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Andrew Sean Greer: Self Transformation

Question: Is the theme of “passing” distinctly American?
Andrew Sean Greer:  It’s a little tough.  I must have talked about that before because definitely in Max Tivoli there’s a lot of passing.  He is a different age than he appears to be because he’s aging backwards, so he’s always pretending to be something else and his friend Huey is passing and there’s the Madame who’s trying to change herself.  And then Story of a Marriage there is a way in which the book is passing for a while.  The main character doesn’t reveal things about herself and a lot of the characters.  I think certainly for Max Tivoli it was very much on my mind for that time period, the turn of the century, 19th to 20th, it seemed like the moment when immigrants could transform out of their own stereotype into an Americaness and America was ready to believe them when a lot of groups weren’t able to do that, but I think there’s something kind of sad about that too, to leave all that behind.  So I was really experimenting with what was complicated about it because Max gets to do a lot of things and have his heart’s desire, but he pays a great price and so does everyone around him.

Andrew Sean Greer:  That he’s passing in some way or that America is letting him pass?

Qusetion:: Does Obama try to pass for something else?

Andrew Sean Greer:  It’s hard to know.  It’s a very curious thing.  I don’t think any of us ever thought there would be a black presidential nominee as of yesterday, when we’re taping this, but he is not hiding his race in any way.  I think something is happening where a lot of people are accepting him on the terms he’s talking about and he’s not pretending anything as far as I can tell.  I mean, he’s a politician, so he’s pretending everything in a way, but the line he’s drawing is one I’m prepared to stand behind and a lot of politicians I just feel like none of it’s real.  I don’t think it would work, you know, I don’t think people would buy it if he tried to pretend that race didn’t matter because that’s what he was faced with.  He had to give that speech and he could’ve say why are we talking about race?  Instead he said we need to talk about race and that’s what shocked me and really got me behind him.

Question: What inspired your new book?

Andrew Sean Greer:  Well, it was a story that my grandmother told me about ten years ago about herself in which a friend of her husband’s, of my grandfather’s, took her for a drive around rural Kentucky, must have been the early ‘50s, and he stopped the car and he turned to her and he said, “Leona, I was your husband’s lover in the war and I’m his lover now and I want to leave with him and I want you to help me.”  And she could not tell me the rest of the story because I think the idea was so crazy and absurd that she just said, “Let me out of this car.  I never want to see you again.”  It was all over.  She never talked to my grandfather about it and she regretted all her life that she couldn’t have left, but she said, “I had two sons.  I had never had a job.  I was a poor woman.  I don’t understand what I was supposed to do.”  All the restrictions were on her and oddly, that’s the part of the story I really liked was to identify with the woman and see how trapped she was.  Obviously her husband, my grandfather, was trapped, if it’s a true story, which I don’t know.  My grandmother told a lot of crazy things, but it doesn’t matter to me as a novelist.  Okay.  He’s trapped for sure, we know that, but what made her so trapped and what made her life harder than his in a lot of ways and that was the story I wanted to tell.

Obama confirms the theme of his latest book: the American idea of overcoming.

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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