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Medicine

The Peculiar Economics of Developing New Antibiotics 223

Posted by samzenpus
from the killing-bugs dept.
HughPickens.com writes Every year at least two million people are infected with bacteria that can't be wiped out with antibiotics but the number of F.D.A.-approved antibiotics has decreased steadily in the past two decades. Now.Ezekiel J. Emanuel writes at the NYT that the problem with the development of new antibiotics is profitability. "There's no profit in it, and therefore the research has dried up, but meanwhile bacterial resistance has increased inexorably and there's still a lot of inappropriate use of antibiotics out there," says Ken Harvey. Unlike drugs for cholesterol or high blood pressure, or insulin for diabetes, which are taken every day for life, antibiotics tend to be given for a short time so profits have to be made on brief usage. "Even though antibiotics are lifesaving, they do not command a premium price in the marketplace," says Emanuel. "As a society we seem willing to pay $100,000 or more for cancer drugs that cure no one and at best add weeks or a few months to life. We are willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for knee surgery that, at best, improves function but is not lifesaving. So why won't we pay $10,000 for a lifesaving antibiotic?"

Emanuel says that we need to use prize money as an incentive. "What if the United States government — maybe in cooperation with the European Union and Japan — offered a $2 billion prize to the first five companies or academic centers that develop and get regulatory approval for a new class of antibiotics?" Because it costs at least $1 billion to develop a new drug, the prize money could provide a 100 percent return — even before sales. "From the government perspective, such a prize would be highly efficient: no payment for research that fizzles. Researchers win only with an approved product. Even if they generated just one new antibiotic class per year, the $2-billion-per-year payment would be a reasonable investment for a problem that costs the health care system $20 billion per year." Unless payers and governments are willing to provide favorable pricing for such a drug, the big companies are going to focus their R&D investments in areas like cancer, depression, and heart disease where the return-on-investments are much higher.
United Kingdom

Use Astrology To Save Britain's Health System, Says MP 293

Posted by Soulskill
from the gullible-like-a-capricorn dept.
An anonymous reader writes: An MP from the governing Conservative Party has said that using astrology could radically improve the performance of Britain's National Health Service and that its opponents are "racially prejudiced" and driven by "superstition, ignorance and prejudice." David Treddinick even claims he has "helped" fellow legislators through astrology.
Medicine

Study: Peanut Consumption In Infancy Helps Prevent Peanut Allergy 236

Posted by Soulskill
from the reasons-to-force-feed-your-child-peanuts dept.
Mr D from 63 writes: According to a report from the Associated Press, "For years, parents of babies who seem likely to develop a peanut allergy have gone to extremes to keep them away from peanut-based foods. Now a major study suggests that is exactly the wrong thing to do. Here's the published paper in the New England Journal of Medicine. It's interesting how this peanut allergy fear is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The situation involves a complete misconception of risk by many parents, and probably it doesn't stop at peanuts. Is there a bigger underlying problem here?
Medicine

Researchers: Alcohol Health Risks Underestimated, Marijuana Relatively Safe 395

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-so-bad-after-all dept.
schwit1 writes Compared to other recreational drugs — including alcohol — marijuana may be even safer than previously thought. And researchers may be systematically underestimating risks associated with alcohol use. They found that at the level of individual use, alcohol was the deadliest substance (abstract), followed by heroin and cocaine.
The Military

100 Years of Chemical Weapons 224

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-century-later dept.
MTorrice writes This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first large-scale use of chemical weapons during World War I. Sarah Everts at Chemical & Engineering News remembers the event with a detailed account of the day in 1915 when the German Army released chlorine gas on its enemies, igniting a chemical arms race. Read the diaries of soldiers involved in the first gas attack. By the end of WWI, scientists working for both warring parties had evaluated some 3,000 different chemicals for use as weapons. Even though poison gas didn't end up becoming an efficient killing weapon on WWI battlefields—it was responsible for less than 1% of WWI's fatalities--its adoption set a precedent for using chemicals to murder en masse. In the past century, poison gas has killed millions of civilians around the world: commuters on the Tokyo subway, anti-government demonstrators in Syria, and those incarcerated in Third Reich concentration camps. Everts profiles chemist Fritz Haber, the man who lobbied to unleash the gas that day in 1915.
Earth

What If We Lost the Sky? 418

Posted by timothy
from the we'd-still-have-the-space-needle dept.
HughPickens.com (3830033) writes "Anna North writes in the NYT that a report released last week by the National Research Council calls for research into reversing climate change through a process called albedo modification: reflecting sunlight away from earth by, for instance, spraying aerosols into the atmosphere. But such a process could, some say, change the appearance of the sky — and that in turn could affect everything from our physical health to the way we see ourselves. "You'd get whiter skies. People wouldn't have blue skies anymore." says Alan Robock. "Astronomers wouldn't be happy, because you'd have a cloud up there permanently. It'd be hard to see the Milky Way anymore."

According to Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at the University of California, losing the night sky would have big consequences. "When you go outside, and you walk in a beautiful setting, and you just feel not only uplifted but you just feel stronger. There's clearly a neurophysiological basis for that," says Keltner, adding that looking up at a starry sky provides "almost a prototypical awe experience," an opportunity to feel "that you are small and modest and part of something vast." If we lose the night sky "we lose something precious and sacred." "We're finding in our lab that the experience of awe gets you to feel connected to something larger than yourself, see the humanity in other people," says Paul K. Piff. "In many ways it's kind of an antidote to narcissism." And the sky is one of the few sources of that experience that's available to almost everybody: "Not everyone has access to the ocean or giant trees, or the Grand Canyon, but we certainly all live beneath the night sky."

Alan Robock says one possible upside of adding aerosols could be beautiful red and yellow sunsets as "the yellow and red colors reflect off the bottom of this cloud." Robock recommends more research into albedo modification: "If people ever are tempted to do this, I want them to have a lot of information about what the potential benefits and risks would be so they can make an informed decision. Dr. Abdalati says deploying something like albedo modification is a last-ditch effort. "We've gotten ourselves into a climate mess. The fact that we're even talking about these kinds of things is indicative of that."
Earth

Bill Nye Disses "Regular" Software Writers' Science Knowledge 667

Posted by timothy
from the line-in-the-sand dept.
conoviator writes Bill Nye, one of the foremost science educators in the United States states that only the upper crust members of American science and technology (with degrees from top tier schools) understand science, particularly climate change. He opines that "regular software writers" dwell in the realm of the semi-science-literate. Nye rates science education in the U.S. an F. ("But if it makes you feel any better, you can say a B-minus.")
The Almighty Buck

How One Climate-Change Skeptic Has Profited From Corporate Interests 437

Posted by timothy
from the note-that-doesn't-mean-he's-wrong dept.
Lasrick writes Elected officials who want to block the EPA and legislation on climate change frequently refer to a handful of scientists who dispute anthropogenic climate change. One of scientists they quote most often is Wei-Hock Soon, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent global warming. Newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon has made a fortune from corporate interests. 'He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.' The Koch Brothers are cited as a source of Dr. Soon's funding.
Math

Interviews: Ask Stephen Wolfram a Question 210

Posted by samzenpus
from the go-ahead-and-ask dept.
Stephen Wolfram's accomplishments and contributions to science and computing are numerous. He earned a PhD in particle physics from Caltech at 20, and has been cited by over 30,000 research publications. Wolfram is the the author of A New Kind of Science, creator of Mathematica, the creator of Wolfram Alpha, and the founder and CEO of Wolfram Research. He developed Wolfram Language, a general multi-paradigm programming language, in 2014. Stephen has graciously agreed to answer any questions you may have for him. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one per post.
Science

Game Theory Calls Cooperation Into Question 249

Posted by Soulskill
from the can't-we-all-just-get-along dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Quanta Magazine: The physicist Freeman Dyson and the computer scientist William Press, both highly accomplished in their fields, have found a new solution to a famous, decades-old game theory scenario called the prisoner's dilemma, in which players must decide whether to cheat or cooperate with a partner. The prisoner's dilemma has long been used to help explain how cooperation might endure in nature. After all, natural selection is ruled by the survival of the fittest, so one might expect that selfish strategies benefiting the individual would be most likely to persist. But careful study of the prisoner's dilemma revealed that organisms could act entirely in their own self-interest and still create a cooperative community.

Press and Dyson's new solution to the problem, however, threw that rosy perspective into question (abstract). It suggested the best strategies were selfish ones that led to extortion, not cooperation.

[Theoretical biologist Joshua] Plotkin found the duo's math remarkable in its elegance. But the outcome troubled him. Nature includes numerous examples of cooperative behavior. For example, vampire bats donate some of their blood meal to community members that fail to find prey. Some species of birds and social insects routinely help raise another's brood. Even bacteria can cooperate, sticking to each other so that some may survive poison. If extortion reigns, what drives these and other acts of selflessness?"
Medicine

Two New Male Birth Control Chemicals In Advanced Stages 369

Posted by samzenpus
from the man-pills dept.
BarbaraHudson writes Researchers at the University of Kansas and Harvard are working to give men more choices for avoiding unwanted pregnancies. From the article: "H2-gamendazole keeps sperm from maturing. The unfinished sperm fragments are then reabsorbed into the testis, never ending up in the semen. 'If there's no sperm, the egg's not going to get fertilized,' says Joseph Tash, a reproductive biologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Almost two years ago, the FDA reviewed the compound, and now the agency wants Tash to investigate if the compound remains in the semen and whether that would harm a woman if it ends up in the vagina. Jay Bradner, working with other anti-cancer researchers at Harvard, discovered that the JQ1 molecule blocked a bromodomain in cancer cells, causing them to forget how to be cancer. One side effect is that JQ1 also obstructed a testicle-specific bromodomain called BRDT, making the sex cells that would otherwise produce sperm non-functional — mice treated with JQ1 can hump with abandon yet generate zero mouselings. Researchers are looking for a version of the molecule that works on the testicle protein only, to avoid any weird side effects."
Mars

Mars One: Final 100 Candidates Selected 233

Posted by samzenpus
from the one-step-closer-to-the-end dept.
hypnosec writes "The Mars One project has picked the final 100 candidates for the next round of the selection process. Initially, 202,586 people applied and ultimately around 40 will undertake a one-way trip to Mars. “The large cut in candidates is an important step towards finding out who has the right stuff to go to Mars,” said Bas Lansdorp, Co-founder & CEO of Mars One. “These aspiring martians provide the world with a glimpse into who the modern day explorers will be.”
Earth

Oxford University Researchers List 12 Global Risks To Human Civilization 213

Posted by samzenpus
from the birds-and-snakes-an-airplane-and-lenny-bruce-is-not-afraid dept.
An anonymous reader writes The 12 greatest threats to civilization have been established by Oxford University scientists, with nuclear war and extreme climate change topping the list. Published by the Global Challenges Foundation, the report explores the 12 most likely ways civilization could end. "[This research] is about how a better understanding of the magnitude of the challenges can help the world to address the risks it faces, and can help to create a path towards more sustainable development," the study's authors said. "It is a scientific assessment about the possibility of oblivion, certainly, but even more it is a call for action based on the assumption that humanity is able to rise to challenges and turn them into opportunities."
Medicine

Smoking Is Even Deadlier Than Previously Thought 365

Posted by timothy
from the and-that's-saying-something dept.
HughPickens.com writes Who still smokes?" as Denise Grady reports at the NYT that however bad you thought smoking was, it's even worse. A new study has found that in addition to the well-known hazards of lung cancer, artery disease, heart attacks, chronic lung disease and stroke, researchers found that smoking was linked to significantly increased risks of infection, kidney disease, intestinal disease caused by inadequate blood flow, and heart and lung ailments not previously attributed to tobacco. "The smoking epidemic is still ongoing, and there is a need to evaluate how smoking is hurting us as a society, to support clinicians and policy making in public health," says Brian D. Carter, an author of the study. "It's not a done story." Carter says he was inspired to dig deeper into the causes of death in smokers after taking an initial look at data from five large health surveys being conducted by other researchers. As expected, death rates were higher among the smokers but diseases known to be caused by tobacco accounted for only 83 percent of the excess deaths in people who smoked. "I thought, 'Wow, that's really low,' " Mr. Carter said. "We have this huge cohort. Let's get into the weeds, cast a wide net and see what is killing smokers that we don't already know." The researchers found that, compared with people who had never smoked, smokers were about twice as likely to die from infections, kidney disease, respiratory ailments not previously linked to tobacco, and hypertensive heart disease, in which high blood pressure leads to heart failure. "The Surgeon General's report claims 480,000 deaths directly caused by smoking, but we think that is really quite a bit off," concludes Carter adding that the figure may be closer to 540,000.
Earth

NASA: Increasing Carbon Emissions Risk Megadroughts 264

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-only-we-could-drink-oil dept.
An anonymous reader writes: Droughts in the western U.S. have been bad recently, but not as bad as they could be. Researchers from NASA, Cornell, and Columbia are now warning that if we don't slow the rate at which we produce greenhouse gases, then we're dramatically increasing our odds of a drought that lasts upwards of three decades. "The scientists were interested in megadroughts that took place between 1100 and 1300 in North America. These medieval-period droughts, on a year-to-year basis, were no worse than droughts seen in the recent past. But they lasted, in some cases, 30 to 50 years. When these past megadroughts are compared side-by-side with computer model projections of the 21st century, both the moderate and business-as-usual emissions scenarios are drier, and the risk of droughts lasting 30 years or longer increases significantly."