“Atheists Are Mutants,” says paper based on Yelp, Yahoo Answers, and the Bible

A surprising new paper in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science claims that atheism1 is underpinned by “high mutational load” as indicated by (1) poor general health, (2) autism, (3) fluctuating asymmetry (attractiveness), and (4) left-handedness (Dutton et al., 2017). This is silly for a number of reasons. Let’s start with the preposterous rationale for the study, which is actually based on Christian blogs, Yelp, Yahoo Answers, and the Bible:

There seems to be a stereotype that religious people, and especially religious women, are particularly attractive and healthy. A number of popular articles and social media pages discussing this observation can be found online (Malloy, 2017; Hewitt, 2010, p. 99) including threads beginning with questions such as “Why are Mormon girls so hot?” (Yahoo Answers, 2008) and “OMG … why are Christian woman so extremely (physically) attractive?” (Yelp, 2010).2 Several passages in the Bible seem to suggest that those who intensely fear Yahweh are more disease-resistant (Deut. 7:15) and are more physically attractive (e.g. I Samuel 16:18). Those inspired by other gods or by Satan are, in contrast, autistic (Mark 9:25) and even left-handed (Matt 25: 41). Why should the authors of these books believe this to be the case? It could, of course, be a way of idealising the virtuous, but it is not clear that all of these features were the most pertinent for that purpose.

Really??? Has anyone heard about the stereotype that “religious women are particularly attractive and healthy”? And that the New Testament says autistic individuals3 and left-handers are “Satanic”??  This is so ridiculous that I thought the paper must be a spoof, similar to the articles that appear in the The BMJ Christmas issue.4

Oh, and then there’s the title of the article:

The Mutant Says in His Heart, “There Is No God”: the Rejection of Collective Religiosity Centred Around the Worship of Moral Gods Is Associated with High Mutational Load.

It’s really hard to go any further. Professor Shane O’Mara named it a contender for the worst scientific paper of 2017.

 

Footnotes

1 …and paranormal belief…

2 The first answer on Yelp is quite amusing:

I think you lucked out….go to a heavily Christian city in middle America and the church populace will look more like peopleofwalmart.com (is that the right site?). I don’t think their looks is attributed to religion, you just happened onto a group of good-looking women. It can happen anywhere.

3 The author of the gospel of Mark must have discovered autism, then.

4 I asked the journal about this, but didn’t hear back.

 

Reference

Dutton E, Madison G, Dunkel C. (2017). The Mutant Says in His Heart,“There Is No God”: the Rejection of Collective Religiosity Centred Around the Worship of Moral Gods Is Associated with High Mutational Load. Evolutionary Psychological Science. pp. 1-12. First Online:

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PCP Abuse: NIDA Research Monograph 21 (August 1978)

Step back into a time of avocado green, angel dust, and fun fonts in government documents.

From the Forward:

Phencyclidine (PCP), or “angel dust” as it is more commonly known to drug users, posed until recently a relatively modest problem. While some illicit use occurred as early as the mid ‘6Os, the drug’s initially poor street reputation seemed to make it decidedly unlikely that it would ever become popular as a drug of choice.

More recent events have made it abundantly clear that our initial optimism was poorly founded. A change in mode of use from oral ingestion to smoking or snorting, which may enable the user to better control aversive consequences of use, together with the ease with which PCP can be synthesized, have markedly changed the phencyclidine abuse picture.

In one year (from 1976 to 1977) the number who had used phencyclidine as measured by NIDA’s National Drug Use Surveys nearly doubled in the 12 to 17 year age group. Among young adults between 18 and 25, the number of PCP users increased nearly fifty percent in that same year. Although the level of use detected was still modest, there is good reason to believe that the standardized indicators of the extent of PCP use and of its adverse consequences represent significant under-estimates of the seriousness of the problem. Clinical reports have also indicated that phencyclidine use can precipitate violent acting out and seriously self-destructive behavior as well as psychotic thinking and behavior.

The full document is available here as a 337 page PDF.

PCP is a dissociative anesthetic and NMDA receptor antagonist related to ketamine, the darling of the new rapid-acting antidepressant set. A recent summary in Medical News Today noted its popularity has waned quite a bit since the 70s:

The extent of use of PCP appears to be falling. In 1979, 13 percent of high school students said they had tried PCP. By 1990, that figure had fallen to 3 percent.

Results of a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, published by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), show that, in 2015, 0.2 percent of 12- to 17- year olds had tried it at some time in their life.

 

angel dust_what everyone should know about PCP

Oglesby EW, Faber SJ, Faber SJ. (1979). Angel Dust: What Everyone Should Know About PCP. Lega-Books.

 

A selection of chapters from the NIDA monograph:

PCP has a notorious reputation for inducing psychotic and violent behavior (NIDA, 1978):

Clinical reports have also indicated that phencyclidine use can precipitate violent acting out and seriously self-destructive behavior as well as psychotic thinking and behavior.

. . .

Chronic phencyclidine use has culminated in a picture of violent and aggressive behavior, paranoia, delusional thinking, and auditory hallucinations. In most cases no known behavioral disturbance or psychiatric problems preceded the use of phencyclidine.

from PCP Commercial

 

A 2013 article in Addiction.com, however, said these claims are overblown:

But even though angel dust can cause a variety of psychotic symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, disorientation and a feeling of paranoia, a normally nonviolent person is not going to suddenly become a vicious, marauding maniac simply because he has consumed this substance. Nor is he going to gain extra strength while under its chemical spell: most people arrested for drug crimes go quietly or with minimal fuss when they are taken into custody, so when a person high on angel dust goes on the attack, it can catch everyone off guard.

 

Macabre circus or important case study or hyperbole or all of the above?

This brings me to my main interest in the topic: Aaron Hernandez. Ex-NFL football star, PCP addict, convicted murderer, suicide by hanging, and CTE brain of the month. In the New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer John Branch made the startling statement that the brain of Aaron Hernandez presented an opportunity to study a case of “pure” CTE:

What made the brain extraordinary, for the purpose of science, was not just the extent of the damage, but its singular cause. Most brains with that kind of damage have sustained a lifetime of other problems, too, from strokes to other diseases, like Alzheimer’s. Their samples are muddled, and not everything found can be connected to one particular disease.

In my main blog, I’ve been struggling to write a post that highlights the misleading nature of this claim. How much of that was Branch’s own hyperbole? Or was he merely paraphrasing the famous neuropathologists who presented their results to the media, not to peer reviewers? Is it my job to find autopsied brains from PCP abusers and suicides by hanging? Searching for the latter, by the way, will turn up some very unsavory material in forensic journals and elsewhere. At any rate, I think much of this literature glosses over any complicating elements, and neglects to mention all of the cognitively intact former football players whose brains haven’t been autopsied.

 

#FakeBudget

america first budget.png

This thin 62 page PDF (which includes 8 blank pages) is a poorly documented and fanciful précis of the Bannon/Trump blueprint for “deconstruction of the administrative state.

Trump with Bannon as Grim Reaper

The proposed budget would eliminate the following federal agencies:

For biomedical scientists, the most distressing section was this:

  • Reduces the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) spending relative to the 2017 annualized CR level by $5.8 billion to $25.9 billion. [NOTE: this is a 19% cut from current budget of $30.3 billion.] The Budget includes a major reorganization of NIH’s Institutes and Centers to help focus resources on the highest priority research and training activities, including: eliminating the Fogarty International Center; consolidating the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality within NIH; and other consolidations and structural changes across NIH organizations and activities. The Budget also reduces administrative costs and rebalance Federal contributions to research funding.

This is extremely alarming (but so vague and poorly written that it’s hard to infer the exact intent here). The NIH has broad bipartisan support, so such a massive gutting is unlikely. On the other hand, Trump has said, “I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.”

The document is filled with unsupported claims:

  • Eliminates $403 million in health professions and nursing training programs, which lack evidence that they significantly improve the Nation’s health workforce. [NOTE: Where is this evidence?] The Budget continues to fund health workforce activities that provide scholarships and loan repayments in exchange for service in areas of the United States where there is a shortage of health professionals.

…and meaningless hand-waving:

  • Invests in mental health activities that are awarded to high-performing entities and focus on high priority areas, such as suicide prevention, serious mental illness, and children’s mental health.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be among the hardest hit, with 3,200 fewer positions and a 31% cut in funding. This is no surprise, since deregulation is more important than clean air and drinkable water.

Those of us with a conscience don’t have to accept this sadistic budget by Bannon and co., which is designed to outrage and infuriate. Write or call your representatives NOW.

“Complaining Shrinks the Hippocampus” – the study that doesn’t exist

gray739-emphasizing-hippocampus

The “complaining is bad for your brain” trope is making the rounds again. In How Complaining Rewires Your Brain For Negativity, Dr. Travis Bradberry (“Author of #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and president of TalentSmart, world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence”) claims:

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.

And here’s the kicker: complaining damages other areas of your brain as well. Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining shrinks the hippocampus—an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to the hippocampus is scary, especially when you consider that it’s one of the primary brain areas destroyed by Alzheimer’s.

What is this compelling research from Stanford? A link to an article in Fast Company, Why Complaining May Be Dangerous To Your Health (1/12/15):

A half hour of complaining every day physically damages a person’s brain, according to research from Stanford University. Whether you’re the one griping or you’re the one listening, exposure to negativity peels back neurons in the hippocampus—the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive function. Over time, complaining becomes a habit. If you’re surrounded by complainers, then you’re more likely become one.

The research on “peeling back neurons in the hippocampus” is a link to a non-existent article in iaap-hq.org. Pulling up the extinct page in archive.org yields this gem, Complaining Hurts Your Brain (3/27/14):

Scientific research from Stanford’s medical school revealed that exposure to 30 minutes of negativity every day (including negative news on TV) can physically damage the brain. It damages the neurons in the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for problem solving and cognitive functioning. This is significant because research also shows that in Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain to suffer damage.

Now let’s look for a study where the participants had their brains scanned, watched 30 minutes of negative news every day for three months, then had their brains scanned again. For good measure, we should assign half of the participants to a control condition, where they are forbidden to watch negative news for three months. Then we can compare hippocampal volumes in the two groups.

You know where this is going. The peeling hippocampus study does not exist. It’s completely fictional.

Further Googling pulls up a 2012 article from the Community Corner section of the Carlsbad Patch, Stress and Negativity May Change Size and Function of the Brain:

Robert Sapolsky is a professor and researcher in the field of stress and the effect it has on health. For the past three decades Sapolsky has been studying how the mind and body handle stress. In an interview with Stanford Report, he said:

It’s becoming clear that in the hippocampus, the part of the brain most susceptible to stress hormones, you see atrophy in people with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. … There’s a ton of very exciting, very contentious work as to whether stress is causing that part of the brain to atrophy, and if so, is it reversible. Or does having a small hippocampus make you more vulnerable to stress-related traumas? There’s evidence for both sides.

Ah ha, Robert Sapolsky, a famous professor at Stanford. He’s best known for his research on the negative effects of stress in baboons, who generally do not watch TV, neither in the wild nor in captivity. Here’s a 2000 review article on Glucocorticoids and Hippocampal Atrophy in Neuropsychiatric Disorders (cited over 1,000 times):

An extensive literature stretching back decades has shown that prolonged stress or prolonged exposure to glucocorticoids—the adrenal steroids secreted during stress—can have adverse effects on the rodent hippocampus.

Yes indeed, the invasive studies that examine actual neurons in the hippocampus are in rodents.

Sapolsky continues:

More recent findings suggest a similar phenomenon in the human hippocampus associated with many neuropsychiatric disorders. This review examines the evidence for hippocampal atrophy in (1) Cushing syndrome, which is characterized by a pathologic oversecretion of glucocorticoids; (2) episodes of repeated and severe major depression, which is often associated with hypersecretion of glucocorticoids; and (3) posttraumatic stress disorder. Key questions that will be examined include whether the hippocampal atrophy arises from the neuropsychiatric disorder, or precedes and predisposes toward it…

Notice that both here and in his 2007 Stanford News quote above, he questions the direction of causality.

So where did the complaining and negative news come from? The Carlsbad Patch article 1 also linked to Listening to Complainers Is Bad for Your Brain (8/12/12):

Do you hate it when people complain? It turns out there’s a good reason: Listening to too much complaining is bad for your brain in multiple ways, according to Trevor Blake, a serial entrepreneur and author of Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life. In the book, he describes how neuroscientists have learned to measure brain activity when faced with various stimuli, including a long gripe session.

“The brain works more like a muscle than we thought,” Blake says. “So if you’re pinned in a corner for too long listening to someone being negative, you’re more likely to behave that way as well.”

Even worse, being exposed to too much complaining can actually make you dumb. Research shows that exposure to 30 minutes or more of negativity–including viewing such material on TV–actually peels away neurons in the brain’s hippocampus. “That’s the part of your brain you need for problem solving,” he says. “Basically, it turns your brain to mush.”

Ah ha, so we can finally blame serial entrepreneur Trevor Blake, who made up the whole thing. Or at the very least, extrapolated wildly from studies in monkeys and rodents. From Three Simple Steps: A Map to Success in Business and Life:

like-watching-fearful-news

[so Mr. Blake actually used the more accurate “pruning back” not “peeling back”]

What about complainers? 2

chronic-complainers

Oh no!! This blog post is increasing the rate of cell death in my hippocampus!

But think about it… reading Donald J. Trump‘s toxic and negative (and horrifying) tweets is raising our anxiety. Does complaining about them make it any worse?

 

link to HuffPo via Neuroskeptic

 

Footnotes

1 The Carlsbad Patch article by is actually the best of the lot.

2 The unclear origins of this claim were also discussed by the skeptics at Stack Exchange.

Slogans for Liberals in the Trump Era

slogans_small signs of normality.png
quote from Autocracy: Rules for Survival, by Masha Gessen.

My previous post on October 27 featured the Inflammatory Essays of Jenny Holzer (1979-1982).

REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE

FEAR IS THE MOST ELEGANT WEAPON

THE END OF THE U.S.A.

Then the unthinkable happened. Some of these scenarios actually came true on November 8, 2016. Trump is appointing white nationalists and right wing hard-liners to key posts in his administration. Like many others, I’m still in a state of shock.

Inspired by Holzer’s Truisms (1978-1983), Canadian writer and visual artist Douglas Coupland created Slogans for the 21st Century (2011-2014).

i-miss-my-pre-internet-brain

These were featured in a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which I wrote about in my main blog (Welcome to Douglas Coupland’s Brain).

The recent ugly turn of events has inspired me to create Slogans for Liberals in the Trump Era, based on Coupland’s designs. Some of the slogans were made up by me, others taken from recent news stories and credited as such.

slogans_NOSTALGIA BUSH.png

Steve Bannon is truly scary:

‘Darkness is good’

Washington (CNN). Steve Bannon has no regrets.

The ex-Breitbart executive, who serves as Trump’s chief strategist for the new administration, told The Hollywood Reporter that “darkness is good.”
“Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals) get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing,” he said in an interview published Friday, his first outside of Breitbart since the election.


slogans_how do you like your disruption.png
quote from Silicon Valley Helped Create Trump, and That’s Bad for It, by Noam Cohen.

slogans_identity liberalism.png
quote from The End of Identity Liberalism, by Mark Lilla. I do not agree and thought it was a terrible essay.

slogans_identity politics1.png

slogans_identity politics2.png

Trump doesn’t seem to like the NIH, which is very alarming to scientists:

…I can tell you, because I hear so much about the NIH, and it’s terrible.

slogans_NIH.png
Feel free to use this sign on social media and around the lab (along with any of the others).  Proper credit would be appreciated.

slogans_NOSTALGIA REAGAN.png

FORCE ANXIETY TO EXCRUCIATING LEVELS OR GENTLY UNDERMINE THE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE

“Fear is the most elegant weapon, your hands are never messy”

Many people are familiar with Jenny Holzer‘s Truisms (1978-1983), but fewer know about her Inflammatory Essays (1979-1982). Amid the surreal reality show that is the 2016 US Presidential election, Holzer’s words from 35 years ago ring true today.

REJOICE! OUR TIMES ARE INTOLERABLE.

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950 [no title] 1979–82

 

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950 [no title] 1979–82

 

MEANINGLESS PLATITUDES WILL BE PULLED FROM TONGUES AND MINDS

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950 [no title] 1979–82

 

THE END OF THE U.S.A.

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950[no title] 1979–82

Opium for Separation Distress in Victorian-era Infants

Infant's Delight Mother's Joy

“I haven’t heard that morphine or buprenorphine is recommended for human babies who cry persistently and excessively,” I declared in a post about Opioid Drugs for Mental Anguish on my main blog.

Silly me! In a comment on the post, Ray Davis said…

An earlier generation of field-researchers found it quite (and sometimes permanently) effective: http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health4.html

The article on Opium and Infant Mortality states:

Medical officers were convinced that one of the major causes of infant mortality was the widespread practice of giving children narcotics, especially opium, to quieten them. At 1d an ounce laudanum was cheap enough — about the price of a pint of beer — and its sale was totally unregulated unitl late in the century.

Indeed, the New York Times of 1879 reported a terrible opium poisoning that caused the death of a one year old child.

Opium - The Cause of a Child's Death

 

There were other dangerous “soothing” products of the day with quaint and reassuring ads. One can imagine that administration of these potions was not limited to teething and bowel complaints. The U.S. National Library of Medicine has a lovely collection of these.

Baby Ease

 

The Quack Doctor has a great post on Atkinson & Barker’s Royal Infants’ Preservative, which “has been acknowledged the best medicine in the world.” Ingredients included 1 dr. Laudanum, an old-timey tincture of opium.

Atkinson's and Barker's Royal Infants Preservative

Six drops of this fine medicine was enough to kill a six week old baby in 1886.

Lest you think that in the modern era, we know better than to poison our children with such foolish remedies, there was a recall of a dangerous product in 2009. The recall was “in response to a reported case of potassium bromide poisoning in an infant, associated with the use of a locally purchased teething product.”

The name of this product? Monell’s Teething Cordial (Cordial de Monell para la Dentición).

Monell's teething cordial 2009