Thursday, September 20, 2018

Public Health in a Cross-National Lens: The Surprising Strength of the American System Compared to France and the UK

Public Health in a Cross-National Lens: The Surprising Strength of the American System. Michael S. Sparer, Anne-Laure Beaussier. J Health Polit Policy Law (2018) 43 (5): 825-846.

Abstract: Critics of the US health system argue that a higher proportion of the health dollar should be spent on public health, both to improve outcomes and to contain costs. Attempts to explain the subordinate status of public health in America highlight such factors as distrust in government, federalism, and a bias toward acute care. This article considers these assumptions by comparing public health in the United States, England, and France. It finds that one common variable is the bias toward acute care. That the United States has such a bias is not surprising, but the similar pattern cross-nationally is less expected. Three additional findings are more unexpected. First, the United States outperforms its European peers on several public health metrics. Second, the United States spends a comparable proportion of its health dollar on prevention. Third, these results are due partly to a federalism twist (while all three nations delegate significant responsibility for public health to local governments, federal officials are more engaged in the United States) and partly to the American version of public health moralism. We also consider the renewed interest in population health, noting why, against expectations, this trend might grow more quickly in the United States than in its European counterparts.

Costly female appearance-enhancement provides cues of short-term mating effort: The case of cosmetic surgery

Costly female appearance-enhancement provides cues of short-term mating effort: The case of cosmetic surgery. Hannah K. Bradshaw et al. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 138, 1 February 2019, Pages 48-55.

Abstract: Across three studies, we explore the relationship between cosmetic surgery, which functions as a costly appearance-enhancement tactic, and women's short-term mating effort. Study 1 demonstrates that women who exert increased short-term mating effort are more accepting of costly appearance-enhancement techniques (i.e., cosmetic surgery), but not relatively low-cost appearance-enhancement techniques (i.e., facial cosmetics). Study 2 and 3 further show that both men and women use information regarding a female targets' cosmetic surgery usage to infer increased short-term mating effort. Moreover, Study 3 demonstrates that inferences of short-term mating effort do not differ as a function of whether the target received facial or body cosmetic surgery. The findings of the current research demonstrate that women's engagement in extreme beautification procedures can influence others' perceptions of their short-term mating effort.

Reimagining of Schrödinger’s cat breaks quantum mechanics — and stumps physicists: In a multi-‘cat’ experiment, the textbook interpretation of quantum theory seems to lead to contradictory pictures of reality, physicists claim

Reimagining of Schrödinger’s cat breaks quantum mechanics — and stumps physicists. Davide Castelvecchi. Nature

In a multi-‘cat’ experiment, the textbook interpretation of quantum theory seems to lead to contradictory pictures of reality, physicists claim.

In the world’s most famous thought experiment, physicist Erwin Schrödinger described how a cat in a box could be in an uncertain predicament. The peculiar rules of quantum theory meant that it could be both dead and alive, until the box was opened and the cat’s state measured. Now, two physicists have devised a modern version of the paradox by replacing the cat with a physicist doing experiments — with shocking implications.

Quantum theory has a long history of thought experiments, and in most cases these are used to point to weaknesses in various interpretations of quantum mechanics. But the latest version, which involves multiple players, is unusual: it shows that if the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, then different experimenters can reach opposite conclusions about what the physicist in the box has measured. This means that quantum theory contradicts itself.

The conceptual experiment has been debated with gusto in physics circles for more than two years — and has left most researchers stumped, even in a field accustomed to weird concepts. “I think this is a whole new level of weirdness,” says Matthew Leifer, a theoretical physicist at Chapman University in Orange, California.

The authors, Daniela Frauchiger and Renato Renner of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, posted their first version of the argument online in April 2016. The final paper appears in Nature Communications on 18 September1. (Frauchiger has now left academia.)

Weird world

Quantum mechanics underlies nearly all of modern physics, explaining everything from the structure of atoms to why magnets stick to each other. But its conceptual foundations continue to leave researchers grasping for answers. Its equations cannot predict the exact outcome of a measurement — for example, of the position of an electron — only the probabilities that it can yield particular values.

Quantum objects such as electrons therefore live in a cloud of uncertainty, mathematically encoded in a ‘wavefunction’ that changes shape smoothly, much like ordinary waves in the sea. But when a property such as an electron’s position is measured, it always yields one precise value (and yields the same value again if measured immediately after).

The most common way of understanding this was formulated in the 1920s by quantum-theory pioneers Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, and is called the Copenhagen interpretation, after the city where Bohr lived. It says that the act of observing a quantum system makes the wavefunction ‘collapse’ from a spread-out curve to a single data point.

The Copenhagen interpretation left open the question of why different rules should apply to the quantum world of the atom and the classical world of laboratory measurements (and of everyday experience). But it was also reassuring: although quantum objects live in uncertain states, experimental observation happens in the classical realm and gives unambiguous results.

Now, Frauchiger and Renner are shaking physicists out of this comforting position. Their theoretical reasoning says that the basic Copenhagen picture — as well as other interpretations that share some of its basic assumptions — is not internally consistent.
What’s in the box?

Their scenario is considerably more involved than Schrödinger’s cat — proposed in 1935 — in which the feline lived in a box with a mechanism that would release a poison on the basis of a random occurrence, such as the decay of an atomic nucleus. In that case, the state of the cat was uncertain until the experimenter opened the box and checked it.

In 1967, the Hungarian physicist Eugene Wigner proposed a version of the paradox in which he replaced the cat and the poison with a physicist friend who lived inside a box with a measuring device that could return one of two results, such as a coin showing heads or tails. Does the wavefunction collapse when Wigner’s friend becomes aware of the result? One school of thought says that it does, suggesting that consciousness is outside the quantum realm. But if quantum mechanics applies to the physicist, then she should be in an uncertain state that combines both outcomes until Wigner opens the box.

Frauchiger and Renner have a yet more sophisticated version (see ‘New cats in town’). They have two Wigners, each doing an experiment on a physicist friend whom they keep in a box. One of the two friends (call her Alice) can toss a coin and — using her knowledge of quantum physics — prepare a quantum message to send to the other friend (call him Bob). Using his knowledge of quantum theory, Bob can detect Alice’s message and guess the result of her coin toss. When the two Wigners open their boxes, in some situations they can conclude with certainty which side the coin landed on, Renner says — but occasionally their conclusions are inconsistent. “One says, ‘I’m sure it’s tails,’ and the other one says, ‘I’m sure it’s heads,’” Renner says.


The experiment cannot be put into practice, because it would require the Wigners to measure all quantum properties of their friends, which includes reading their minds, points out theorist Lídia Del Rio, a colleague of Renner’s at ETH Zurich.

Yet it might be feasible to make two quantum computers play the parts of Alice and Bob: the logic of the argument requires only that they know the rules of physics and make decisions based on them, and in principle one can detect the complete quantum state of a quantum computer. (Quantum computers sophisticated enough to do this do not yet exist, Renner points out.)

Duelling interpretations

Physicists are still coming to terms with the implications of the result. It has triggered heated responses from experts in the foundations of quantum theory, many of whom tend to be protective of their pet interpretation. “Some get emotional,” Renner says. And different researchers tend to draw different conclusions. “Most people claim that the experiment shows that their interpretation is the only one that is correct.”

For Leifer, producing inconsistent results should not necessarily be a deal breaker. Some interpretations of quantum mechanics already allow for views of reality that depend on perspective. That could be less unsavoury than having to admit that quantum theory does not apply to complex things such as people, he says.

Robert Spekkens, a theoretical physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, says that the way out of the paradox could hide in some subtle assumptions in the argument, in particular in the communication between Alice and Bob.

“To my mind, there’s a lot of situations where taking somebody’s knowledge on board involves some translation of their knowledge.” Perhaps the inconsistency arises from Bob not interpreting Alice's message properly, he says. But he admits that he has not found a solution yet.

For now, physicists are likely to continue debating. “I don’t think we’ve made sense of this,” Leifer says.

In mice: Clearance of senescent glial cells prevents tau-dependent pathology and cognitive decline

Clearance of senescent glial cells prevents tau-dependent pathology and cognitive decline. Tyler J. Bussian, Asef Aziz, Charlton F. Meyer, Barbara L. Swenson, Jan M. van Deursen & Darren J. Baker. Nature (2018),

Abstract: Cellular senescence, which is characterized by an irreversible cell-cycle arrest1 accompanied by a distinctive secretory phenotype2, can be induced through various intracellular and extracellular factors. Senescent cells that express the cell cycle inhibitory protein p16INK4A have been found to actively drive naturally occurring age-related tissue deterioration3,4 and contribute to several diseases associated with ageing, including atherosclerosis5 and osteoarthritis6. Various markers of senescence have been observed in patients with neurodegenerative diseases7,8,9; however, a role for senescent cells in the aetiology of these pathologies is unknown. Here we show a causal link between the accumulation of senescent cells and cognition-associated neuronal loss. We found that the MAPTP301SPS19 mouse model of tau-dependent neurodegenerative disease10 accumulates p16INK4A-positive senescent astrocytes and microglia. Clearance of these cells as they arise using INK-ATTAC transgenic mice prevents gliosis, hyperphosphorylation of both soluble and insoluble tau leading to neurofibrillary tangle deposition, and degeneration of cortical and hippocampal neurons, thus preserving cognitive function. Pharmacological intervention with a first-generation senolytic modulates tau aggregation. Collectively, these results show that senescent cells have a role in the initiation and progression of tau-mediated disease, and suggest that targeting senescent cells may provide a therapeutic avenue for the treatment of these pathologies.

Self-assessed intelligence & relations with constructs associated with intelligence, tendencies & opportunities to develop intelligence, constructs associated with biased self-assessments, & positive states and life achievements

The “Other” Relationships of Self-Assessed Intelligence: A Meta-Analysis. Matt C. Howard, Joshua Cogswell. Journal of Research in Personality,

•    SAI is most often studied alongside psychometric intelligence or gender.
•    The current article “takes stock” of the “other” relationships of SAI.
•    SAI is meta-analytically shown to be related to other important variables.
•    SAI is meta-analytically shown to be related to several aspects of well-being.

Abstract: The primary goal of the current article is to “take stock” of the “other” relationships of self-assessed intelligence (SAI). The current article groups the relationships of SAI into four categories: constructs associated with intelligence (openness, emotional intelligence), tendencies and opportunities to develop intelligence (conscientiousness, education, age, SES, prior IQ test experience), constructs associated with biased self-assessments (extraversion, neuroticism, narcissism, honesty-humility, race), and positive states and life achievements (positive self-regard, psychological well-being, academic achievement). The meta-analytic results demonstrate that almost all variables from these four categories significantly relate to SAI, with the exception of prior IQ test experience. These relationships are also consistent when accounting for psychometric intelligence, and no studied moderator variables consistently influence the magnitude of these results.

People possess a functionally integrated mental system to detect conspiracies that in all likelihood has been shaped in an ancestral human environment in which hostile coalitions—that is, conspiracies that truly existed—were a frequent cause of misery

Conspiracy Theories: Evolved Functions and Psychological Mechanisms. Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Mark van Vugt. Perspectives on Psychological Science,

Abstract: Belief in conspiracy theories—such as that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job or that the pharmaceutical industry deliberately spreads diseases—is a widespread and culturally universal phenomenon. Why do so many people around the globe believe conspiracy theories, and why are they so influential? Previous research focused on the proximate mechanisms underlying conspiracy beliefs but ignored the distal, evolutionary origins and functions. We review evidence pertaining to two competing evolutionary hypotheses: (a) conspiracy beliefs are a by-product of a suite of psychological mechanisms (e.g., pattern recognition, agency detection, threat management, alliance detection) that evolved for different reasons, or (b) conspiracy beliefs are part of an evolved psychological mechanism specifically aimed at detecting dangerous coalitions. This latter perspective assumes that conspiracy theories are activated after specific coalition cues, which produce functional counterstrategies to cope with suspected conspiracies. Insights from social, cultural and evolutionary psychology provide tentative support for six propositions that follow from the adaptation hypothesis. We propose that people possess a functionally integrated mental system to detect conspiracies that in all likelihood has been shaped in an ancestral human environment in which hostile coalitions—that is, conspiracies that truly existed—were a frequent cause of misery, death, and reproductive loss.

Keywords: conspiracy theories, evolutionary psychology, coalitions, adaptation, by-product

Vegans view their diets as more central to their identity, take more pride in their diets, feel more stigmatized for following their diets, have stronger dietary motivations, & judge omnivorous dieters more harshly than do vegetarians

A Comparison of Dietarian Identity Profiles Between Vegetarians and Vegans. Daniel L. Rosenfeld. Food Quality and Preference,

•    Vegans view their diets as more central to their identity than do vegetarians.
•    Vegans take more pride in their diets than do vegetarians.
•    Vegans feel more stigmatized for following their diets than do vegetarians.
•    Vegans have stronger dietary motivations than do vegetarians.
•    Vegans judge omnivorous dieters more harshly than do vegetarians.

Abstract: Vegetarianism and veganism are often grouped together in nutritional and psychological investigations. Yet an emerging body of literature has highlighted that vegetarians and vegans differ along a number of neurological, attitudinal, and behavioral variables. In this research, I found that vegetarians and vegans exhibit different dietarian identity profiles. Compared to vegetarians, vegans saw their dietary patterns as more intertwined with their identity (higher centrality), had more positive feelings toward their dietary in-group (higher private regard), felt as if other people judge them more negatively for following their dietary patterns (lower public regard), evaluated out-group dieters more negatively (lower out-group regard), and had stronger motivations for following their dietary patterns (higher prosocial, personal, and moral motivations). By distinguishing between vegetarians and vegans more concretely, investigators can capture meaningful within-group heterogeneity in how people think, feel, and behave when it comes to eschewing animal products.

Volunteering improves subjective well-being, offsetting 20-53pct of W-B losses from unemployment & 16-30pct of W-B losses from long-term health conditions, benefitting the most unhappy; don't last beyond a year

Does Kindness Lead to Happiness? Voluntary Activities and Subjective Well-Being. Elisabetta Magnani, Rong Zhu. Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics,

•    This paper investigates empirically the effects of voluntary activities on subjective well-being;
•    We show that volunteering significantly improves people’s subjective well-being;
•    The positive effects of volunteering are highly heterogeneous along the well-being distribution;
•    We find evidence of complete subjective well-being adaptation one year after volunteering;
•    We explore three channels through which volunteering affects subjective well-being.

Abstract: This paper investigates empirically the effects of voluntary activities on subjective well-being. After controlling for individual fixed effects, we show that volunteering significantly improves people’s subjective well-being. The positive well-being effects of volunteering are highly heterogeneous, with larger impact at the lower end of the distribution of subjective well-being. Our dynamic analysis shows that the beneficial effects of volunteering are transitory. We find evidence of complete subjective well-being adaptation one year after volunteering. We show that more frequent socialisation, increasing satisfaction with feeling part of local community and rising satisfaction with neighbourhood living in are three channels for the contemporaneous positive linkage between volunteering and subjective well-being.