Friday, October 18, 2013
So sorry to learn the news that my former colleague from Manchester University and friend Norm Geras has died. Norm will be sadly missed. The Guardian reports here.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Health Affairs Article on Age Retardation
The Oct 2013 issue of Health Affairs has this important article which is worth noting. Here is the abstract:
Recent scientific advances suggest that slowing the aging process (senescence) is now a realistic goal. Yet most medical research remains focused on combating individual diseases. Using the Future Elderly Model—a microsimulation of the future health and spending of older Americans—we compared optimistic “disease specific” scenarios with a hypothetical “delayed aging” scenario in terms of the scenarios’ impact on longevity, disability, and major entitlement program costs. Delayed aging could increase life expectancy by an additional 2.2 years, most of which would be spent in good health. The economic value of delayed aging is estimated to be $7.1 trillion over fifty years. In contrast, addressing heart disease and cancer separately would yield diminishing improvements in health and longevity by 2060—mainly due to competing risks. Delayed aging would greatly increase entitlement outlays, especially for Social Security. However, these changes could be offset by increasing the Medicare eligibility age and the normal retirement age for Social Security. Overall, greater investment in research to delay aging appears to be a highly efficient way to forestall disease, extend healthy life, and improve public health.
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
International Day of Older Persons
Today is the International Day of Older Persons. I re-post the video above to mark the occasion.
Sunday, September 01, 2013
Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics Paper Now Out in Print
My paper "Normative Theorizing about Genetics" is now out in the latest issue of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics.
A sample from the paper:
A sample from the paper:
Genes are special, from the perspective of theorizing about justice, because they (1) have been neglected in our normative theorizing (and thus warrant special attention to redress this neglect so that we are better prepared to fairly regulate new genetic technologies), (2)are unique resources and thus require the normative theorist to develop a skill set that is unique from the skills required for tackling the distribution of external resources like wealth, and (3) play an important role in the development of a wide range of valued phenotypes.
....First, the role genes play in the development of important phenotypes (like health and intelligence) has largely been ignored by theories of distributive justice. Historically this neglect was unproblematic, as the prospect of genetic intervention seemed mere science fiction. But now these technologies have become a reality. So in one important sense genes are special in that they, unlike the distribution of wealth and income, have been ignored in our normative theorizing. In order to develop a more balanced account of justice, one that gives attention to both the genetic and the environmental factors that influence the natural primary goods, we need to make genes special in our normative theorizing. Without doing this, we are unlikely to redress this deficiency in our theories of justice, and we thus risk jeopardizing a just regulation of genetic technologies. We cannot simply take theories of justice that have been designed with the distribution of wealth and income in mind and add genetics (what I referred to earlier as the “add genetics and stir” approach). Taking human biology seriously will require us to rethink, at a foundational level, what the demands of justice are.
....A second reason why genetics are special is that they are what we might call unique resources, and as such they require special attention from normative theorists. The genes we possess are the product of the evolutionary history of life on this planet, and they are an integral part of our biology. Genes are not distributed like wealth and income. The latter are primarily influenced by the political economy of society. The levels and kinds of taxation that a market-based economy implements, for example, will largely determine what the pattern of socioeconomic goods is in a society (e.g., equality or inequality). In the case of natural endowments, the pattern of genetic endowments that arises in any given society will be mostly influenced by (1) the evolutionary history of the human species, (2) the reproductive decisions of the members of the society in question, and (3) environment, as revealed through the recent findings of epigenetics.
....This leads to the third, and perhaps most important and obvious, reason why genes are special—they can have a profound impact on our life prospects. Inheriting the gene for a single-gene disorder, for example, can severely limit the expected lifetime acquisition of health and intelligence. If you are born with infantile Tay-Sachs, you will most likely die by five years of age. If you are born with a mutation of the FMR1 gene and develop fragile X syndrome, you may develop learning disabilities or even suffer mental impairment. So the genes you inherit can increase your risk of disease, disability, and death. Some people actually inherit genes that make it possible for them to enjoy significantly more years of health than the average person. Recent studies of centenarians and supercentenarians (those who live to 110 years or more) and the impact of “longevity genes” suggests
that there is a significant genetic component at play in healthy aging.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Pinker on Science and the Humanities
I greatly admire the work of Steven Pinker. And his latest piece in the New Republic on science and the humanities is outstanding. So many aspects of the piece resonate with me as a scholar trained in the humanities/social sciences, who aspires to be informed by, and engage with, the natural sciences (see the video above for my latest views on this topic).
A sample of some of my favourite excerpts from Pinker's article:
The great thinkers of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment were scientists. Not only did many of them contribute to mathematics, physics, and physiology, but all of them were avid theorists in the sciences of human nature. They were cognitive neuroscientists, who tried to explain thought and emotion in terms of physical mechanisms of the nervous system. They were evolutionary psychologists, who speculated on life in a state of nature and on animal instincts that are “infused into our bosoms.” And they were social psychologists, who wrote of the moral sentiments that draw us together, the selfish passions that inflame us, and the foibles of shortsightedness that frustrate our best-laid plans.Any my central pedagogical aspiration is to redress the problem Pinker notes here:
.... We have the works of the great thinkers and their heirs, and we have scientific knowledge they could not have dreamed of. This is an extraordinary time for the understanding of the human condition. Intellectual problems from antiquity are being illuminated by insights from the sciences of mind, brain, genes, and evolution. Powerful tools have been developed to explore them, from genetically engineered neurons that can be controlled with pinpoints of light to the mining of “big data” as a means of understanding how ideas propagate.
One would think that writers in the humanities would be delighted and energized by the efflorescence of new ideas from the sciences. But one would be wrong. Though everyone endorses science when it can cure disease, monitor the environment, or bash political opponents, the intrusion of science into the territories of the humanities has been deeply resented.
....It is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities; the promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them.
....In which ways, then, does science illuminate human affairs? Let me start with the most ambitious: the deepest questions about who we are, where we came from, and how we define the meaning and purpose of our lives.
....the findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken. We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree that embraces all living things and that emerged from prebiotic chemicals almost four billion years ago. We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes. We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small. We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are. And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.
....And contrary to the widespread canard that technology has created a dystopia of deprivation and violence, every global measure of human flourishing is on the rise. The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty, a steadily growing proportion of humanity is surviving the first year of life, going to school, voting in democracies, living in peace, communicating on cell phones, enjoying small luxuries, and surviving to old age.
Though science is beneficially embedded in our material, moral, and intellectual lives, many of our cultural institutions, including the liberal arts programs of many universities, cultivate a philistine indifference to science that shades into contempt. Students can graduate from elite colleges with a trifling exposure to science.And the piece concludes:
If anything is naïve and simplistic, it is the conviction that the legacy silos of academia should be fortified and that we should be forever content with current ways of making sense of the world. Surely our conceptions of politics, culture, and morality have much to learn from our best understanding of the physical universe and of our makeup as a species.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Jewel Performs in Disguise at Karaoke
Jewel is one my favourite musicians (I saw her perform at Bristol in 1998(?)). The video above of her performing in disguise at a karaoke bar is great. I thought I would share it here.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Metformin Improves Healthspan and Lifespan in Mice
This study in Nature Communications on the effects metformin has on the healthspan and lifespan of mice is worth noting as another potential intervention in retarding the rate of biological aging.
Metformin is a drug commonly prescribed to treat patients with type 2 diabetes. Here we show that long-term treatment with metformin (0.1% w/w in diet) starting at middle age extends healthspan and lifespan in male mice, while a higher dose (1% w/w) was toxic. Treatment with metformin mimics some of the benefits of calorie restriction, such as improved physical performance, increased insulin sensitivity, and reduced low-density lipoprotein and cholesterol levels without a decrease in caloric intake. At a molecular level, metformin increases AMP-activated protein kinase activity and increases antioxidant protection, resulting in reductions in both oxidative damage accumulation and chronic inflammation. Our results indicate that these actions may contribute to the beneficial effects of metformin on healthspan and lifespan. These findings are in agreement with current epidemiological data and raise the possibility of metformin-based interventions to promote healthy aging.