Sunday, January 15, 2017

Finess yields longer life, lower inflammation, healthier kids, better memory. Get out there!

Need reasons to get out and get fit? Here are a bunch of new ones.

As the nation’s healthiest state for five years running, Hawai`i folks don’t seem to need much of an excuse.  

But maybe you need a little boost to get you out the door. Here you are.

If you’re older, being more fit means you probably also get a better memory as a bonus.

“Cardiorespiratory fitness is one individual difference factor that may attenuate brain aging, and thereby contribute to enhanced source memory in older adults,” says this study led by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine. 

They say that being fit “may contribute to neuroplasticity among older adults, reducing age-related differences in some brain regions, consistent with the brain maintenance hypothesis, but accentuating age-differences in other regions, consistent with the brain compensation hypothesis.”

And you may be reading a lot about anti-inflammatory diets and the issues with inflammation in the body. Well, these researchers from the University of California at San Diego said that 20 minutes of exercise can reduce inflammation. 

You don’t need to go all out, but you shouldn’t dawdle, either, they write. A fast walk is sufficient, they say..

“Decreased inflammatory responses during acute exercise may protect against chronic conditions with low-grade inflammation,” the authors wrote.

So, this isn’t news to most of us. Here’s here is one more study that says that if you exercise moderately to vigorously, you’re less likely to die early.

It’s a pretty good-sized study. More than 5,000 people. The health effect of exercise applies to both men and women. And the positive impacts of exercise on mortality are impressive, as long as you do moderate to vigorous physical activity. Dawdling, once again, does not have quite the same positive impact. 

Okay, and here’s one that makes perfect sense. 

If you want your kids to be fit and healthy, you need to set the example. This study suggests that parents who stay fit will have kids who will exercise at a higher level. 

The researchers actually attached equipment to family members to measure their physical activity. They found, as you might expect, that couch potato parents tended to have kids who lazed around more. And active parents had more active kids.

“Considering how to reduce parental sedentary behavior and increase (physical activity) behaviors could be a powerful point of intervention,” wrote the authors, led by Shari Barkin of the Department of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Are you really dumb and think you're not? There's a name for that.

Have you come across people who think they know a lot about something, but really, really don’t?

It turns out there’s a diagnosis for this condition—knowing so little that you don’t know what you don’t know. Being so stupid that you don’t know how stupid you actually are.

It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

David Dunning said this about it: “If you're incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent [T]he skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

It plays out in so many ways. 

A teenager who asserts, “I’m a really good driver,” while tailgating, running red lights, making lane changes without a turn signal and texting in traffic.

Someone who’s heard a false meme, and buys into it without checking. Often this happens because the meme fits into a preconceived worldview. You hate the former Democratic presidential candidate so much that you think it’s even plausible that she’d be running a child sex ring out of a pizza joint.

We used to get new members of our canoe club, who believed that since they’d paddled an ultralight canoe solo on a flat lake, they knew everything about powering a 400-pound outrigger canoe with a crew of six through rough ocean water. And didn’t mind lecturing us dumb locals about something we’d been doing for a lifetime.
David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell published their report in 1999 on the effect, in an article entitled, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments.”

A lot of folks are now calling President-Elect Donald Trump the Dunning-Kruger President

Dunning himself, during the past election campaign, suggested that maybe it was Trump supporters more than Trump himself that suffered from Dunning-Kruger. 

Said Dunning: “The problem isn’t that voters are too uninformed. It is that they don’t know just how uninformed they are.”

But there’s a caution. You might want to look in the mirror, particularly if you’re one of those folks who were sure he wouldn’t win the election. If you couldn’t see the Trump train coming, then you should at least consider that you’re the one with the cognitive bias.

(If Dunning-Kruger is the overestimation of your own abilities, a corollary to Dunning-Kruger is the overestimation of the abilities of others. “I understand this math problem, so why can’t you?”)
© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Think kittens are cute? Try Casper, the Friendly Octopod.

It seemed simple: There are deposits of valuable minerals just lying on the sea floor for collecting—why not do it?

Now, researchers in Hawai`i are finding there are ecosystems that seem entirely dependent on these deposits—not the least of them a ghostly cute little white octopus relative nicknamed “Casper.”
(Image: The newly described octopod nicknamed Casper, photographed in 2011 near Ka`ena Ridge. Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and the University of Hawaiʻi.)

It turns out that manganese nodules nearly a mile deep around the Islands grow a specific kind of sponge, and that Casper lays its eggs on those sponges. 

Marcie Grabowski of the University of Hawai`i, wrote about this little biological-geological community on December 27, 2016.

The eight-legged Casper was spotted for the first time during a submersible dive in the Ka`ie`ie channel between Kaua`i and O`ahu. Geologists were trying to determine whether a submarine ridge that extends beyond Ka`ena Point on O`ahu was part of the Wai`anae volcanic range or a separate volcano.

Raising Islands covered that issue in 2014 here. It's O`ahu's third volcano.

The rock hounds saw this cut little white octopus, although they did not immediately realize that they may have been the first people to ever see it. 

“Being a team of geologists, not cephalopod experts, we didn’t realize it was a previously unrecognized species,” said geologist Deborah Eason, of the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Since them, new research has shown that Casper and related species inhabit seafloor habitats across the Pacific. A new paper in the journal Current Biology discusses that.

It shows that at least two species of octopods are active in water nearly a mile deep—they’ve been seen at more than 4,000 feet. And that they seem to be particularly linked to manganese rich nodules and crusts, where they attach their eggs to the stalks of dead sponges.

The sponges may be using the manganese-rich rocks, not so much for the manganese, but simply because they’re the only hard anchoring points in an otherwise muddy seafloor.

“This is the first time such a specific mineral-biota association has been observed for incirrate octopods. ... broods consisted of approximately 30 large (2.0–2.7 cm) eggs. Given the low annual water temperature of 1.5 degees C, it is likely that egg development, and hence brooding, takes years,” wrote the authors of that paper.

They clearly made the point that if you start mining the seafloor, it’s going to have an impact on the sponges and the octopi.

“The brooding behavior of the octopods we observed suggests that, like the sponges, they may also be susceptible to habitat loss following the removal of nodule fields and crusts by commercial exploitation,” said the authors, who are led by Autun Purser, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, in Bremerhaven, Germany. Eason is a co-author on that paper.

Casper the octopod has, since its discovery, gone viral for its similarity in appearance to the cartoon character, Casper the Friendly Ghost. The deep-sea critter now gets millions of hits on internet searches for news sites, television reports, magazines, newspapers and blogs. Scientific American had a piece here.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Do biofuels really sequester carbon? Hawaii research says yes.

Biofuel is a kind of stepchild in the renewable energy discussions—on the grounds that it may not really reduce carbon emissions.

Is biofuel a pipe dream? Is it really superior to burning fossil fuels?

New Hawai`i research indicates that certain grassy biofuels do better than most people believed. 

Sure, some of the CO2 stored in the plants gets released when they are converted to energy, but some of it also stays in the soil—sequestered out of the atmosphere.

A group of researchers conducted two years of testing using sugar cane and napiergrass, under the title, Field-Based Estimates of Global Warming Potential in Bioenergy Systems of Hawaii: Crop Choice and Deficit Irrigation

Their work was published in PLOS One. The authors are Meghan N. Pawlowski, Susan E. Crow, Manyowa N. Meki, James R. Kiniry, Andrew D. Taylor, Richard Ogoshi, Adel Youkhana, and Mae Nakahata. The two lead authors are with the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawaii Mānoa.

They worked with napiergrass that was repeatedly harvested, and with sugar grown at Maui’s HC&S plantation—which ironically has now gone out of sugar production.

The crops were selected for having big, robust root systems, and being somewhat drought tolerant. And they worked with two irrigation systems—giving the crop 100 percent of what a plantation would normally provide, and depriving the plants of water with 50 percent irrigation.

“Deficit irrigation reduced yield, but increased soil (carbon) accumulation as proportionately more photosynthetic resources were allocated belowground,” the authors wrote.

But it’s all in how you manage the crop. 

“If inappropriately managed, the production of biofuel feedstocks could be a net contributor to greenhouse gas … emissions,” the authors wrote.

One key is that if you want to increase soil organic carbon (SOC), you harvest the crop above the soil line and leave the root mass in the ground. You keep harvesting the tops (ratoon harvesting, this is called) off the same root system.

Most sugar operations in Hawai`i in recent decades have pulled the roots out on a regular basis, reducing the carbon in the soil. A different cultivation plan would increase soil carbon, the authors found.

“Our results demonstrate the potential to sequester SOC in both of the sugarcane and napiergrass feedstock scenarios if conservation management practices, such as ratoon harvests and reduced tillage operations, are implemented,” they wrote.

(Here’s a 2012 Science Daily piece on using napiergrass as a biofuel.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017