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New blood test accurately predicts when people will die — within 5–10 years
The large-scale study got it right for 83 percent of participants. Would you take the blood test?
- A research team found 14 biomarkers can accurately predict death within 5–10 years.
- Such a test could help doctors and researchers prescribe better courses of treatments for patients.
- Information about mortality might inspire people to eat better and exercise more, thus reversing the effects of some biomarkers.
Portending the future has long been a preoccupation of our species. Whether fortune or destruction, for millennia our greatest myths foretell wars and romances (which of course are easy to write in hindsight). Still, fortune tellers and astrologers remain in business — we love to pretend we have a futuristic telescope. Even the most mundane of possible activities pique our curiosity.
Some uncover the future in tea leaves, others with yarrow sticks. What about our blood? What if getting routine blood work could clue us in on our end? That's what a team of data scientists from across Europe (with the research based in the Netherlands) are proposing. Their new study, published in the journal Nature Communications, discovered that by measuring 14 metabolic substances they could accurately predict who would die in the coming years.
A broad poll with 44,168 participants and baseline ages from 18–109, data was collected over the course of 17 years. The team, led by Leiden University molecular epidemiologist Eline Slagboom, notes that determining death within a year is basic science at this point. Guessing it from five to 10 years out is a different challenge, one they believe they've started to understand thanks to the constitution of our blood.
Forget Counting Steps. Quantifying Health Will Save Your Life.
Using a "well-standardized metabolomics platform," the team began with 226 metabolic biomakers, discovering 136 that show an association with all-cause mortality. They eventually landed on 14, including blood sugar levels; inflammation markers; HDL, a common cholesterol marker; albumin, a protein produced by your liver that clues you in on kidney or liver problems; acetoacetate, a beta-keto acid normally used to test diabetics for ketoacidosis (as well as monitoring people on ketogenic diets); and isoleucine, an amino acid that can ultimately lead to damaged brain cells and death.
Of the initial population sample, 5,512 died during the testing period. Using the biomarkers for another survey, the team predicted death rates from a participant pool of 7,603 Finnish people initially tested in 1997. They were able to predict with 83 percent accuracy who would die over the five to 10 year period. One caveat: when testing those over 60 years of age, the prediction rate dropped to 72 percent. Another: the pool was entirely comprised of Finns. Extrapolating to apply to the global population raises eyebrows.
Still, given that this test includes popular and broadly applied biomarker tests for cardiovascular, cancer, and inflammation issues, all of which are known causes of mortality regardless of ethnicity, using this blood profile could clue doctors in on the expected longevity of their patients.
While aware of the study's limitations, the team feels it provides a potentially useful platform for determining overall health. As they write,
"The currently used metabolomics platform can be incorporated in ongoing clinical studies to explore its value, opening up new avenues for research to establish the utility of metabolic biomarkers in clinical settings."
Early morning joggers enjoy the wooden paths that go the length of Moonstone Beach next to Moonstone Beach Drive which parallels Highway 1 in northern Cambria, California.
Photo credit: Paul Harris / Getty Images
The question is: do patients want to know? There are two potential problems with such knowledge.
First off, existential dread. Armed with an awareness that death is imminent, the participant could spiral into depression. At the same time, they could also be inspired to live more in the moment and appreciate every day. More importantly, if some of these markers are reversible (such as inflammation or cholesterol markers) they could take action to eat better and exercise more. If it takes the sound of a death rattle to awaken them to their unavoidable mortality, such a test could have positive effects.
The second is insidious though feasible: if insurance companies gain access to these tests, they could refuse or end coverage for those on the brink of death. As the AARP reported last year, the most Medicare dollars are spent in the last year of a person's life. Given how close one political party has come to overturning the pre-existing conditions clause in the Affordable Care Act, this biomarker test could ultimately serve insurance and pharmaceutical companies instead of patients.
Even contemplating such a scenario is tragic, yet that's where we are in America. Fortunately the Netherlands-based team provided this research for more useful ends, such as arming us with a better test for understanding how healthy we actually are and how much we should worry about it. We will all face death, some with more warning than others. Best to use such knowledge to pursue a healthier lifestyle.
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From "if-by-whiskey" to the McNamara fallacy, being able to spot logical missteps is an invaluable skill.
- A fallacy is the use of invalid or faulty reasoning in an argument.
- There are two broad types of logical fallacies: formal and informal.
- A formal fallacy describes a flaw in the construction of a deductive argument, while an informal fallacy describes an error in reasoning.
Appeal to privacy<p>When someone behaves in a way that negatively affects (or could affect) others, but then gets upset when others criticize their behavior, they're likely engaging in the appeal to privacy — or "mind your own business" — fallacy. Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who speeds excessively on the highway, considering his driving to be his own business.</li><li>Someone who doesn't see a reason to bathe or wear deodorant, but then boards a packed 10-hour flight.</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "You're not the boss of me." "Worry about yourself."</p>
Sunk cost fallacy<p>When someone argues for continuing a course of action despite evidence showing it's a mistake, it's often a sunk cost fallacy. The flawed logic here is something like: "We've already invested so much in this plan, we can't give up now." Examples:<br></p><ul><li>Someone who intentionally overeats at an all-you-can-eat buffet just to get their "money's worth"</li><li>A scientist who won't admit his theory is incorrect because it would be too painful or costly</li></ul><p>Language to watch out for: "We must stay the course." "I've already invested so much...." "We've always done it this way, so we'll keep doing it this way."</p>
If-by-whiskey<p>This fallacy is named after a speech given in 1952 by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noah_S._Sweat" target="_blank">Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr.</a>, a state representative for <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi" target="_blank">Mississippi</a>, on the subject of whether the state should legalize alcohol. Sweat's argument on prohibition was (to paraphrase):<br></p><p><em>If, by whiskey, you mean the devil's brew that causes so many problems in society, then I'm against it. But if whiskey means the oil of conversation, the philosopher's wine, "</em><em>the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning;" then I am certainly for it.</em></p>
Slippery slope<p>This fallacy involves arguing against a position because you think choosing it would start a chain reaction of bad things, even though there's little evidence to support your claim. Example:<br></p><ul><li>"We can't allow abortion because then society will lose its general respect for life, and it'll become harder to punish people for committing violent acts like murder."</li><li>"We can't legalize gay marriage. If we do, what's next? Allowing people to marry cats and dogs?" (Some people actually made this <a href="https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/national/cats-marrying-dogs-and-five-other-things-same-sex-marriage-won-mean/dLV9jKqkJOWUFZrSBETWkK/" target="_blank">argument</a> before same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S.)</li></ul><p>Of course, sometimes decisions <em>do </em>start a chain reaction, which could be bad. The slippery slope device only becomes a fallacy when there's no evidence to suggest that chain reaction would actually occur.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "If we do that, then what's next?"</p>
"There is no alternative"<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A modification of the </span><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_dilemma" target="_blank" style="background-color: initial;">false dilemma</a><span style="background-color: initial;">, this fallacy (often abbreviated to TINA) argues for a specific position because there are no realistic alternatives. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used this exact line as a slogan to defend capitalism, and it's still used today to that same end: Sure, capitalism has its problems, but we've seen the horrors that occur when we try anything else, so there is no alternative.</span><br></p><p>Language to watch out for: "If I had a magic wand…" "What <em>else</em> are we going to do?!"</p>
Ad hoc arguments<p>An ad hoc argument isn't really a logical fallacy, but it is a fallacious rhetorical strategy that's common and often hard to spot. It occurs when someone's claim is threatened with counterevidence, so they come up with a rationale to dismiss the counterevidence, hoping to protect their original claim. Ad hoc claims aren't designed to be generalizable. Instead, they're typically invented in the moment. <a href="https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Ad_hoc" target="_blank">RationalWiki</a> provides an example:<br></p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It is clearly said in the Bible that the Ark was 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Bob: "A purely wooden vessel of that size could not be constructed; the largest real wooden vessels were Chinese treasure ships which required iron hoops to build their keels. Even the <em>Wyoming</em> which was built in 1909 and had iron braces had problems with her hull flexing and opening up and needed constant mechanical pumping to stop her hold flooding."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">Alice: "It's possible that God intervened and allowed the Ark to float, and since we don't know what gopher wood is, it is possible that it is a much stronger form of wood than any that comes from a modern tree."</p>
Snow job<p><span style="background-color: initial;">This fallacy occurs when someone doesn't really have a strong argument, so they just throw a bunch of irrelevant facts, numbers, anecdotes and other information at the audience to confuse the issue, making it harder to refute the original claim. Example:</span><br></p><ul><li>A tobacco company spokesperson who is confronted about the health risks of smoking, but then proceeds to show graph after graph depicting many of the other ways people develop cancer, and how cancer metastasizes in the body, etc.</li></ul><p>Watch out for long-winded, data-heavy arguments that seem confusing by design.</p>
McNamara fallacy<p>Named after <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_McNamara" target="_blank">Robert McNamara</a>, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Secretary_of_Defense" target="_blank">U.S. secretary of defense</a> from 1961 to 1968, this fallacy occurs when decisions are made based solely on <em>quantitative metrics or observations,</em> ignoring other factors. It stems from the Vietnam War, in which McNamara sought to develop a formula to measure progress in the war. He decided on bodycount. But this "objective" formula didn't account for other important factors, such as the possibility that the Vietnamese people would never surrender.<br></p><p>You could also imagine this fallacy playing out in a medical situation. Imagine a terminal cancer patient has a tumor, and a certain procedure helps to reduce the size of the tumor, but also causes a lot of pain. Ignoring quality of life would be an example of the McNamara fallacy.</p><p>Language to watch out for: "You can't measure that, so it's not important."</p>
A new study looks at what would happen to human language on a long journey to other star systems.
- A new study proposes that language could change dramatically on long space voyages.
- Spacefaring people might lose the ability to understand the people of Earth.
- This scenario is of particular concern for potential "generation ships".
Generation Ships<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a1e6445c7168d293a6da3f9600f534a2"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/H2f0Wd3zNj0?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Many of the most popular apps are about self-improvement.
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