Archive for September 10th, 2008

For Physicists, as Good as it Gets

September 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: NY Times

At 3:30am EST last night, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research finally got to fire up the particle collider they had been building for the last decade. And since you’re alive and reading this post, some of the more outlandish theories about what would happen when they turned it on have already proven to be incorrect.

Like the one about a black hole being formed that swallows the Earth and ends life as we know it.

The Large Hadron Collider, as it is formally known, is a 17-mile track built 300 feet beneath the ground near Geneva at a cost of $8 billion. It accelerates protons to near light speed and smashes them together for the purposes of creating conditions similar that moments after the Big Bang.

Physicists around the world watched to find out what happened. Many have staked their careers on theories designed to explain what happened. Some believe the Higgs boson will appear. Others believe secrets of dark matter will be revealed. No one knew for sure.

It is known that the collider will severely test the so-called Standard Model, which is the Holy Grail for particle physicists. Apparently, this model does a good job explaining particle behavior in normal circumstances, but it is probably not going to properly explain what happens in the severe conditions generated by the collider. This would shake physics to its core, setting off an intensely creative period in which new theories are promulgated and tested.



Just Do It (II)

September 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: JAMA

Still not convinced about the benefits of exercise?

The second study published this week on the subject focused on elderly denizens of Perth, Australia who reported memory loss but did not meet criteria for dementia. These people were randomized to receive either routine care or a home-based intervention consisting of moderate physical activity. The latter typically involved three 50 minute walks per week. The patients were followed for 24 weeks and then assessed for cognitive function using the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale. Assessors didn’t know which group the subjects were assigned to. 

Investigators found that patients in the treatment group improved their cognitive performance scores vs. their baseline performance, whereas those in the control group lost ground compared with their own baseline. The performance gap between groups was significant and it persisted for 18 months after the study concluded.

This study is the first randomized trial showing beneficial effects of physical activity in the population studied. Since randomized trial designs provide the most rigorous test of clinical hypotheses, a positive result here is particularly noteworthy.



Just Do It (I)

September 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: JAMA, Reuters

Still can’t get off the couch? Two studies published this week (covered in this post and the next) might get you going, as they provide fresh evidence regarding the benefits of physical activity.

In the first one, investigators studied a group of Amish people who had particularly potent genetic versions of an obesity-producing gene known as FTO. The gene is common in people of European descent.

Was it their fate to be overweight? Actually, no.

The investigators categorized the group by activity level, and found that those who were very physically active (farmers, for example) weighed the same as those without the gene. Those in the least active category were overweight or obese most of the time. Exercise trumped the obesity gene!

The active group burned about 900 calories per day more than the sedentary group, which is the equivalent of walking 3-4 hours per day. That’s not going to be possible for many people. Nevertheless, the investigators called for more bike paths, better public transportation systems and private sector initiatives that would foster increased physical activity on a broad scale.



Facts Don’t Matter for Republicans

September 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Source: Washington Post

By now we know that Sarah Palin is playing fast and loose with the truth (some call it lying) when she claims to have rejected congressional funds for that infamous Bridge to Nowhere.

Yet she keeps bringing it up on the stump; at least a half dozen times this week alone. Does the truth matter anymore? Republican strategist John Feehery has his party’s answer (in today’s Washington Post):

“The more the New York Times and the Washington Post go after Sarah Palin the better off she is, because there’s a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she’s new, she’s popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent. As long as those are out there, these little facts don’t really matter (italics added).”



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