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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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The biggest threat to America? Americans.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond explains why some nations make it through epic crises and why others fail.

JARED DIAMOND: National crises: There are lots of them, and they have common features. The United States is spiraling into a crisis today. Other countries, countries that I know well and have lived in, have gotten through crises, such as Australia, Germany, Finland, Chile, Indonesia, Japan. There are generalizations about the outcomes of national crises. A country is not going to resolve a national crisis unless it acknowledges that it's in a crisis. If you don't, you're going to get nowhere. Many Americans still don't recognize today that the United States is descending into a crisis.

An obvious second step is that once you recognize that you're in a crisis, you have to acknowledge that you have a responsibility. There's something that you can do about it. It's not enough to say, 'Wah, wah, poor me. I'm a helpless victim. Pity, pity, self pity, there's nothing I can do.' Nonsense. Even if there were bad countries out there, getting out of the crisis will then depend upon what you are going to do vis-á-vis those bad countries. In the United States nowadays, there's too much talk about what those Chinese and what those Canadians and what those Mexicans are doing to us and isn't that terrible, and not enough talk about how we Americans are generating our own problems. The only people who can ruin democracy in the United States are Americans. There's no way that Canadians and Mexicans or Chinese can undermine American democracy. These are national crises.

But by now, all of you just reflect back on your personal lives; we've all had personal crises. Our marriages have broken down; a loved one, a child, a spouse, a brother or a sister died, transforming our view of the justice of the world; we encountered a financial crisis or a career crisis or a health crisis. We all know about these crises, and we all know by experience how we succeeded or, for a while, we resisted at getting through our personal crises. We all know that as long as we deny that we were in a crisis, as long as we said, 'My marriage is working great' until the day when your wife or husband walked in and said 'I'm getting a divorce,' you didn't deal with problems in your marriage as long you said my marriage is doing great. Or when your marriage breaks down, and you say, 'Wah wah, it's because of my terrible husband or wife.' But what did you do to provoke your terrible husband or wife? It's your responsibility. If you want to have a better next marriage, you better do something about it. Or the confidence that you get from previous crises. I had a severe professional crisis at the age of 21. I had subsequent professional crises, but because I got through my crisis at age 21, when new crises came up later, I thought 'Hm, I got through something terrible before. I'll probably get through this one now.'

Similarly, for nations, nations gain confidence looking through -- from the memory of the previous national crises that they got through. Finland -- when Finland celebrated its 100 years of independence last year, the focus of Finland's celebration of independence was not Finland's independence. It was instead, Finland preserving its independence in the war against the Soviet Union in 1939 to 1945. The Finns felt we got through that, we can get through anything. For we Americans, we got through some terrible things in the past. We got through our war of independence, we got through the Civil War, we got through the Depression, we got through Pearl Harbor, we got through these terrible things. Yes, we have problems today. But we solved difficult problems in the past. We can solve this one today.

  • "A country is not going to resolve a national crisis unless it acknowledges that it's in a crisis," says Jared Diamond. "If you don't, you're going to get nowhere. Many Americans still don't recognize today that the United States is descending into a crisis."
  • The U.S. tends to focus on "bad countries" like China, Canada and Mexico as the root of its problems, however Diamond points out the missing piece: Americans are generating their own problems.
  • The crisis the U.S. is experiencing is not cause for despair. The U.S. has survived many tragedies, such as the War of Independence and the Great Depression – history is proof that the U.S. can get through this current crisis too.




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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