What We Know About Why Some People Never Get Covid 19

Americans who haven’t had covid-19 are now officially in the minority. A study published this week from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 58% of randomly selected blood samples from adults contained antibodies indicating that they had previously been infected with the virus; among children, that rate was 75%.

What is different about that minority of people that hasn’t yet gotten infected? Stories abound of close calls, of situations where people are sure they could have (or should have) gotten sick, but somehow dodged infection. Not all the questions are answered yet, but the question of what distinguishes the never-covid cohort is a growing area of research even as the US moves “out of the full-blown” pandemic. Here are the possibilities that scientists are considering to explain why some people haven’t contracted the virus.

They behave differently

We’ve seen it play out time and time again—some people adhere more strictly to protocols known to reduce transmission of the virus, including wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. Some people avoid large public settings and may have even been doing so before the pandemic, says Nicholas Pullen, a biology professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Then again, that doesn’t tell the whole story; as Pullen himself notes: “Ironically, I happen to be one of those ‘never COVIDers’ and I teach in huge classrooms!”

They’ve trained their immune systems

The immune system, as any immunologist or allergist can tell you, is complicated. Though vaccination against covid-19 can make symptoms more mild for some people, it can prevent others from contracting the illness altogether.

Growing evidence suggests that there may be other ways that people are protected against the virus even without specific vaccines against it. Some could have previously been infected with other coronaviruses, which may allow their immune systems to remember and fight similarly shaped viruses. Another study suggests that strong defenses in the innate immune system, barriers and other processes that prevent pathogens from infecting a person’s body, may also prevent infection.

An innate immune system that’s already not functioning as well due to other medical conditions or lifestyle factors such as sleep or diet may put a person at higher risk of getting sick from a pathogen. There’s not single answer here yet, but initial studies are intriguing and may offer avenues for future treatments for covid-19 and other conditions.

They’re genetically different

In the past, studies have found interesting associations between certain genetic variants and people’s susceptibility to communicable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and the flu. Naturally, researchers wondered if such a variant could exist for covid-19. One June 2021 study that was not peer reviewed found an association between a genetic variant and lower risk of contracting covid-19; another large-scale study, focused on couples in which one person got sick while the other didn’t, kicked off in Oct. 2021.

“My speculation is that something will be borne out there, because it has been well observed that resistance embedded in genetic variation is selected in pandemics,” Pullen says. But most experts suspect that even if they are able to identify such a variant with some certainty, it’s likely to be rare. For now, it’s best for those who haven’t gotten covid to assume they’re as susceptible as anyone else. Whatever the reasons some people haven’t yet gotten sick, the best defense remains staying up to date with vaccinations and avoiding contact with the virus.

Source: What we know about why some people never get covid-19 — Quartz

“Being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t always result in infection, and we’ve been keen to understand why,” study author Rhia Kundu said in a statement, using the scientific name for the coronavirus. “We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection.”

The study, which examined 52 people who lived with someone who contracted the coronavirus, found that those who didn’t get infected had significantly higher levels of T cells from previous common cold coronavirus infections. T cells are part of the immune system and believed to protect the body from infection. “Our study provides the clearest evidence to date that T cells induced by common cold coronaviruses play a protective role against SARS-CoV-2 infection,” study author Ajit Lalvani said in a statement.

Researchers cautioned that the findings should not be relied upon as a protection strategy. “While this is an important discovery, it is only one form of protection, and I would stress that no one should rely on this alone,” Kundu said. “Instead, the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 is to be fully vaccinated, including getting your booster dose.” And the findings on the subject have been inconsistent, with other studies actually suggesting that previous infection with some coronaviruses have the opposite effect.

A major question that has come from the so-called ‘never COVID’ group is whether genetics plays a role in preventing infection. In fact, the question has spurred a team of international researchers to look for people who are genetically resistant to COVID-19 in the hopes that their findings could improve therapeutics. “What we are doing essentially is that we are testing the hypothesis that some people might not be able to get infected because of their genetic and inborn makeup, meaning that they might be genetically resistant to COVID,” says Spaan, who is a member of the COVID Human Genetic Effort.

The effort has sequenced genetic data from about 700 individuals so far, but enrollment is ongoing and researchers have received thousands of inquiries, according to Spaan. The study has several criteria, including laboratory test confirmation that the person has not had previous COVID-19 infection, intense exposure to the virus without access to personal protective equipment like masks and an unvaccinated status at the time of exposure, among others. So far, the group doesn’t know what the genetic difference could be – or if it even exists at all, though they believe it does.

“We do not know how frequent it is actually occurring,” Spaan says. “Is it like a super rare individual with a very, very rare mutation? Or is that something more common?” But the hypothesis is “embedded in human history,” according to Spaan. “COVID is not quite the first pandemic that we are dealing with,” Spaan says. “Humans have been exposed to viruses and other pathogens across time from the early beginning, and these infections have left an imprint on our genetic makeup.”

Those who haven’t gotten the coronavirus are “very much at risk,” says Murphy of Northwestern University. “I think every unvaccinated person is going to get it before this is over.” Experts stressed that research to determine why some people get COVID-19 while others don’t is still very much underway, and no one should rely on any of the hypotheses for protection. Instead, those who haven’t gotten the coronavirus should continue mitigation measures that have been proven to work, like vaccination and mask-wearing.

“You don’t ever want to have COVID,” Murphy says. “You just don’t know which people are going to get really sick from this and die or who’s going to get long COVID, which is hard to diagnose and difficult to treat and very real.” But with coronavirus cases on the rise and mitigation measures like mask mandates dropping left and right, it’s not an easy task.

COVID19: Face masks could return as cases spike Financial Mirror

06:48 Tue, 21 Jun
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Social Media Break Can Significantly Improve Mental Health

A social media break could significantly improve overall well-being and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to a new study from the University of Bath.

The researchers examined the mental health effects of stepping away from social media for one week. For some participants, the break freed up about nine hours that they would have normally spent on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

“Social media (SM) has revolutionized how we communicate with each other, allowing users to interact with friends and family and meet others based on shared interests by creating virtual public profiles,” wrote the study authors. “In the United Kingdom, the number of adults using SM has increased from 45 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2021.”

The researchers noted that previous studies have found negative relationships between social media use and various mental health indices. For example, a study of US adults showed that participants who used social media the most frequently had much greater odds of suffering from depression.

To investigate the benefits of a social media break, the researchers focused on people between the ages of 18 and 72 who used social media every day. The individuals were randomly assigned to either stop using social media platforms altogether for seven days or to continue their social media engagement as usual.

At the beginning of the study, the participants had reported spending an average of eight hours per week on social media. Those who took a break showed significant improvements in well-being, depression, and anxiety.

“Scrolling social media is so ubiquitous that many of us do it almost without thinking from the moment we wake up to when we close our eyes at night,” said lead researcher Dr. Jeff Lambert.

“We know that social media usage is huge and that there are increasing concerns about its mental health effects, so with this study, we wanted to see whether simply asking people to take a week’s break could yield mental health benefits.”

“Many of our participants reported positive effects from being off social media with improved mood and less anxiety overall. This suggests that even just a small break can have an impact.”

“Of course, social media is a part of life and for many people, it’s an indispensable part of who they are and how they interact with others. But if you are spending hours each week scrolling and you feel it is negatively impacting you, it could be worth cutting down on your usage to see if it helps.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

Source: Social media break can significantly improve mental health • Earth.com



By: Zia Sherrell

Social media has associations with depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation, particularly among heavy users. A 2015 Common Sense survey found that teenagers may spend as much as 9 hours of each day online. Many of these individuals are themselves concerned that they spend too much time browsing social networks. This wave of concern suggests that social media could affect the mental health of its users.

The researchers behind a 2017 Canadian study confirmed this finding. They noted that students who use social media for more than 2 hours daily are considerably more likely to rate their mental health as fair or poor than occasional users. A 2019 studyTrusted Source tied social media use to disrupted and delayed sleep. Regular, high quality sleep is essential for well-being, and evidence shows that sleeping problems contribute to adverse mental health effects, such as depression and memory loss.

Aside from the adverse effects on sleep, social media may trigger mental health struggles by exposing individuals to cyberbullying. In a 2020 survey of more than 6,000 individuals aged 10–18 years, researchers found that about half of them had experienced cyberbullying. One of the downsides of social media platforms is that they give individuals the opportunity to start or spread harmful rumors and use abusive words that can leave people with lasting emotional scars.

Although social media may not play a role in each of these incidences, the time frame correlates with the growing use of these platforms. A 2021 study confirms this effect. The researchers reported that while social media use had a minimal impact on boys’ risk of suicide, girls who used social media for at least 2 hours each day from the age of 13 years had a higher clinical risk of suicide as adults. Furthermore, findings from a population-based study show a decline in mental health in the U.S., with a 37% increase in the likelihood of major depressive episodes among adolescents.

A 2019 studyTrusted Source suggested that teenagers who use social media for more than 3 hours daily are more likely to experience mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, aggression, and antisocial behavior.

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The World’s Lead Exposure Crisis Explained

Starting in 2014, the impoverished city of Flint, Michigan, experienced the highest-profile lead exposure crisis in recent American history. Lead levels in Flint’s children spiked after the city failed to properly treat a new water source. Eventually, the state of Michigan and city of Flint were forced to agree to a $641 million settlement for residents affected by the lead poisoning, and several state officials, including former Gov. Rick Snyder, were criminally indicted for their role in exposing children to lead.

While estimates differ, a prominent study found that the share of screened Flint children under the age of 5 with high lead levels reached 4.9 percent in 2015, up from 2.4 percent before the problems with lead contamination began. According to the CDC guidance at the time, a level of lead in blood that would be considered high was 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) (the agency has since lowered the threshold to 3.5 µg/dL).

That said, no level of lead exposure is considered safe, and even exposure well below public health recommendations can be quite harmful. That nearly 5 percent of young children in Flint faced exposure to rates that high is a travesty. As scandalous as the Flint lead crisis is, it’s sobering to know that it may be just the tip of the iceberg globally.

A recent systematic evidence review, widely cited and respected in the field, pooled lead screenings from 34 countries representing two-thirds of the world’s population. The study estimated that 48.5 percent of children in the countries surveyed have blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL.

Let me repeat that: Flint became the symbol of catastrophic lead exposure in the United States. The breakdown of a long-neglected system was so terrible that it led to headlines for months and even became an issue in the 2016 presidential election. Yet children in low- and middle-income countries are, per this estimate, 10 times likelier to have high blood lead levels than children in Flint were at the height of the city’s crisis.

The lead problem is global. It’s catastrophic in scope and hurting children’s ability to learn, earn a living when they grow up, and function in society. Yet lead has gotten comparatively little attention in the global public health space.

Charities globally are spending a total of just $6 million to $10 million a year trying to fight it. For comparison, individuals, foundations, and corporations in the United States alone spent $471 billion on charity in 2020. Childhood lead poisoning is a tragedy — and it is one that would be relatively inexpensive for the world to fix.

What lead does to humans

Lead is soft, plentiful, and easy to mine and manipulate, which is why humans have been harnessing it for various purposes for thousands of years. Ancient Romans used lead for everything from water piping to pots and pans to face powder to paint to wine preservatives.

Today, common uses of lead still include cookware, paint, and piping, along with lead acid batteries (a technology still used for most car batteries, even in hybrids), and plane fuel. For decades, a major use of lead was as an additive to gasoline meant to prevent engine knocking.

While the US started phasing out leaded gasoline for passenger cars in 1973 — and only finished in 1996 — the last country to officially abandon it, Algeria, did so last year. The reason we phased it out is that — as we have known at least since Roman times — lead is extremely bad for humans.

“Lead causes toxicity to multiple organs in the human body,” Philip Landrigan, a doctor and professor at Boston College who conducted key studies on the effects of lead in the 1970s, told me. “In infants and children, the brain is the big target. But we also know very well that adults who were exposed to lead — especially people exposed occupationally [and thus exposed to high amounts] — are at very substantially increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke.”

Lead exposure can be quite deadly. Some of the best evidence here comes from a recent study examining Nascar’s decision to ban leaded gasoline from its cars in 2007. Overall, mortality among elderly people fell by 1.7 percent in counties with Nascar races after the races stopped using leaded gas. The authors estimate that Nascar and other leaded gas races had caused, on average, about 4,000 premature deaths a year in the US.

The biggest costs of lead, though, are its effects on the brains of children. The developing brain is, in Landrigan’s words, “exquisitely sensitive” to the effects of lead. “It damages neurons; the active cells in the brain that we use for reflexing, running, and jumping, everything,” he explains.

The effects of lead “seem to concentrate in the prefrontal cortex,” Bruce Lanphear, a leading medical researcher on lead’s effects based at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, told me. That part of the brain is smaller in adults who were exposed to lead as children, he added.

Neuroscientists believe the prefrontal cortex plays a key role in executive functioning: the ability of people to choose behaviors in pursuit of conscious goals rather than acting on impulse. “It’s what distinguishes us from other animals, what makes us human,” Lanphear said.

For just about any variable you can imagine related to human behavior and thinking, there is probably research indicating that lead is harmful to it. High lead exposure reduces measured intelligence substantially. “If we compare kids at the lower and higher end [of lead exposure], we saw a 5-8 point IQ difference,” Aaron Reuben, a psychologist at Duke University and lead author on a study looking at a cohort in New Zealand, told me. Higher lead levels are associated with higher rates of ADHD and negative changes in personality.

Reuben says his research has found that kids exposed to lead are “less conscientious, less organized, less meticulous. They’re a little less agreeable; they don’t get along as well with others. They’re more neurotic, meaning they have a higher propensity to feel negative emotions.”

In recent years, some writers have embraced a theory that declining lead exposure (mostly due to the gradual removal of lead from gasoline) was a leading factor in the drastic decline in crime, especially violent crime, in the United States in the 1990s. Whether or not lead explains that specific historical phenomenon, several high-quality studies have found a relationship between high lead exposure and crime and delinquency.

One found that Rhode Island schoolchildren exposed to lead were dramatically likelier to be sent to detention. Another, looking at the introduction of lead pipes in the late 19th century, found that cities with the pipes had considerably higher homicide rates. A third, looking at reductions in lead in gasoline in the late ’70s and early ’80s, found that the phase-out led to a 56 percent decline in violent crime.

This evidence is suggestive, not definitive. A recent meta-analysis argued that when you take into account the likelihood of publication bias (that is, that studies showing a strong effect of lead on crime are likelier to be published than studies finding little effect), the effect size could be quite small and not explain any of the decline in homicide rates in the US.

But the idea that lead has a high social cost does not hinge on a specific narrative about crime. Lead appears to be consistently costly across outcomes from IQ to personality to impulse control to elderly mortality.

“Lead has been really bad and very significant in the history of social behavior,” Jessica Wolpaw Reyes, an economist at Amherst College and author of that last paper, summed it up to me.

Lead exposure is still very common in the developing world

The story of lead exposure in the United States and other rich countries in recent decades has in fact been enormously positive. Yes, there have been disastrous lapses as in Flint, but they stand out precisely because they are such an exception to recent trends.

A recent paper from CDC researchers estimated that from 1976 to 1980, fully 99.8 percent of American children aged 1 to 5 had levels of lead in their blood of over 5 micrograms per deciliter. From 2011 to 2016, the share was down to 1.3 percent. In a major triumph for environmental public health, high-level lead exposure went from the norm to an aberration in just four decades, in large part due to the abandonment of lead in gasoline.

As bad as things are in developing countries today, lead exposure in those nations is much less prevalent than it was in the US 40 years ago — a sign of global progress. That said, lead exposure in developing countries appears to be quite high compared to exposure in rich countries today.

Several experts I spoke to pointed to the 2021 evidence review led by Bret Ericson that I referenced above as the best summary of what we know about how common lead exposure is in low- and middle-income countries. In 34 nations, which together account for over two-thirds of the world’s population, the researchers were able to find blood lead surveys they considered reasonably representative of the country’s children, usually conducted by nonprofits or government agencies.

Overall, those studies estimated that 48.5 percent of children had high lead levels (defined as above 5 ug/dL). Levels of exposure varied greatly, with surveys in a few countries (like Tanzania and Colombia) not finding any children with blood lead levels above 5 ug/dL, and other countries showing huge majorities with levels that high. In Pakistan, for instance, over 70 percent of children had high blood lead levels.

Lead levels this high imply incredible amounts of damage to health and well-being. The Global Burden of Disease study published in the Lancet in 2019 estimated that about 900,000 people die due to lead annually, representing 21.7 million years of healthy life lost. One attempt to quantify the economic costs of lead in low- and middle-income countries estimated that in 2011, the burden was around $977 billion annually, or 1.2 percent of global GDP.

Lead in poor countries comes from everything from batteries to turmeric

While the numbers above give a sense of the lead problem’s scale, they are not definitive. One consistent message I heard from experts is that we simply need a lot more data on lead in low- and middle-income countries.

The Ericson evidence review concluded, “there is a paucity of rigorous data on lead exposure in the general populations of [low- and middle-income countries].” Most countries in Africa, and several in Latin America and Central Asia, did not have data usable for the review.

Lead experts also disagree about what the primary sources of lead exposure in developing countries might be. Pure Earth, the largest nonprofit working on lead contamination in developing countries, has generally focused on reducing exposure from informal recycling of lead-acid car batteries. In many developing countries, such recycling happens in mom-and-pop operations in backyards, with no protection for the recycling workers or neighboring residents from the resulting fumes.

But more recently, Pure Earth has also been working on reducing exposure from cookware and spices. Stanford researchers Jenna Forsyth and Stephen Luby have found that turmeric spice in Bangladesh is very often cut with lead chromate. That’s right: The turmeric that Bangladeshis use for cooking often has lead added to it.

Lead is very heavy, and in lead chromate form, it’s a vibrant yellow, which makes it an easy way to adulterate and amplify the color of turmeric. The problem likely spans beyond just Bangladesh. Consumer Reports has found that even in the US, grocery stores were selling turmeric cut with heavy metals.

Environmental scientists have worried for years about lead exposure from ceramics in Central America, where traditional processes often use lead for glazing. But Pure Earth’s Richard Fuller told me that ceramics in India often contain lead too, and in many low-income countries, aluminum cookware is contaminated as well.

Aluminum pots and pans in these contexts “are generally made in local recycling places where the recyclers are throwing all this scrap metal in,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for them to not get lead in.” In turn, that lead can seep into food cooked using these tools.

But other, smaller organizations focus on different lead sources. Lead Exposure Elimination Project (LEEP), founded in 2020, has mostly focused to date on lead paint. Just as lead can make turmeric more vibrant, it can make yellows and whites in paint more vibrant too. “We decided to start with lead paint because it seemed like a significant source of exposure, and there’s an obvious approach to tackling it, which is regulation,” Lucia Coulter, a medical doctor and LEEP’s co-founder, told me.

Tackling lead paint requires introducing new laws and enforcing old ones. Jerry Toe, an official at Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who has worked with LEEP on lead paint, told me that while the country had adopted a law banning lead paint in 2004, the Liberian EPA had still not formalized any regulations deriving from it by 2019, when he came to the issue. It took a LEEP study in Malawi for regulators in that country to conduct regular monitoring of lead levels in paints for sale.

Imran Khalid, a researcher at Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute and director at the World Wildlife Fund Pakistan, has had a similar experience. “The implementation [of lead regulations] is quite poor,” he told me. “Our environmental laws are primarily lip service.”

Khalid has been working with LEEP on paint sampling studies in which he and other researchers obtain paint from stores and test it for lead. Zafar Fatmi, a professor at Aga Khan University in Karachi, said that in his initial testing, around 40 percent of paints had high levels of lead.

Khalid notes that some high-lead paint comes from major multinationals, which makes enforcement a challenge. “For a country like Pakistan that’s already going to the IMF [International Monetary Fund] again and again” asking for loans, he explains, “people become very hesitant [about criticizing multinationals] when environmental issues come up.”

And there are other possible sources in poor nations as well, including some of the same ones still plaguing rich countries. “A lot of homes in African countries still have lead pipes, and nobody is talking about getting rid of them or what problems they’re creating,” Jerome Nriagu, a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan and one of the first US researchers to raise alarms about lead in Africa, told me.

An urgent need for more funding and more data

Last year, the effective altruist research group Rethink Priorities released a comprehensive report attempting to assess how many groups were working on lead exposure in poor countries and how much more could be done on the issue. Their answers: Not many are working on this, and those that are could likely use millions of dollars more every year to spend on effective projects.

Pure Earth, formerly known as the Blacksmith Institute, is by far the largest player, but it spends just $4 million to $5 million a year on lead. “Summing estimated budgets of other organizations, we believe that donors spend no more than $10 million annually on lead exposure,” Rethink Priorities’ Jason Schukraft and David Rhys Bernard conclude.

Much of that funding comes from government sources like the US Agency for International Development and the Swedish equivalent Sida. Outside support for nonprofits, there’s not much public evidence that international aid agencies are investing in lead abatement. With some notable exceptions, like the Center for Global Development, groups working on global health have largely ignored the issue.

Ten million dollars a year, tops, is not much money at all to spend fighting global lead poisoning, even with increased investments directed by donors in the effective altruism community toward Pure Earth and LEEP. “It’s a fairly small community, and it’s remarkably small given the scale of the problem and the scale of the impacts,” Pure Earth’s Fuller said.

That helps explain why effective altruist groups like Rethink Priorities and GiveWell have become interested in lead alleviation. It’s a neglected area, where each additional dollar can go a long way. So what else could be done with more money and resources? One simple answer is better research.

When I asked Fuller and his colleague Drew McCartor what additional studies they’d do if they could, they immediately said basic lead exposure surveys in affected countries and basic sourcing analysis to see where lead is coming from in those countries.

We have such poor data on how many people (especially children) are being exposed to lead and on how they’re being exposed to lead, that improving that data could in turn significantly enhance nonprofits’ ability to target interventions effectively.

If, say, lead pipes are a bigger source of exposure in sub-Saharan Africa than previously thought, that would change how Pure Earth and other groups allocate funds; likewise, a finding that lead paint is not a significant source of exposure might change LEEP’s approach.

Rethink Priorities concluded that “existing and potential new NGOs in the area currently have the capacity to productively absorb $5 to $10 million annually in additional money,” and that sums above that amount might be productively usable too.

That’s just not a lot of money in the context of US foundations or even foreign aid budgets — especially for something we know is severely injuring children and killing adults in the developing world.

Dylan Matthews

I joined Vox as one of our first three employees in February 2014, and have been here ever since, writing about everything from furries to foreign aid. Right now I’m particularly interested in global development, anti-poverty efforts in the US and abroad, factory farming and animal welfare, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Source: The world’s lead exposure crisis, explained – Vox


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How To Read The News Like a Scientist

Overwhelmed by your news feed? Use tools from science to evaluate what’s true and what’s fake, suggests researcher Emma Frans.

In our daily reading, we encounter all kinds of claims. Depending on the news story and the week, Chinese imports, coffee, large-cap stocks, snacking, and eggs should be embraced — or they should be avoided altogether. What’s a person to do when bombarded with confusing, contradictory information?

Try thinking like a scientist, says Emma Frans, who’s an epidemiology and psychiatry researcher at Oxford University in the UK and Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“In present times, our risk of being fooled is especially high,” she says. There are two main factors at play: “Disinformation spreads like wildfire in social media,” she adds, “and when it comes to news reporting, sometimes it is more important for journalists to be fast than accurate.”

Which is why it’s useful to know how to evaluate news the way a scientist does. Scientists labor under a burden of proof. They must conduct experiments and collect data under controlled conditions to arrive at their conclusions — and be ready to defend their findings with facts, not emotions.

“We all have gut feelings and biases that sometimes cloud our judgment,” says Frans. But scientific thinking offers us tools for “evaluating information in a rational way.”

Try these 6 tips to read the news like a scientist:

1. Cultivate Your Skepticism

Science moves forward by challenging accepted wisdom. You can do the same. When you learn a new piece of information through social media, think to yourself: “This may be true, but it also may be false,” Frans says. “This kind of healthy skepticism does not mean you’re dismissing everything as false — it simply means remembering the things you hear could be false, but they could also be true … or they could be something in between.”

2. Find out Who Is Making the Claim

“In science, researchers have to declare potential conflicts of interest before publishing their findings,” says Frans. When you encounter a new claim, look for conflicts of interest. Ask: Do they stand to profit from what they say? Are they affiliated with an organization that could be swaying them? Two other questions to consider: What makes the writer or speaker qualified to comment on the topic? What statements have they made in the past?

3. Watch out for the Halo Effect

The halo effect, says Frans, “is a cognitive bias that makes our feeling towards someone affect how we judge their claims. If we dislike someone, we are a lot more likely to disagree with them; if we like them, we are biased to agree.” It’s such a common human trait that the scientific community has devised a workaround: New scientific papers under review are read “blind,” with the authors’ names removed.

That way, the experts who are deciding whether it’s worthy of publication don’t know which of their fellow scientists wrote it so they’ll be able to react free from pre-judgement or bias. You can try this with your own news feed, too. Maybe you’ve read about a jobs policy proposed by the candidate you favor, and you think it sounds good. Frans suggests, “Simply question how you would consider the claim if it came from someone else.”

4. Look at the Evidence

When evaluating a claim, Frans asks, “Can the sources be traced? Are they reliable? Is the conclusion based on a rational evaluation of the information?” And you should try to consider all of the research on a topic. She says, “For instance, if there is one study claiming that drinking wine is just as good for your health as going to the gym, this finding is not relevant if ninety-nine studies show the opposite.” Before you act on or share a particularly surprising or enraging story, do a quick Google search — you might learn something even more interesting.

5. Beware of the Tendency to Cherry-Pick Information

Another human bias — confirmation bias — means we’re more likely to notice stories or facts that fit what we already believe (or want to believe). As Frans says, “When you search for information, you should not disregard the information that goes against whatever opinion you might have in advance.” Some scientists combat this by seeking out collaborators who, as management thinker Margaret Heffernan puts it, “aren’t echo chambers.”

These are people who will actively try to prove you wrong and can help you check your ideas and assumptions. In your own life, look for friends and acquaintances on social media with alternative viewpoints. You don’t have to agree with them, or tolerate misinformation from them — but it’s healthy and balanced to have some variety in your information diet.

6. Recognize the Difference Between Correlation and Causation

Frans researches ADHD and autism, and, she notes, in recent decades, “the number of individuals diagnosed with these disorders have increased rapidly.” Many possible causes have been raised, including vaccinations, video games and junk food. However, she says, “there is no evidence supporting these claims, and it’s important to remember that just because two things increase simultaneously, this does not mean that they are causally linked to each other. Correlation does not equal causality.”

Keep this in mind when thinking about our world. For example, if there is a rise in violent crime in your area and it’s being blamed on gang activity, or if a politician is credited with creating a low unemployment rate, take a wider view and look into the other contributing factors. Frans says, “It’s important to remember that there might be alternative explanations to a phenomenon.”

By: TED Ideas Daniella Balarezo & Daryl Chen

Daniella Balarezo is a Media Fellow at TEDx. She is also a writer and comedian based in NYC. Daryl Chen is the Ideas Editor at TED.

Source: How to Read the News Like a Scientist


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“The corpse factory and the birth of fake news”

COVID-19 Vaccines Not Linked To Pregnancy Loss; Mixing Vaccines May Confer Greater Protection

The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that have yet to be certified by peer review.

COVID-19 vaccines not linked with pregnancy loss

Two studies in major medical journals add to evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe before and during pregnancy. One study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, tracked nearly 18,500 pregnant women in Norway, including about 4,500 who had miscarriages.

Researchers found no link between COVID-19 vaccines and risk of first-trimester miscarriage, regardless of whether the vaccines were from Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, or AstraZeneca. Overall, the women with miscarriages were 9% less likely to have been vaccinated, according to the researchers’ calculations.

In a separate study published on Thursday in The Lancet, researchers tracked 107 women who became pregnant while participating in trials of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. Seventy-two of the women had received the vaccine while the others got a placebo. AstraZeneca’s vaccine had no effect on the odds of safely carrying the pregnancy to term, the researchers reported.

“It is important that pregnant women are vaccinated since they have a higher risk of hospitalizations and COVID-19-complications, and their infants are at higher risk of being born too early,” the authors of the Norwegian study wrote. “Also, vaccination during pregnancy is likely to provide protection to the newborn infant against COVID-19 infection in the first months after birth.”

Vaccine combinations with different technologies may be best

Healthcare workers in France who got a first shot of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and then the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for their second shot showed stronger immune responses than those who had received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, in a recent study. Combining different technologies is known to boost immune responses to other viruses, and the current study suggests it may be true for the coronavirus as well.

Both vaccines in the study deliver instructions that teach cells in the body to make a piece of protein that resembles the spike on the coronavirus and that triggers an immune response. But they do it in very different ways. Both protocols provided “safe and efficient” protection, said Vincent Legros of Universite de Lyon in France, coauthor of a report published on Thursday in Nature.

But combining the AstraZeneca shot with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “conferred even better protection” than two doses of Pfizer’s shot, including against the Delta variant, Legros said. The two technologies combined induced an antibody response of better quality, with more neutralizing antibodies that could block the virus, and more cells that have been “trained” by the vaccine to have increased defense potential, he said.  Combination vaccination “is safe and may provide interesting options… for clinicians to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Legros concluded.

Cognitive problems seen in middle-aged COVID-19 survivors

A “substantial proportion” of middle-aged COVID-19 survivors with no previous dementia had cognitive problems more than half a year after diagnosis, researchers have found. They looked at 740 people who ranged in age from 38 to 59. About half were white, and 63% were female. On tests of thinking skills, 20% had trouble converting short-term memories to long-term memories, 18% had trouble processing information rapidly, and 16% had trouble with skills needed for planning, focusing attention, remembering instructions, and juggling multiple tasks.

The average time from diagnosis was 7.6 months. About one-in-four patients had been hospitalized, but most of them were not critically ill. “We can’t exactly say that the cognitive issues were lasting because we can’t determine when they began,” said Dr. Jacqueline Becker of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who co-led the study published on Friday in JAMA Network Open. “But we can say that our cohort had higher than anticipated frequency of cognitive impairment” given that they were relatively young and healthy, Becker said.

Data support use of Pfizer vaccine in children and teens

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine showed 90.7% efficacy against the coronavirus in a trial of children ages 5 to 11, the U.S. drugmaker said on Friday in briefing documents submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but not formally published. The children were given two shots of a 10-microgram dose of the vaccine – a third of the strength given to people 12 and older.

The study was not primarily designed to measure efficacy against the virus. Instead, it compared the amount of neutralizing antibodies induced by the vaccine in the children to the response of recipients in their adult trial. Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine induced a robust immune response in the children. Outside advisers to the FDA are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to vote on whether to recommend authorization of the vaccine for that age group.

A separate study from Israel conducted while the Delta variant was prevalent and published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared nearly 95,000 12- to -18-year-olds who had received Pfizer’s vaccine with an equal number of adolescents who had not been vaccinated. The results show the vaccine “was highly effective in the first few weeks after vaccination against both documented infection and symptomatic COVID-19 with the Delta variant” in this age group, the research team reported.


Source: COVID-19 vaccines not linked to pregnancy loss; mixing vaccines may confer greater protection | Reuters



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