The science of hangry

Loved this New Yorker post about the evolutionary benefits and costs of how hunger affects your brain:

Hunger makes Belgians less charitable, Israeli judges more draconian, and Ohioans likelier to stick pins into voodoo dolls that represent their spouses…

Hunger seems like a simple phenomenon: the stomach rumbles until it’s fed, then it’s quiet until it rumbles again. Why, then, does it shape so much behavior that, at least on the surface, has so little to do with food? …

These side effects of hunger—intensified awareness, greater persistence, bolder risk assessments—also exist in humans. Like walleye pollock, people seem to behave with a profitable recklessness when hungry. In a 2014 paper titled “Always Gamble on an Empty Stomach,” researchers at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands, found that hungry subjects fared significantly better on a psychological challenge called the Iowa Gambling Task than did subjects who had eaten Greek yogurt beforehand…

Of course, all the exquisite sensitivity and restless energy that hunger induces have a downside: crankiness. In 1946, a study known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment documented the powerful connection between hunger and anger—an early description of the mental state now popularly known as “hangry.” …

Most of the time, we can be glad that allaying our hunger no longer means prowling for wildebeests or foraging for berries. But the system that served our ancestors so well—that gave them the drive to hunt and the good sense to gather—turns out to be something of a liability in the modern world. An adaptation that’s useful on the savannah doesn’t necessarily help in the office cubicle or the dorm room. In places where food abounds, the hungry now prowl the department store and forage for binder clips, ready to snap until they get their cake.

Interesting stuff.  From what I can tell, I really don’t get too hangry (I wonder if that also means I have less of an alertness benefit), but I learned early in my marriage, do not let my wife get too hungry.

The health care “villains”? It’s the hospitals, not the insurers

Everybody loves to hate health insurance companies.  There are endless anecdotes about denying needed coverage and they aren’t the ones actually making us healthy– that’s the hospitals.  Thing is, it’s the hospitals that are the relative “villains” in our health care drama as they are the ones very much responsible for driving up the super-high prices that bedevil health care in this country.  Thus, a very nice piece from Reihan Salam that explains how it is that hospitals are able to so effectively drive up prices (for which we all pay one way or another):

As for why hospitals charge such high prices, it’s fairly simple: They do it because they can. In a competitive market, a provider who jacks up prices risks losing customers to competitors who charge less. But what if incumbent providers have the political muscle to keep competitors out of the market? What if regulators look the other way when incumbent providers buy up the competition, or even help the process along? That, in a nutshell, is the situation with America’s hospitals, as Chris Pope outlines in a recent Heritage Foundation paper onconsolidation in the health care market. Because most medical care is purchased not by consumers but by third parties, like Medicare and Medicaid or your insurance company, and because consumers rarely get access to reliable data on quality, they place an extremely high value on convenience. If you’re not saving money by shopping around for a better deal, and if you have no idea if you’re getting better care, you might as well go to the hospital closest to you. Hospitals that don’t face competition from other nearby hospitals thus have a huge amount of power in their local markets. If a private insurer refuses to pay a hospital’s exorbitant prices, a hospital can just walk and wait for the insurer’s customers to scream bloody murder over the fact that they can’t use their local hospital.

Bummer.  And if you are counting on politicians to save us, think again:

Forget about big cities—there is a hospital in every congressional district in America, and local hospitals are often among the largest employers in the district. One of the reasons President Clinton’s 1993 health reform effort failed is that he never won over the hospital lobby. President Obama learned from the Clinton debacle; hospitals were among his most important allies. Republicans get in on the act too. Right now, for example, a number of GOP lawmakers are pushing a Medicare “reform” that guarantees higher payments to doctors and hospitals today in exchange for the promise of spending reductions a decade or two from now. Good luck with that.
You can hardly blame them though. The health sector employs more than a tenth of all U.S. workers, most of whom are working- and middle-class people who serve as human shields for those who profit most from America’s obscenely high medical prices and an epidemic of overtreatment. If you aim for the crooks responsible for bleeding us dry, you risk hitting the nurses, technicians, and orderlies they employ. This is why politicians are so quick to bash insurers while catering to the powerful hospital systems, which dictate terms to insurers and have mastered the art of gaming Medicare and Medicaid to their advantage. Whether you’re for Obamacare or against it, you can’t afford to ignore the fact that America’s hospitals have become predatory monopolies. We have to break them before they break us.  [emphasis mine]
Hmmmm.  How do you break government monopolies.  Can you say, “government regulation”?  Of course, Salam is actually a “reform conservative” so he’s not about to openly admit government is the solution:

Curbing the power of the big hospitals isn’t a left-wing or a right-wing issue. Getting this right will make solving all of our health care woes much easier, regardless of where you fall on the wisdom of Obamacare. Let’s get to it.

Of course this is a left vs. right issue.  Who does Salam think will curb the power of the big hospitals?  A groundswell of populist revolt?  No.  Government.  When you look at all those modern democracy health systems that out-perform us, every last one does so, in part, by relying upon government to help keep prices down.  Until we make a serious effort at doing the same (the ACA is a partial effort) we are going to continue to be bankrupted by health care prices.

Death panels live

Great piece in Vox today about public opinion on the Affordable Care Act five years after it’s passage.  Not suprisingly, misinformation/misunderstanding was far more common among Republicans (Fox News anyone?).  For example, many (and sadly many Democrats, too) still even believe in “death panels”

And here’s another whole chart of wrongness:

floating chart

If there’s any area of consensus, it’s in misperceptions of the law: 82 percent of Americans either say the price tag has gone up, or aren’t sure (the law’s price has actually decreased as compared with initial estimates), and only 13 percent know the law met its first-year enrollment goals.

The good news?  Some truth is getting through:

Obamacare’s insurance expansion arguably has three really important policies: the end of preexisting conditions, a mandate to purchase insurance, and subsidies to help low- and middle-income Americans purchase coverage.

The Vox poll shows that a majority of Americans know about these three parts of the health-care law. Three-quarters of Americans know there is a mandate to buy insurance in Obamacare; 64 percent are aware that preexisting conditions no longer exist; and a slim majority, 54 percent, know about the financial help now available to buy a plan.

Awareness levels are similar among Democrats and Republicans, suggesting that some facts about the health-care law have broken through — even if they’re not swaying how voters think about the law.

This article points out, that perhaps the most important misperception, though, is in costs, where there is massive misperception:

Forty-two percent of Americans think Obamacare has gotten more expensive over the past five years. Only 5 percent of poll respondents hit on the right answer: budget estimates for the Affordable Care Act have consistently fallen since it became a law.

Make no mistake: Obamacare spends a lot of money on its tax credits and Medicaid expansion. It recoups some, but not all, of that new spending with hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicare cuts, which reduce federal health spending. The bulk of the remainder is made up with tax increases. But back when the law was passing, Republicans argued up, down, and sideways that the Congressional Budget Office was sharply underestimating the amount of money Obamacare spends.

The big problem for Democrats is that they thought that once the law was actually in operation and working, Americans would come around.  Alas, it has remained politicized to an absurd degree (40+ votes for repeal, anyone), making it hard for a lot of the truth and successes to make it through to the public.  Frustrating, but the truly good news is that the law is actually working better than expected and a lot more people are getting a lot more needed health care.

Quick hits (part II)

1) The Republican Senate’s delay on confirming Lorretta Lynch for Attorney General is literally historic in its wrongness.

2) There’s new research that says, no, it’s actually liberals who are happier, not conservatives.  When actually reading about it, I find it entirely unconvincing.

3) Help an NCSU professor do some cool citizen science on heartbeats.

4) Loved this history of the origins of Mad Men (my co-favorite show ever, with The Wire).

5) The good news on Obamacare just keeps coming.

6) The real story of the Irish famine and exodus.  It’s not just the potato blight, but why that was so deadly.

7) Good to know that racism in America is over and the only problem is Democrats spreading “phony racial narratives.”  Or so says old white guy who happens to be a US Senator.

8) Lincoln Peirce, creator of Big Nate comics, came to my son’s elementary school last week.  My son loves Big Nate books and Wimpy Kid books head-and-shoulders above any others.  I really enjoyed reading about the connection between these two authors.

9) So, apparently contestants on the Bachelor(ette) are basically not allowed to have any access to the outside world:

Contestants can’t have cell phones, use the internet, watch movies, or even read books, so they have no choice but to talk to each other, and to stew about their feelings for their Bachelor or Bachelorette, the object of their competitive affection.

That’s like being in solitary confinement, but with other people.  As if there weren’t enough problems with it, I have to wonder what kind of person would subject themselves to such conditions.  No books even??!!

10) Read a lot of good stuff on Robert “Bowling Alone” Putnam’s new book about poverty in America.  It’s important stuff.  Here’s a nice summary.

11) There’s been a lively debate among academics about the group-based nature of the Democratic versus Republican parties. Seth Masket does a nice job summarizing the issues and splitting the baby.

12) How climate change denying scientists are much like scientists of 50 years ago who tried to convince people that cigarettes are harmless.

13) Love my cereal for breakfast.  Thus, loved this Wonkblog post on the most popular cereals.

14) One of my students/advisees with no prior experience with animation software, made this awesome video on redistricting in NC.

15) What happens to a Texas prosecutor who gets a man put to death based on false testimony?  You know– nothing.

16) Speaking of Texas “justice,” Dahlia Lithwick writes

Last week I wrote about thesuspension of David Dow, one of the country’s most prominent capital defense attorneys. He was benched for an entire year by Texas’ Court of Criminal Appeals—the state’s highest criminal appeals court—for allegedly filing a late petition in a death penalty case. The sanction was doubly bonkers, I argued, because other death penalty lawyers never seem to be sanctioned for sleeping, drinking, or otherwise rendering themselves incompetent at trial. In any event, Dow was barred from appearing before the CCA for 12 months. Which means that his death row clients—whom he represents pro bono, and who may not find other lawyers to do so—literally have their lives on the line because a motion may or may not have been filed a few hours late. Or, as one lawyer quipped after the piece was posted: “Apparently Texas finally found one lawyer to be incompetent: the one who is actually good at his job.”

 

Quick hits (part I)

So, this was supposed to be last week’s quick hits part II and then I was going to do a mid-week quick hits, but whatever, here it is.

1) Are we teaching our children that there are no moral facts?

2) On a similar note, great Lawrence Krauss piece on the importance of teaching doubt and skepticism:

One thing is certain: if our educational system does not honestly and explicitly promote the central tenet of science—that nothing is sacred—then we encourage myth and prejudice to endure. We need to equip our children with tools to avoid the mistakes of the past while constructing a better, and more sustainable, world for themselves and future generations. We won’t do that by dodging inevitable and important questions about facts and faith. Instead of punting on those questions, we owe it to the next generation to plant the seeds of doubt.

3) Do parents create narcissists by praising too much?  Maybe.  I like how the research makes an important conceptual and measurement distinction between narcissism and self esteem:

Of course, self-esteem and narcissism are two very different things. The difference has to do with how you value yourself compared to other people. “Self-esteem basically means you’re a person of worth equal with other people,” Bushman tells Shots. “Narcissism means you think you’re better than other people.”

4) Josh Barro writes about Marco Rubio’s “puppies and rainbows” tax plan.  I think that about gets it.

5) Love the Vox guide to using science to win at rock, paper, scissors.

6) NYT and Deadspin on what’s wrong with the Blurred Lines copyright ruling.  After listening to the two songs, I’ve got to agree (unlike that guy where I was like, “he totally stole ‘Won’t back down’ and just made it slower.”

7) Pi, primes, and cryptography.

8) The world’s most painful insect sting.  No thanks.

9) Synthetic genes in place of vaccines?  Just maybe.

10) Somehow, I had missed John Oliver on Ayn Rand.  As good as you would expect.

11) The really cool part of Apple’s latest product announcement is actually their battery innovations.

12) Time to end the ethanol rip-off.  Indeed.

13) Companies are doing a lot less screening of employees for drug use because– surprise, surprise– it doesn’t really work in improving workplace safety or productivity.

14) So, all this oil we are now shipping throughout the country by railroad.  The infrastructure is simply not meant for it and it is thus a very dangerous and bad idea.  Of course, we’re doing a ton of it anyway.

15) Advice to the unmarried: don’t spend so damn much on your wedding.  It’s crazy how much Americans now spend on weddings.  You know what matters?  That you have a good enough party with your family, friends, loved ones about you.  Nobody remembers how fancy the venue or the food or whatever is.  Just have a good time and save  your money.

16) Yes, a movie with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence did just go straight to video.  I had no idea.  That said, this is one of those rare books that I finished that I should have just given up on.

17) So, the estrogen replacement Premarin is still made from the urine of female horses.  It’s no fun for the horses, but this system makes the manufacturer way more money.

18) Safe to say if General Petraeus had been an enlisted soldier, he would not have gotten off so easily.

19) I gave up on Stephen Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature, in part, because I was pretty well persuaded by his case and felt like I was getting beaten over the head with it.  Sure you need good data, but you also need to make it a good story.  Anyway, according to this essay in the Guardian, Pinker is wrong and humans have not become dramatically less violent.

20) The case for free range parenting from a German parent who has moved to America.  Why do we have to be so uniquely dumb and paranoid in this country?!

21) A fascinating case of evolution in California Scrub Jays that calls into question just exactly what it means to be a species and our understandings of how speciation happens.  Good stuff.

Touch me!

Great Maria Konnikova post on the power of touch.  Lots of really interesting research, but this was struck me as particularly compelling:

In fact, though, researchers have discovered that touch need not be social to be effective. In her more than thirty years of research on touch, Tiffany Field, the head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, has sought repeatedly to disentangle the two. In one series of studies, one group of elderly participants received regular, conversation-filled social visits while another received social visits that also included massage; the second group saw emotional and cognitive benefits over and above those of the first. Field has found similar gains in both premature and full-term infants, pregnant women, children and adults with chronic pain conditions or emotional problems, and healthy adults. Even short bursts of touch—as little as fifteen minutes in the evening, in one of her studies—not only enhance growth and weight gain in children but also lead to emotional, physical, and cognitive improvements in adults. Touch itself appears to stimulate our bodies to react in very specific ways. The right kind can lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels, stimulate the hippocampus (an area of the brain that is central to memory), and drive the release of a host of hormones and neuropeptides that have been linked to positive and uplifting emotions. The physical effects of touch are far-reaching.  [emphasis mine]

Lots more interesting stuff in the piece.  As for me, I should be healthy as can be.  All my kids are what is referred to as “sensory-seeking” and always wanting hugs, sitting on laps, wrestling on the bed, etc.  In fact, my poor wife who can only take so much touch, gets burned out from it (in fairness, I love touch, but there’s only so much I can take of Sarah squirming all over me).  I’m sure I’m going to miss it when all the kiddos leave the house some day.

I also remember how when I first got to college, I pretty much touched nobody except for the occassional handshake. 18-year old guys just don’t do a lot of casual touching of each other.  I was fortunate, though, to have a friend who recognized the power of a good hug, societal conceptions of masculinity be damned.

Anyway, go get some touch.

Quick hits

Sorry to be a day late.  Went to the ACC tournament three days in a row and it really threw me off.  Anyway.

1) Forget critical thinking and fancy software, the key to success is Microsoft Excel.

2) Despite the fact that we have way too many people in prison, it was harder than I expected to cut the prison population 50% with this very cool interactive feature.

3) The evidence for the success of Obamacare just keeps accumulating.  The latest budget estimates look great.

4) Mentally ill black man with a knife, watch out.  But it’s an amazing what a white guy with a gun can get away with in a police confrontation.

5) Some evidence from the US Senate that the tide is turning on more sensible marijuana legislation.

6) Found this video on addiction featuring a kiwi bird really, really compelling.

7) I loved this essay on the awesomeness of Pi, for yesterday’s Pi day.

8) Did North Georgia fire a professor just for being rude?

9) You remember that awful USDA animal research facility in Nebraska.  Looks like there’s going to be some more oversight now.  Yeah, journalism!

10) Either computers are really good at writing poetry, or poetry is just too easy to imitate.  Interesting either way.

11) The state of New York has decided that any school in the bottom 5% is “failing” no matter what.  If you actually know math, you realize that’s nuts.  Might as well decide no schools will be below average.

12) Forget asteroids, apparently it’s the massive solar flares that may ruin things for all of us.

13) Pretty fascinated by this treatment to literally freeze your scalp to help prevent hair loss from chemo.

14) Some nice evidence on how welfare really matters.

15) Most people (including me) are not that impressed by the new Apple Watch.  Tim Lee points out that the first PC’s and smartphones received skeptical reviews.  (Of course, I’m sure that skepticism proved apt for many a product).

16) Loved Jon Stewart on the OU racist fraternity.  But especially on how Fox News somehow felt that even this they had to defend.

17) We should probably do a lot more to actually ensure that police know the laws they are supposed to be enforcing.

18) Really liked Amy Davidson’s take on Tom Cotton’s Iran letter.

19) What Obama got wrong in his Selma speech:

But he’s wrong if he thinks Ferguson doesn’t represent a larger “endemic” problem that is “sanctioned by law and custom.”

If there’s one takeaway from Ferguson—and the takeaways are legion—it is that the law is stacked against ordinary citizens. That police are largely shielded from liability when a life is taken. That the Supreme Court has a tendency to give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. That prosecutors can use and abuse the grand jury processto fit their needs. That the bar for bringing a civil rights prosecution against a cop is almost insurmountable. That constitutional rights, in the face of state violence and oppression, are anything but enforceable.

20) NC Republicans like to brag about the huge tax cut they provided.  Yes, the state is taking in less dollars, but many taxpayers, especially elderly with significant medical expenses are paying more.  But hey, at least rich people can get more luxury options on their new Mercedes now.

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