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8 big thinkers to follow on social media in 2021
Journalists, doctors, and others you should know.
- While social media is often a source of disinformation, some thought leaders are using their platforms as a force for good.
- Social networks offer an opportunity for readers to learn science-backed advice from top professionals in their fields.
- From journalists covering disinformation to a doctor giving the best physical therapy advice around, these influential voices deserve wide audiences.
In her 2017 book, "What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear," NYU associate professor of medicine Danielle Offri offers startling data on communication problems between doctors and patients. For example, the total amount of time that patients get to discuss their problems? Ninety-two seconds. Patients often get interrupted within seconds of speaking, which results in non-compliance rates of up to 75 percent. Doctors shake their head in disbelief that their patients don't follow directions, yet patients rarely feel heard—an essential component of healing, as Offri writes.
One positive trend over recent years—especially since the pandemic began—is the increasing number of medical professionals using social media as an educational tool. Some take time to regularly reply to questions; others offer videos, livestreams, and studies. While nothing beats in-person conversations, watching fruitful interactions with doctors and researchers during a time when so much negativity has been pushed forward on social networks has proven valuable.
The list below is not entirely comprised of health professionals, though every person listed uses their platform as a force for good, be it by calling out abuses of power or offering science-backed tips on remaining healthy during lockdowns. The Internet isn't always the right place to source information, yet that also depends on who's providing it. These eight individuals are doing their best to make social media a place for growth, both for individuals and as a society. While platforms can often feel like a one-way bullhorn, they invite you to join a bigger conversation.
When the Washington Post recently revealed that over $850,000 in PPP loans were doled out to anti-vax groups by the Trump Administration, the paper had the U.K.'s Center for Countering Digital Hate to thank. The organization's founder, Imran Ahmed, was appointed to the Steering Committee of the U.K. Government's Commission on Countering Extremism Pilot Task Force in 2020. Early last summer, Ahmed released a report that found social media platforms earned nearly $1 billion from anti-vax groups in a year's time—and he thinks they were lowballing that sum, as he told Big Think. In an era of disinformation gone wild, Ahmed believes the most powerful tool we currently have at our disposal is deplatforming. His organization is working hard at exposing players worthy of such attention.
There's a wave of doctors using social media to both educate the public and demystify the scientific process. Cardiologist Danielle Belardo is one of the best, using her popular Instagram feed to present science-based evidence for nutrition, vaccines, and more. The director of cardiology and co-director of research and education at IOPBM in Newport Beach, Belardo's social media presence focuses both on combating pseudoscience as well as providing excellent nutrition advice, recipes, and tips for good heart health—and, on occasion, epic California sunsets.
Dr. Aaron Horschig's runs one of Instagram's best fitness handles, Squat University. A former Olympic athlete and coach, Horschig discusses technique, form, and recovery in the wide world of weightlifting, from novice to elite levels. Though you might catch a strongman squatting 600+ pounds on his feed, one of the most refreshing aspects of Horschig's messages is the simplicity of his advice: work on form, not personal records; don't fall for marketing hype, but stick to the basics: hydration, sleep, and good nutrition; and you're never too young or old to lift weights. His new book, "Rebuilding Milo," further cements his role as one of the nation's top physical therapists and performance coaches. Bonus: his excellent blog offers deeper insights and science-backed research, such as why the popular RICE protocol should be abandoned.
Anna MerlanVice senior staff reporter Anna Merlan has been covering the conspiracy theory beat for years, culminating in some of the best QAnon-related coverage around. Her 2019 book, "Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power," tracked the proliferation of conspiracy theories during the Trump era well before QAnon became the juggernaut that it is. She's deftly exposed contradictions in thought processes by the ex-president's most loyal devotees. Given the continued doubling down by key players, media pundits, and a handful of congresspeople since Biden's inauguration, Merlan is going to have plenty of stories to cover for the foreseeable future.
Heather Cox Richardson
Boston College's history professor Heather Cox Richardson's daily Substack posts are one of the best additions to your inbox imaginable. The author of a number of books, most recently "How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America," Richardson gives you a rundown of the top stories in the news alongside insights into the historical processes that created the conditions for our current predicament. If you want to grapple with our present moment in a holistic fashion, subscribe to "Letters from an American." You won't be disappointed.
One of the most enlightening Twitter feeds of 2020 was Facebook's Top 10, which tracks the 10 highest-performing links on the social network. Spearhead by NY Times tech columnist Kevin Roose, the feed makes you reconsider the term "mainstream media." If information is judged by eyeballs—and many eyeballs continue to source news on Facebook—then Ben Shapiro, Dan Bongino, and various Trump groups are the most mainstream outlets around, as they regularly outperform the NY Times, NPR, CNN, and MSNBC. Roose's work covering QAnon and disinformation has also been invaluable, offering a framework for understanding the dangers of cult indoctrination.
Conspirituality 17: Interview with Jared Yates Sexton
Jared Yates Sexton
Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" offered an honest look at America's shameful historical record. It took 40 years for another book to penetrate a nation's conscience. When political analyst and associate professor Jared Yates Sexton published "American Rule: How a Nation Conquered the World but Failed Its People," we finally had another opportunity to reflect—and, hopefully, progress. Sexton wants to dismantle the romanticized myth of American exceptionalism and replace it with something more valuable, as he told Big Think last year: "Once we disabuse ourselves of the myth of American exceptionalism, and we start looking at American history and say it's really problematic and inspirational at other times, it allows us to build something new."
Dan WilsonMolecular biologist Dan Wilson makes visiting YouTube a necessity. His channel, Debunk the Funk with Dr. Wilson, takes on quack medicine and conspiracy theorists, breaking down disinformation in digestible segments while providing you with plenty of ammunition to combat the COVID denialists in your life. While his area of expertise is how cells build ribosomes, Wilson recently offered a three-part takedown of hydroxychloroquine peddler Simone Gold, an insightful look into Christiane Northrup's COVID vaccine misinformation, and Joe Rogan's failure to fact check Alex Jones.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
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Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Researchers figure out the average temperatures of the last ice age on Earth.
- A new study analyzes fossil data to find the average temperatures during the last Ice Age.
- This period of time, about 20,000 years ago, had the average temperature of about 46 degrees Fahrenheit (7.8 C).
- The study has implications for understanding climate change.
Surface air temperatures during the last ice age.
Credit: Jessica Tierney, University of Arizona
"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.
- Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
- For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
- No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy<p>Now, I get it if you don't agree with me. I love "Star Trek" and I thought "Battlestar Galactica" (the new one) was amazing and I do adore "The Mandalorian". They are all fun and important and worth watching and thinking about. And maybe you love them more than anything else. But when you sum up the acting, the universe building, and the use of real science where it matters, I think nothing can beat "The Expanse". And with a <a href="https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_expanse" target="_blank">Rotten Tomato</a> average rating of 93%, I'm clearly not the only one who feels this way.</p><p>Best.</p><p>Show.</p><p>Ever. </p>
Contrary to what some might think, the brain is a very plastic organ.
As with many other physicians, recommending physical activity to patients was just a doctor chore for me – until a few years ago. That was because I myself was not very active.