Breaking Bad shows we’re getting smarter

Loved this bit from a recent Ezra Klein interview with Bill Gates:

Ezra Klein: Before we go on to disease, I want to ask you about something implicit in the vision you just laid out. You talked about how a lot of these products are of incredible, incredible utility to the motivated. Kevin Drum, who writes for Mother Jones, has a line I’ve always thought was interesting, which is that the internet makes dumb people dumber, and smart people smarter. Do you worry about the possibility that the vast resources the internet gives the motivated, including online education, will give rise to a big increase in, for lack of a better term, cognitive or knowledge inequality that leads to further rises in global inequality?

Bill Gates: Well, you always have the challenge that when you create a tool to make activity X easier, like the internet makes it easier to find out facts or to learn new things, that there are some outliers who use that thing extremely well. It’s way easier to be polymathic today than it was in the past because your access to materials and your ability if you ever get stuck to find people that you can engage with is so strong.

But to say that there’s actually some negative side, that there actually will be people that are dumber, I disagree with that. I mean, I’m as upset as anyone at the wrong stuff about vaccination that’s out there on the internet that actually confuses some small number of people. There’s a communications challenge to get past.

But look at IQ test capability over time. Or even take a TV show today and how complex it is — that’s responding to the marketplace. You take Breaking Bad versus, I don’t know, Leave it to Beaver, or Combat!, or The Wild, Wild West. You know, yeah, take Combat! because that was sort of pushing the edge of should kids be allowed to watch it.  [emphasis mine]

Now there’s an interesting research hypothesis– the complexity of popular television as a metric of a society’s intellect.  I do love his reference to the Flynn effect.

Photo of the day

From a “bird’s eye view” themed gallery at Big Picture:

Fireworks illuminate the sky above Munich, Germany early January 1, 2015. (Peter Kneffel/EPA)

Big government and bureaucracy are bad (except for national security)

Really enjoyed this NYT review of a new book from a Guantanamo prisoner.  This was definitely my favorite part:

But another overwhelming impression from his book, published after a seven-year legal battle and with heavy redactions from military censors, is of the woeful incompetence of some of the government’s efforts to keep the country safe from terrorism. That is no surprise to students of bureaucracy. When it comes to the military and intelligence agencies, however, secrecy makes blunders far easier to hide, and outspoken foes of big government give it a pass as soon as fears of terrorism are invoked.

Lots of other good stuff, too, for example:

The torture methods approved for Mr. Slahi, for instance, mimicked those used by America’s Communist adversaries in the Cold War, which were famous for producing false confessions. Predictably, Mr. Slahi describes how, desperate to stop the brutal treatment, he finally decided to tell the interrogators whatever he thought they wanted to hear, fabricating plots and implicating others in nonexistent crimes. Some interrogators, though, doubted his confessions and asked for a polygraph test. He denied plotting terrorism or supporting Al Qaeda, and the test results variously showed “no deception” or “no opinion,” undermining his supposed admissions.

Even the book’s redactions are a tedious reminder of the government’s frequent haplessness. Much black ink was expended, for instance, to try to keep readers from learning that some of Mr. Slahi’s Guantánamo interrogators were women. Why the censors decided their gender should be secret is anybody’s guess. Still, they missed enough feminine pronouns that their efforts at cover-up were undone.

Don’t think I’ll actually be reading this book, but damn if our Gunatanamo policy isn’t a failure on pretty much every moral and practical level.

Have you exercised yet today?

Well, if you have, and you haven’t eaten breakfast yet, there’s a good chance that’s helping keep you slim.  NYT just ran a column based upon some 2010 research I had not heard of before:

You might try setting your wake-up alarm earlier and exercising before breakfast. There is some evidence that working out on a completely empty stomach — or, as scientists call this woozy, wee-hours condition, “in a fasted state” — prompts the body to burn more fat and potentially stave off weight gain, compared to exercising at other times.

In a groundbreaking 2010 study, researchers in Belgium persuaded young, healthy men to stuff themselves for six weeks with a diet consisting of 30 percent more calories and 50 percent more fat than the men had been eating. Some of the volunteers remained sedentary while gorging. Others began a strenuous, midmorning exercise routine after they had had breakfast. The third group followed the same workout regimen, but before they had eaten anything.

At the end of the six weeks, the sedentary group predictably was supersized and unhealthy, having gained about six pounds each. They had also developed insulin resistance and larded their muscles with new fat cells. The men who exercised after breakfast had also packed on pounds, about three pounds each, and developed insulin problems. But the men who had exercised first thing in the morning, before eating anything, had gained almost no weight and retained healthy insulin levels. Their bodies were also burning more fat throughout the day than were the other men.

Of course, the early-morning exercise prevented weight gain, which is not the same thing as inducing weight loss. But the results are encouraging for those who hope to shave off a few pounds, said Peter Hespel, a professor in the Research Center for Exercise and Health at Catholic University Leuven in Belgium and the study author.

The whole study is available on-line, but unless I’m missing something, it does not actually say how early the exercise occurred.  I’m also surprised and disappointed there has not apparently been further research on this (or maybe it failed– damn publication bias).  Personally, I really cannot imagine myself ever exercising on a regular basis before 9am.  If you’ve got to work out at 6 or 7, this will never happen for me.  But it if is simply just a matter of postponing breakfast, I’ll happily workout at 9 and defer breakfast till 10.  Seems like that’s the sort of thing researchers should have tried to find out.  Most notably, did they never actually try this with a reasonable calorie diet to see if it did, in fact, lead to weight loss?!

On a related note, potentially another advantage of a late breakfast is keeping your daily eating within a 12 hour window.  Works for mice:

For the new study, which appeared in the journal Cell Metabolism in December, Salk scientists fed groups of adult males one of four diets: high-fat, high-fructose, high-fat and high-sucrose, and regular mouse kibble. Some of the mice in each dietary group were allowed to eat whenever they wanted throughout their waking hours; others were restricted to feeding periods of nine, 12 or 15 hours. The caloric intake for all the mice was the same.

Over the course of the 38-week experiment, some of the mice in the time-restricted groups were allowed to cheat on weekends and eat whenever they chose. A few of the eat-anytime mice were shifted to the restricted windows midway through the study.

By the end, the mice eating at all hours were generally obese and metabolically ill, reproducing the results of the earlier study. But those mice that ate within a nine- or 12-hour window remained sleek and healthy, even if they cheated occasionally on weekends. What’s more, mice that were switched out of an eat-anytime schedule lost some of the weight they had gained.

Intriguing.  I currently eat over about 14-15 hours and really love having a healthy fruit snack (pineapple or an apple) a couple hours after dinner.  I’d hate to give that up, but I suppose I would just have it with dinner and potentially be healthier.  Still, I think I’ll wait for human trials.

Anyway, one of these days we’ll figure out some cool shortcuts to losing weight that don’t tax my willpower so damn much.

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