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What should Americans know about Islam?

Question: What should Americans know about Islam?

Barrett: So you can start with some of the basic beliefs – the prayer, declaration of faith, charity, and so forth. You could start with the cultures from which the religion emanates. You could start from the fact that the religion shares, you know, very deep, monotheistic roots with Judaism and Christianity. And Muslims very much see themselves as basically the . . . those who are sort of completing the monotheistic path, picking up where ancient Judaism and Christianity left off. There the prophet Muhammad adding his interpretation of the monotheistic faith, which fully embraces in many ways many Jewish and Christian ideas and gives an additional twist to them. The Muslim holy book, the Koran, is a book that picks up and reconfigures many stories and bits and pieces of earlier Christian and Jewish holy books. So that could be one place to start. But Islam has its own extremely distinctive history which involves, in very, very rough terms, a several hundred year period of phenomenal ascendance and expansion – political, military, as well as spiritual or ideological; a flowering in what westerners call the medieval period. While Europe was descending into what we call the Dark Ages, the Arab and Islamic world was . . . was reaching, you know, great heights of achievement, whether you look at it from the point of view of government, military expansion, proselytizing – brining the faith to, you know, vast new populations in India and China and all the way up North Africa and into Europe itself. And then a long period, you know, politically, and militarily and otherwise, of contraction and being pushed back. And then the history goes on and on. So in terms of Americans coming to understand the religion, you really . . . to do it justice you need to start in all of these places. What are the basics of the faith? What is it that its prophet was saying that God’s message was? You’ve gotta read a little bit of that. You’ve gotta understand the history over time. You’ve gotta understand the great flowering of Islamic culture, and why it receded and retreated, and what that experience has left Islam with. You have to understand Islam’s encounter with 19th and 20th century European colonialism, which is a big shaper of ideas in the Muslim world. And then in the most recent chapter, you have to understand the advent of Islamic fundamentalism – the movement which really flowered since the 1970s; you saw the roots of it in the 1960s – that brought a reinterpretation of the religion, multiple manifestations of it. You had the Islamic revolution in Iran – a Shiia iteration of it. You had the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere – a Sunni version of fundamentalism. And in very recent years you have seen all of that sadly throw off many sparks of violence in many places, and so people have to come to understand that. What’s the origin of all that? I mean if people want to ask and try to answer that very simplistic question, “Why do they hate us? Why are there crowds in the street burning American flags? Why did those guys fly those planes over here?” I mean you’ve got to understand. You’ve got to immerse yourself in all those things to fully appreciate it. Recorded on: 12/4/07

To begin to understand Islam, start with the basics of the faith.

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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