Thursday, September 29, 2011

Political Studies Review Paper on Virtue Epistemology and Democracy

My paper entitled "Virtue Epistemology and the ‘Epistemic Fitness’ of Democracy" has been accepted for publication in Political Studies Review. Below as the abstract of the paper:

In this paper I explore three distinct advantages of linking virtue epistemology to an epistemic defence of democracy. Firstly, because intellectual agents and communities are the primary focus of epistemic evaluation, virtue epistemology offers political theorists the opportunity to develop an epistemic defence of democracy that takes ‘realism’ seriously (e.g. the cognitive limitations and biases of humans). Secondly, because virtue epistemology conceives of epistemology as a normative discipline, it builds normative criteria into the exercise of assessing the ‘epistemic fitness’ of a political arrangement (e.g. democracy vs epistocracy). Thirdly, by assessing the epistemic powers of democracy from a virtue-epistemological perspective, a more robust (Deweyan) conception of democracy needs to be employed and assessed than the ‘minimalist’ conception employed by the Condorcet Jury Theorem.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Time to Re-think Clinical Trials?

The latest issue of Science has this interesting editorial on the inefficiencies of the current US clinical trial system. An excerpt:

The biomedical industry spends over $50 billion per year on research and development and produces some 20 new drugs. One reason for this disappointing output is the byzantine U.S. clinical trial system that requires large numbers of patients. Half of all trials are delayed, 80 to 90% of them because of a shortage of trial participants. Patient limitations also cause large and unpredicted expenses to pharmaceutical and biotech companies as they are forced to tread water. As the industry moves toward biologics and personalized medicine, this limitation will become even greater. A breakthrough in regulation is needed to create a system that does more with fewer patients.

The current clinical trial system in the United States is more than 50 years old. Its architecture was conceived when electronic manipulation of data was limited, slow, and expensive...


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Globe Article on Cost of Chronic Disease

Today's Globe has this important article on the scourge of the 21st century-- chronic disease. But as I note in the comments section for the article, unfortunately the article does not address the biggest risk factor, by far, for chronic disease- *age*.

On this WHO website the fact that chronic disease killed 9 million people under the age of 60 last year is highlighted. This is of course a human tragedy that should be mitigated. That is twice the number of deaths estimated to be caused by all injuries in the world.

However, if you do the math on this data, that means that 27 million people worldwide died from chronic disease that is caused (primarily, though the story is complex) by aging. This is 75% of the world's chronic disease burden.

Aging is the leading cause of disease and death in the world today. This is a unique event in human history. Most humans that lived before us died earlier in life from infectious disease, starvation, violence, etc. Now is the first time in human history that the inborn aging process itself is a serious health threat to human populations. Not only that, it is the largest health threat today. In just a decade of the chronic diseases of aging the world's population will suffer more more disease and death than in any decade of the worst wars and conflicts in human history.

Everyone agrees that conflict and war is bad for us, and that our governments should strive to ensure there is lasting peace between nations. And yet few people today realize how important it is that our governments also support the science and innovation that could modulate the rate of biological aging, thus keeping our bodies and minds healthy for as long as possible.

If we hope to make a serious dent on the tsunami of chronic disease that will afflict the 2 billion people worldwide who will be over age 60 by the middle of this century we need to prioritize the study of the biology of aging. Only by retarding the process of cellular and molecular decline can we hope to delay, and possibly compress, chronic disease in the foreseeable future.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Main Menu (Sept 2011)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Intense Physical Exercise Helps With Learning

A study published in the latest issue of Neurobiology of Learning and Memory examines the impact of high impact running on learning. Here is the abstract:

Regular physical exercise improves cognitive functions and lowers the risk for age-related cognitive decline. Since little is known about the nature and the timing of the underlying mechanisms, we probed whether exercise also has immediate beneficial effects on cognition. Learning performance was assessed directly after high impact anaerobic sprints, low impact aerobic running, or a period of rest in 27 healthy subjects in a randomized cross-over design. Dependent variables comprised learning speed as well as immediate (1 week) and long-term (>8 months) overall success in acquiring a novel vocabulary. Peripheral levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and catecholamines (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine) were assessed prior to and after the interventions as well as after learning. We found that vocabulary learning was 20 percent faster after intense physical exercise as compared to the other two conditions. This condition also elicited the strongest increases in BDNF and catecholamine levels. More sustained BDNF levels during learning after intense exercise were related to better short-term learning success, whereas absolute dopamine and epinephrine levels were related to better intermediate (dopamine) and long-term (epinephrine) retentions of the novel vocabulary. Thus, BDNF and two of the catecholamines seem to be mediators by which physical exercise improves learning.