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The anti-vax movement is making waves globally: U.K. loses "measles-free" status

  • The UK has lost its World Health Organization "measles-free" status.
  • Measles has spread in America and over 10 countries in Europe, including the UK.
  • Anti vaccination factions, disinformation and negligence all contribute to the spread of curable infectious diseases.

An outbreak in the number of measles cases in the UK has resulted in the country losing its World Health Organization dedicated "measles-free" status. The culprits responsible for this decline: anti-vaxxer disinformation and low vaccination turnout.

Three years after the UK had originally eliminated measles, (WHO) has just confirmed 231 cases of the disease from the first quarter of 2019. In 2016, the country managed to stop the disease in its tracks with a 95 percent coverage vaccination cover rate which led to herd immunity.

A blog post by the UK government details the organization's reasoning for reneging their measles-free status. There was a total of 991 confirmed cases in England and Wales during 2018. Additionally, there was a continual detection of the same measles virus (B3 Dublin) for 12 consecutive months. From this information, they've determined that the transmission of measles has been reestablished.

We're seeing an uptick in measles cases because not enough people are being vaccinated both at home and abroad. Until measles is eliminated globally, we can continually expect outbreaks to appear in previously safe countries.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on health leaders to address the issue. Current statistics show that current second round vaccinations for children in the UK is at only 87.2 percent. Mary Ramsay, of the government agency Public Health England, states, "Anyone who has not received two doses of MMR vaccine is always at risk."

World governments need enact better vaccination policies or else this harrowing trend will only continue.

How to turn the tide against future outbreaks

Measles is an old disease we learned how to take care of long ago. It's also one of the most infectious diseases that we know about. Ignorance and blatant disinformation campaigns are not acceptable.

UK officials are already working on putting up information on the NHS website to address misleading information about vaccines. The government is also urging social media firms to block anti-vaccine messages. Jo Churchill, junior health minister recently told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that they need the assistance of social media companies in order to ensure that "...misinformation is taken down, and that we give people the correct information that they can help keep their children safe."

Measles has already spread to ten different European countries.

On top of people deliberately avoiding vaccination for their children, some people aren't following up on their shots because they believe that measles no longer poses any risk. In situations when a disease like measles is eradicated, people start to believe the disease isn't around anymore.

Boris Johnson reiterated the importance of getting parents to vaccinate their kids.

"From reassuring parents about the safety of vaccines, to making sure people are attending follow-up appointments, we can and must do more to halt the spread of infectious, treatable diseases in modern-day Britain."

Disturbing international anti-vaxxer trends

Americans have already suffered a record high measles outbreak in 2019.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently published a report showing that there were 1,172 cases so far with 124 hospitalizations and 64 reported serious health complications.

"The majority of cases are among people who were not vaccinated against measles. More than 75 percent of the cases this year are linked to outbreaks in New York and New York City. Measles is more likely to spread and cause outbreaks in U.S. communities where groups of people are unvaccinated," the CDC wrote.

Different shades of the anti-vax movement is behind the resurgence of measles. Andrew Wakefielld's infamous and false 1998 study originally lumped together the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) with autism. It was widely spread and became the impetus for the movement. A small minority of credulous simpletons still believe vaccinations cause autism.

Other faction's have diverged and have come up with other reasons for opposing vaccination. These reasons include a mistrust of science and government agencies, belief in conspiracy theories and alternative disease treatment.

Researchers have found that the best way to counter this misinformation is relatively straightforward: by introducing anti-vaxxers to people who've suffered from vaccine-preventable diseases. It seems like some up close and personal experience is enough to tighten those loose screws in the mind of an anti-vaxxer.

The emergence of a treatable disease is a disconcerting trend. It's not something to be taken lightly or be on the fence about. What's happening in the UK is a warning sign that we need to shift our policies to completely eradicate a once vanquished threat.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

Gear
  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
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