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David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
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Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
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Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Why social connections really are a matter of life and death

America's loneliness epidemic must be confronted. There's much to be gained by fostering social connectivity, from boosting our immune systems to potentially reducing extremism.

Andrew Horn: The reason that I’m so passionate about conversation and meaningful communication is because of this thing called the connection crisis. And I am not being hyperbolic when I call it a crisis.

So AARP did a study in 1970 and they found out that 20 percent of their members identified as being lonely. They did that same study again in 2010, and the number had more than doubled to 45 percent—45 percent of their members that were identifying as lonely.

So the General Social Survey came out a few years ago and it found out that the most common response when people were asked, “How many friends do you have?”—wait for it—zero. Zero. That number has tripled over recent decades. Imagine going through life without a single confidant. And this dearth of relationships is not just making us sad, it’s literally making us sick. It is killing us. Because what happens when we have weak social ties? We have increased inflammation; it decreases the body’s natural immune response.

There was a recent meta-analysis of 300,000 patients and it found that having weak social ties was as harmful to your health as being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as having obesity. So these wild things are happening, but so often people are left to their own devices to figure out how to communicate, how to connect.

We spend 15 years studying something like social studies and we don’t even spend 15 minutes on social skills.

And communication is the fundamental building block of creating these important relationships, which are so important for our personal lives and also our professional success. So that’s why we need to be intentional about communication, because with a little bit of practice and a little bit of focus anyone can connect more deeply with the people they meet and the people they love.

And when you think about that, if you don’t have friends that is what opens you up for extremism; it’s that when you don’t belong you will do anything to belong, you know what I mean? So that's why providing frameworks for people to connect is such a vital thing.

In the last few decades, the number of close friendships in America has dropped. Between 1985 and 2004, the General Social Survey reported that the average number of confidants Americans felt they could talk to about important matters in their lives fell from 2.94 to 2.08. Worse still, 25% of people surveyed responded with "zero". Andrew Horn, CEO and co-founder of Tribute, calls this the connection crisis: "This dearth of relationships is not just making us sad, it’s literally making us sick," he says. "There was a recent meta-analysis of 300,000 patients and it found that having weak social ties was as harmful to your health as being an alcoholic, and twice as harmful as having obesity." To turn this worrying trend around, Horn hopes we can become more intentional about communication. Social skills are foundational to our success, both personal and professional; why don't we teach it in schools at the same time as other core skills like math, science, and English? The benefits go beyond our personal wellbeing; Horn believes it could make society safer. "If you don’t have friends, that is what opens you up for extremism. It’s that when you don’t belong you will do anything to belong," Horn says. Andrew Horn is the CEO and co-founder of Tribute.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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