Earth:
In this month’s issue of Physics World, Ashley Dale from the University of Bristol warns of the “catastrophic” and “long-lasting” impacts of “solar super-storms” and the dangers we face if the threat continues to go unnoticed.
Dale, who was a member of SolarMAX – an international task force set up to identify the risks of a solar storm and how its impact could be minimized, explains how it is only a matter of time before an exceptionally violent solar storm is propelled towards Earth. Such a storm would wreak havoc with our communication systems and power supplies, crippling vital services such as transport, sanitation and medicine. Dale said:
Without power, people would struggle to fuel their cars at petrol stations, get money from cash dispensers or pay online. Water and sewage systems would be affected too, meaning that health epidemics in urbanized areas would quickly take a grip, with diseases we thought we had left behind centuries ago soon returning.
Solar storms are caused by violent eruptions on the surface of the sun and are accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CME). CMEs are the most energetic events in our solar system and involve huge bubbles of plasma and magnetic fields being spewed from the Sun’s surface into space.
CMEs are often preceded by a solar flare – a massive release of energy from the Sun in the form of gamma rays, X-rays, protons and electrons.
A solar super-storm occurs when a CME of sufficient magnitude tears into the Earth’s surrounding magnetic field and rips it apart. Such an event would induce huge surges of electrical currents in the ground and in overhead transmission lines, causing widespread power outages and severely damaging critical electrical components.
The largest ever solar super-storm on record occurred in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event, named after the English astronomer Richard Carrington, who spotted the preceding solar flare.
This massive CME released about 1022 kJ of energy – the equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time – and hurled around a trillion kilograms of charged particles towards the Earth at speeds of up to 3000 km/s. Its impact on the human population, though, was relatively benign as our electronic infrastructure at the time amounted to no more than about 200 000 km of telegraph lines.
Dale makes it clear that these types of events are not just a threat, but inevitable. Indeed, NASA scientists have predicted that the Earth is in the path of a Carrington-level event every 150 years on average – which means that we are currently five years overdue – and that the likelihood of one occurring in the next decade is as high as 12%.
The 40-strong international team of scientists from SolarMAX gathered at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, last year to identify the best ways of limiting the potential damage of a solar super-storm. Dale said:
As a species, we have never been more vulnerable to the volatile mood of our nearest star, but it is well within our ability, skill and expertise as humans to protect ourselves.
New research by clinical psychologists from Arizona State University and the United Kingdom has revealed seizures that could be mistaken for epilepsy are linked to feelings of anxiety.
The team of researchers devised a new set of tests to determine whether there was a link between how people interpret and respond to anxiety, and incidences of psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES).
Nicole Roberts, an associate professor in ASU’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, collaborated with colleagues from the University of Lincoln, University of Nottingham and University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. The team’s findings were published in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior.
The researchers used a series of questionnaires and computer tests to determine if a patient regularly avoids situations which might bring on anxiety.
These tests correctly predicted whether a patient had epilepsy or PNES – seizures that can be brought on by threatening situations, sensations, emotions, thoughts or memories – in 83 percent of study participants. Such seizures appear on the surface to be similar to epileptic fits, which are caused by abnormal brain activity.
“This research underscores the fact that PNES is a ‘real’ and disabling disorder with a potentially identifiable pathophysiology,” said Roberts, who directs New College’s Emotion, Culture, and Psychophysiology Laboratory, located on ASU’s West campus. “We need to continue to search for answers, not just in epilepsy clinics, but also in the realm of affective science and complex brain-behavior relationships.”
“PNES can be a very disabling condition, and it is important that we understand the triggers so that we provide the correct care and treatment,” said Lian Dimaro, a clinical psychologist based at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, who served as lead researcher for the study.
“This study was one of the first to bring modern psychological tools of investigation to this problem,” Dimaro said. “The findings support the idea that increasing a person’s tolerance of unpleasant emotions and reducing avoidant behavior may help with treatment, suggesting that patients could benefit from a range of therapies, including acceptance and commitment therapy to help reduce the frequency of seizures, although more research is needed in this area.”
Participants completed questionnaires to determine the level to which they suffered from anxiety, their awareness of their experiences and if they would avoid situations which would make them feel anxious.
They then completed a computer task which required rapid responses to true or false statements. This test was designed to gather data on immediate, or implicit, beliefs about anxiety. Participants also answered questions about common physical complaints that may have no medical explanation, also called somatic symptoms. These can include things like gastrointestinal problems, tiredness and back pain.
Results showed that those with PNES reported significantly more somatic symptoms than others in the study, as well as avoidance of situations which might make them anxious. The group with PNES also scored significantly higher on a measure of how aware they were of their anxiety compared with the control group.
The test subjects were 30 adults with PNES, 25 with epilepsy and 31 with no reported history of seizures who served as a nonclinical control group.
The researchers suggest that including tests to determine levels of anxiety and avoidance behavior may enable health professionals to make earlier diagnosis, and develop more effective intervention plans.
“Epileptic seizures are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, while most PNES are thought to be a consequence of complex psychological processes that manifest in physical attacks,” said David Dawson, a research clinical psychologist from the University of Lincoln.
“It is believed that people suffering with PNES may have difficulty actively engaging with anxiety – a coping style known as experiential avoidance,” Dawson said. “We wanted to examine whether it was possible to make a clear link between seizure frequency and how people experience and manage anxiety. Our study is another step in understanding PNES, which could ultimately lead to better treatment and, therefore, patient outcomes in the future.”
Roberts, who received her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, focuses her research on the study of emotion and on the cultural and biological forces that shape emotional responses. Examples include investigating how ethnicity and culture influence emotional displays and experiences; how the daily hassles of life, such as job stress and sleep deprivation, impact emotion regulation among individuals and couples; and how the emotion system breaks down in patients with psychopathology (such as PNES and post-traumatic stress disorder) or neurological dysfunction (such as epilepsy).