This week in comments: January 28th—February 4th, 2018

Comments are the lifeblood of internet discussion. Here's some of the best one from this week. Did you make the cut? 


"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over

Raine Laurent: You can't just decide "left" means "more government" and right means "less government". Those are Fox News reinventions of political standards that have been universally understood since the french revolution. Making the spectrum of "left" or "right" a discussion about "big gubbermint" is just a way to totally remove labor rights, trade, wages, and inequality from the discussion. Which of course the right would love. 

Ben SnyderIf you look at historical parallels to domestic and international contexts. If you look at timelines and tactics used this is 100% correct. It bugs me when people say that standing up against Trump, Bannon, the alt right etc. is political. It isn't. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents should be screaming bloody murder in unison. This in American history is unprecedented. Yes, we had McCarthyism, genocidal leaders like Curtis LeMay, Richard Nixon (who advocated for assassinatingand citizens). Those men were 'stable' and 'intelligent', Trump is not and still holds sway over a vicious minority in a world that moves faster than we can keep up with more complexity and custom fragmented groups. 100% accurate posting.


Norway Voted to Decriminalize All Drugs. Should America Follow Suit?

Matthew Walters: Legalized drugs would basically eliminate the entire black market, which would crush gangs and the cartels in one swoop. Drug related crime would drop. Prison population would plummet. Where is the downside? Besides, freedom should be the ability to do whatever you want as long as you don't harm others.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Explains Why We Have Dysfunctional Politicians

Dayne Willmore:  Well, when science disagrees with someone's ideologies, its automatically made political. This is why its continually perpetuated that universities, and the general scientific community, are allegedly one giant left-wing, liberal conspiracy. Science moves forward, following evidence, which means change. Resistance to change is a premise of conservatism. Tis why most conservatives reject most of science. Scientific information will inherently fall on one side of the political spectrum, or the other. One side of the spectrum tends to be more coherent with most scientific fields. I refer you back to the alleged conspiracy. We just tend to confuse the science of business with other science fields. Journalism, and media, works the same way. The validity of information tends to fall on one side of the political spectrum, despite the fact that bullshittery runs rampant across the entire spectrum.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

For most of history, humans got smarter. That's now reversing.

We were gaining three IQ points per decade for many, many years. Now, that's going backward. Could this explain some of our choices lately?

The Flynn effect appears to be in retrograde. (Credit: Shutterstock/Big Think)

There's a new study out of Norway that indicates our—well, technically, their—IQs are shrinking, to the tune of about seven IQ points per generation.

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Lama Rod Owens – the price of the ticket to freedom

An ordained Lama in a Tibetan Buddhist lineage, Lama Rod grew up a queer, black male within the black Christian church in the American south. Navigating all of these intersecting, evolving identities has led him to a life's work based on compassion for self and others.

Think Again Podcasts
  • "What I'm interested in is deep, systematic change. What I understand now is that real change doesn't happen until change on the inside begins to happen."
  • "Masculinity is not inherently toxic. Patriarchy is toxic. We have to let that energy go so we can stop forcing other people to do emotional labor for us."
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