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Why Young Women Should Throw Away Fashion Magazines

Question: How can women figure out what medical information to trust? 

Judy Norsigian: Well we do live in a culture that does beams out the message more is usually better, the high-tech solution is the best solution. What we don’t often do is watch and wait, particularly with drugs post marketing to see that once something becomes in more widespread use then you begin to see the downside. You see low-level negative effects. Now if you’re somebody who has got cancer and you need a chemotherapy drug you know there are some downsides to chemotherapy drugs, but you’ve got a really clear benefit that you’re hoping for. In fact, some studies show efficacy for some of these drugs that is very impressive. If you’re somebody who has a condition for which the solution is not necessarily proven to be that efficacious, which probably has more of a downside than you can see particularly if it is a new solution, a new drug or a new treatment it’s usually better to watch and wait. There are many parents for example who looked at the fact that the HPV vaccine was largely studied in older women, 15, 16 to 25 yet it is being marketed for the 9 to 12 year-old girls out there because of course it is not effective if you get to a young women after she has been sexually active, so there is reason for this targeting of very young girls, but there are parents who have said, “You know there is only a few hundred women in those… a few hundred girls in those clinical trials.” “I’m going to watch and wait because I don’t want my daughter to be a guinea pig.” And in fact, that is what it is if you’re dealing with a product, a vaccine or anything else where in the large clinical trials your particular group you’re looking at and these are 9 to 12 year-old girls, weren’t representative in the sample in those studies and that is the kind of thing that we encourage our constituencies to listen for, to look for. Where is the evidence? Does it really have to be taken, this drug, this procedure? Does it have to be done now? Can you watch and wait? 

And we also want to caution women about elective procedures. So many women are jumping on the cosmetic surgery bandwagon. There is a lot of promotion for the latest form of surgery. It has even gotten to the point of labiaplasties and vaginal rejuvenation and ridiculous approaches that in fact maim some women that have really questionable benefits and cost a lot of money. These are things you have to pay out of pocket for because medical insurance of course won’t cover elective cosmetic surgery. And women are being duped into thinking their lives will be made better. Women think if they get augmentation, breast augmentation and they get the latest silicone gel breast implants suddenly their lives will be a whole lot better. They might feel better about how that part of their body looks if they aren’t one of the women who have a problem post surgery, but the studies show that overall you’re not happier with your life just because you do breast augmentation. The things about your life, how your personal life goes, how your job is going, your relationship with your friends, those things don’t change because you get breast augmentation even though you think they might and it’s that kind of social science research we want women to recognize and we want their partners to recognize too. I met a boyfriend at a college campus who pleaded with his girlfriend not to get breast augmentation. He said she was perfectly fine. He had done some research on the Internet beyond the ads at the plastic surgeon websites and he could see these were some significant risks and he didn’t want his girlfriend taking them and her response to him when he pleaded with her not to undergo breast augmentation was, “You know everybody in my sorority is doing it, so I’ve got to do it too.” And he said to me, he said that is when I realized that a boyfriend’s opinion only goes so far. It’s the culture that is teaching women messages about their bodies and it is the culture that is encouraging what he believed were risky practices. 

Question: What is most damaging to women in our culture? 

Judy Norsigian: Well I think the omnipresence of the media and the nature of the media it’s gotten more violent, more sexually violent. Access to pretty violent pornography is readily available to very young children, boys and girls and parents who think their kids don’t have access to the material are sorely misled. There are parents now learning to ask their children not to eliminate the cache. They go in and look at what their kids are looking at sometimes because they’re learning some amazing things. The fact is that we will not be able to offset this incredible impact of mass media, except insofar as we talk about these issues. We bring the conversation to the dinner table. We watch some of these things with our kids, that we ask our kids to become better deconstructors of media. There are so many misogynistic messages that lead even young women to think about themselves in pejorative ways that it is scary to me as someone who didn’t grow up with all this around me. I was more protected from it. I think the worst I could do was go into my uncle’s closet and find his stash of Playboy magazines and flip through them, but I didn’t see the kind of really violent pornography that is out there in steady fair, especially for young men who then expect certain things of young women they become involved with. They consider this normal and routine and I know some filmmakers are taking this on. 

I will say that one of the roots to educating young people about all of the misinformation and sometimes the strange ideologies that become embedded in our brains without our realizing it is to really follow the talented young documentarians who are trying to get at some of these problems. They are getting at the food supply. They’re getting at pornography. They’re getting at sexuality. They’re getting all manner of the issues that I consider social problems now, but they’re doing it with good humor. They’re doing it through interviews, through personal storytelling. They’re really finding a way to grab the attention of young people who are bombarded with messages from everywhere. It’s everything from texting and apps and you know for your phones and you know that your favorite programs, which of course you can see at any time of day through TiVo or on the internet. You can literally be saturated with media that may or may not be inclusive of correct information, accurate information. Just take tobacco and women for example. There are so many attractive characters in movies and television shows who are smoking all the time. Ten, fifteen years ago that wasn’t the case, so though we know a lot about tobacco use and certainly you know some women certainly know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality in women. It’s not breast cancer or something else. Nonetheless we see rates of smoking rising among young women, older teens, women in their early 20s even when they’re better educated. It used to be a socioeconomically linked problem. Now I think something has happened with the media and its impact on very smart young women that you see more of them smoking. It’s also tied in with the obsession with thinness in this culture. A little weight on your body is a good thing. The important thing is to eat well, to get some exercise, you know to feel good and where your body lands in terms of weight is where it probably ought to be, but the obsession with body weight, with thinness, with the hourglass figure has led to a kind of starvation approach to eating for many women and a kind of obsession with food and body type that makes it impossible for young women to have healthy lifestyles and that is part of what we’re up against is we have go media selling all kinds of starvation diets, ideas, all kinds of ideas about body image that really run against the grain of what is healthy and we need sane voices wherever they can be found, on the internet occasionally, in a community setting who will say stop, wait. 

Our favorite advice to young girls is don’t buy the standard glossy magazines filled with ads and articles that will lead you to self loathing. They will lead you to body hating. Instead don’t read them. Throw them away. If you’re young get magazines like Teen Voices, magazines that are explicitly about rejecting these mainstream media messages that lead us to be totally dissatisfied with who and what we are, that lead us to be primarily consumers of products and procedures rather than contributive to our community, to society. You know people with brains and ideas and people who can make great contributions to making this world a better place. If we’re spending all our time dieting and buying every single product under the sun and analyzing all these ads in the magazines that we read we don’t have time to join the community efforts that make this world a better place. 

Question: Can women enjoy fashion and glamour responsibly? 

Judy Norsigian: There is no question that its innate among human beings to want to adorn our bodies, to want to wear interesting clothes, to pierce our bodies, to do all kinds of things that make us look interesting, different, to make a signature statement. There is nothing wrong with that unless we start doing things that really pose significant harm to our health and then we should be doing it only with our eyes open and that is where for example with fashion. I know some teenagers who decided to put on their own fashion show and they designed their own clothes, but they weren’t proposing that women get up in very high heels, which are really bad for your feet number one. They weren’t proposing that women wear constrictive clothing that makes it really hard to move around or clothing that they didn’t feel good in. They chose clothing they felt really good in and they chose clothing that would be reasonable in terms of what somebody could produce. It wouldn’t be so totally expensive that only rich people could afford it. I mean that is part of the problem is that we’ve created a culture where everybody is supposed to aspire to or emulate the most expensive thing on the market or what the very rich folks are doing rather than what really would be fun for us and it might not be what rich folks are doing. It might be what we think looks good, feels good and the same goes for food. We can bring locally grown vegetables that taste great even to the inner city and we’re doing that with projects that prove you can get really good food, tasty food and you don’t have to buy plastic food filled with chemicals that are actually known to harm our health. 

Recorded on April 20, 2010

Mainstream media messages lead us to be totally dissatisfied with who and what we are—and make us into consumers of products and procedures rather than contributors to our community.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
  • Given the grave tragedy of slavery throughout human history, philosophers and technologists must answer this question ahead of technological development to avoid humanity creating a slave class of conscious beings.
  • One potential safeguard against that? Regulation. Once we define the context in which AI requires rights, the simplest solution may be to not build that thing.

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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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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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.