Upsides, Downsides – Genetic Engineering

The below is from an invitation to an October 2016 conference from the Royal Institution of Great Britian. It features Siddhartha Mukherjee and Daniel Glaser. It needs to be shared.

The wording captures so much.

It mandates a serious discussion.

Genetics has revolutionised not just how we think of biology but how we think of ourselves. We are, in the words of one geneticist, the first organism that has ‘learned to read its own instructions’. Now, with the breakthrough of gene-editing technology – whose precision allows us to alter a single letter of DNA – we cannot only decipher but rewrite our genetic code. We may soon be able to treat diseases such as cancer not simply with drugs, but with genetic manipulation. Yet behind this medical revolution lies the prospect of something more worrying. Already, we possess the technology to add to our genetic code at will, and thus create the world’s first generation of ‘transgenic’ humans. As we intervene genetically on ourselves with ever more accuracy, do we risk changing what it means to be human? In our quest for the genetically ‘normal’, do we risk annihilating the very diversity and mutations on which evolution depends?

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Did Scientists and The Sugar Industry Sugar Coat Science — Who Do I Trust?

Yesterday the New York Times (9/12/16) reported that recent documents point to evidence that “the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead.” The article in Internal Medicine goes on “that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease – including many of today’s dietary recommendations – may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.”

Bloomberg News (9/12/16) also reports that the JAMA article “shows how far back such efforts go: In 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation, the precursor to today’s Sugar Association, paid Harvard scientists to discredit a link now widely accepted among scientists – that consuming sugar can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

I’m more stunned with my own lack of words than I am that such a record exists. If all this is true, then how dare the medical researchers stoop so low! And how dare the industry use their elaborate finances to skew the truth away from medical genuineness into corporate takings! That is not the world in which I want to live, and it is not the basis of the science I need to help patients. Researchers — please prove you are being maligned.

The JAMA authors’ note: “Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD. Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry–funded studies and include mechanistic and animal studies as well as studies appraising the effect of added sugars on multiple CHD biomarkers and disease development.”

Read the article: the last paragraphs admit the data may be circumstantial, yet the preponderance  of data still leans towards the above conclusions.

Some speak to the supposed dangers of immigrants to our health and well-being; it now robustly appears that the burden of illness and many deaths can also rest in the profit motive of sectors of our own citizens.

Transport this attitude into our current political campaign of data sports with self-serving goals.

A wise patient of mine asks a simple question: “Who do I trust?”

Point taken.







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A Great Word: ‘Quodlibet’ A Call to Debate.

Quodlibet (KWAHD-luh-bet).   Not a common term, but it captures an obligatory life-style, scientific and political strategy.

It means the launching of a philosophical or theological point offered for disputation. It can also be used for scientific events.

It is an invitation for a debate. It says “Here is a point – let’s try to dispute it.”

By good fortune I took a tour of an Icelandic glacier and its lagoon. The glacier is retreating hundreds of meters a year.  I asked the guide if this is melting from a natural cycle or from human global warming.

His eyes by themselves shouted that he was quite pleased to answer me. “We need to control what we can to stop or slow it. Might I ask you a question?” He knew I was from the United States. “Why do you let politicians dispute what so many scientists report? Please have a debate between politicians and scientists on melting glaciers. Ask the politicians to dispute the majority of scientists. If it is both nature and mankind, let’s reduce the mankind contribution.”

That’s a quodlibet. Let both sides dispute their own positions. It’s actually a debate with one self. We ask “where are the flaws in my knowledge and theories? Will those flaws reduce the power of my conclusions?”

The truth will rise if egos allow it to do so.

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Immigrant Issues – When Political Xenophobia is Political Xenophila.

(First a quick note: Elizabeth Warren posted that Trump is embarrassed that he may lose to a woman.  (  9/1/2016)  This is precisely how a psychological card is being politically played without substantiation. This manner of clinical speculation by a mental health professional could instigate a sanction. )

Let’s turn to the immigration issue.

I don’t yet exactly know how many crimes were committed by American citizens versus illegal immigrants. That our county will be safer without the illegal immigrants is too simple and wishful a style of thinking; safety will improve with less crime across the full population of folks living in our country. That fact isn’t being discussed.  And yes, we remain quite tested by our own homespun criminals, gangs and drug dealers.

“With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. has more than 20% of the world’s prison population…. One in 110 adults are incarcerated in a prison or local jail in the U.S.”(  Accessed 9/2/2016)  This number has more contributions than the immigrant allegations.

Statistics are confusing. Run a Google search and see how difficult it is to get hard numbers. For example, the US Sentencing Commission captures data only from the Federal system. “Undocumented immigrants accounted for 9.2% of federal murder convictions in 2013, but that represents a grand total of eight murder cases. When you consider that the FBI estimates there were 14,196 murders in the U.S. in 2013, those few cases handled by the federal court system don’t quite register as a reliable sample set.” (USA Today, July 16, 2015)

Then consider this: “From 1990 to 2013, the number of undocumented immigrants in the country tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. Yet during that time, violent crime rates dropped 48% nationwide.” (American Immigration Council, July 2015)

The legal system does need modification: “The Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that the United States can only hold convicted criminals for six months in detention if a country refuses to accept them. More than 100 immigrants released from detention have later been charged in homicides.” (Washington Post, September 2, 2016)  Nonetheless the data still suggests that the greatest number of US homicides is done by citizens, be they born or accepted into our land.

How much less real US crime and drug problems would exist if there were no immigrants? Is this all an obsequious political slither?

People come here for a better life. Let’s first help people have a better life in their home countries – this will dissipate the need to emigrate. Likewise, if there were no jobs for them in our country, so the logic directs, the economic incentive to come here disintegrates. We exploit the immigrants’ willingness to do certain types of work for less money.

All this has to be distinguished from those who come here for political or religious reasons.

Don’t change tires when the shock absorbers need replacement.

Blaming, tainting or disparaging foreigners is xenophobia. But when politicians so vigorously use the immigrant issues to win an election, they actually need the immigrants to strengthen their placards — it becomes xenophila (they like or need foreigners for their own gain). Why choose this particular topic as opposed to better schools or our indigenous criminal activities?  Because on the surface it seems like an easier problem to solve, with clearer good and bad folks. And of course, it does not excruciatingly look at us as the source of much of our own problems.


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Understanding A Candidate: But Mental Health Folks Can’t Join The Discussion

How odd that now there is a question of psychology, everyone but the mental health professionals can join the discussion.

There has to be a way for the mental health field to advise the voters. One proposal is to bring to the media a psychiatrist or psychologist to discuss general concepts of mental health, but this has to stay clear of making a diagnosis.

The aftermath problem of even an implied diagnosis will be an extrapolation tsunami flushing back and forth from all sides. Proper psychiatric diagnosing is difficult. Courts echo with cases in which two experts, each having personally interviewed the same defendant, arrive at different conclusions.

Psychiatric labels have special glues. Right or wrong, they stick around. They too often float to page one even if they are wrong. They are too cavalierly given disproportionate weight. They affix themselves like a public tattoo. And too frequently the label is too quick a way to offer a conclusion without the painful objective process of testing the data.

The Goldwater limitations (following Barry Goldwater’s presidential run many professionals offered clinical ‘conclusions’ without a personal examination) rightly so makes publically and professionally discussing Trump’s mental status quite the sticky process. But the topic has arisen so often in recent weeks that non-mental health folks are using terms without clinical substantiation – though by chance it may sometimes be with accuracy and sometimes without.  This makes a ‘diagnosis’ more of an opinion than a fact. This is the clinical fault line that mental health folks want to prevent.

Candidates should release their medical records. It is logical to also address other personal issues that might impact our government. Banks explore the backgrounds of the house and the customer before risking a mortgage.

It’s intriguing, based on news reports, that the Clinton folks are now consulting psychologists to look for Trump’s psychological vulnerabilities in order to them use against him in the upcoming presidential debates. This could be for them a hoped for backdoor entry into the topic. It may work if it avoids a ‘diagnosis’ conclusion but stands on observations, styles, and  the nature of  ‘of the  moment’ responses to patterns of stimulation.

I would like to begin with a spontaneous interview to see his reactions using questions like those below. Yes, yes, indeed, approaches to this line of questioning have been tried. But the style of answers is also clarifying, and it will will help particularize his make-up  and character without it being a diagnosis.

It would also be evenhanded to ask the same of the other candidates.

  1. Who do you study, as a mentor, insofar as a statesman who you wish you could have your staff?
  2. What things do you fear that you don’t know but need to do a deep study?
  3. How many steps are there in solving a problem before the police or military are used?
  4. What would your life be like if you lost all your money? How would you spend your day?
  5. What will people additionally know about you by looking at your tax returns?
  6. How does a president manage a mistake? What makes you hesitate and ponder?
  7. How do you feel about that a president effectively gives up much of their personal privacy?
  8. How do you interact with people who say “tell me deeply, and unhurriedly at my pace, not yours, about you so then I may decide, or not, to let you be my leader.”
  9. Is merely admitting a mistake enough to expect people to forgive you for the mistake?
  10. Who in this world do you fear could tell you that you are indeed flat out wrong about something?
  11. It’s been said that your style of labeling people and situations enables bullying; you call it being brazenly honest, but others may copy it as a growing allowance to insult and even get a laugh with the insult. Your comments please.
  12. We have a very large federal government. Who within the government is doing a good job?

I’d ask these and other questions if I was a news reporter.

I need to know how my possible leader thinks.

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Will Trump Also Revoke Our Blogging Credentials?

Imagine being denied a right to blog.

Will letters to the editors be banned, or disagreeing comments to our legislators not be allowed?

Will peaceful demonstrations become violations, and will library’s be closed because they offer material considered by some to be calculatedly false?

News organizations may have biases. But their reporters need open access to any event, and if the event’s actors don’t like the published spin, then they should seek support from other publications whose spin is more closely of their same position.

We importantly need a Fox, MSNBC, CBS, CNN, BBC, ABC, etc., and every other newspaper and media resource in the country.

A rabbi taught me that there must never be any restriction to looking for the truth,  and that the student of life can never be denied access to anything.  Veritas odit moras — truth abhors delay.

Our society stands on pillars of no discrimination against even the unpleasant and disagreeable opinions. Ideas cannot be repressed; societies attempting to do this choke themselves to death. Some actions certainly need limitations for the public safety.  But an action is not the same as an opinion.

Understanding current events is difficult. I knew a teacher who read at least two different newspapers every day. Indeed, we have different teachers so to expose students to different styles and perspectives; erudition is learning to analyze and think,  not merely to memorize or yield. To be dexterous in decision making one must at least earnestly consider the how and why of an opponent’s claims, and a rejection  or acceptance of them, in full or in part, may follow.

Revoking, or threatening to do so, press credentials because they “lie” is the utmost terrorization of our foundational values. Let those who choose to falsify continue to do so, but for that lies are fragile possessions, and a free press will eventually smash them apart. Fabricating journalists will in due course feed the truthful ones.

If you don’t like a news media, challenge other news media sources to confront and defy the first media source! Let the test begin; the cards will fall where they may. Open, do not close, media doors.

Let me choose the material to read and study as I decide for whom I want to vote.

Insulting a media source insults the process for which many died, and worked, and debated, in an effort to protect the platform from which you now insult. It is an insult to hear your insults.




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Trump’s Manners Takes Away The Process That I Want My Vote To Reflect

A leader must have good table manners.  We do critique people by their table manners. Showing bad table manners will rise doubts about how far one’s other life-style manners, good or bad, stretch. Most corporate and social positions demand good habits, and many employees or social partners would hear “You’re fired!” if willfully done and repeated bad social manners were neglected.

Mocking or belittling one’s opponents cannot be because in government those mocked or belittled still hold positions, and someday their cooperation will be needed. Grandmothers teach us that what goes around comes around. So while winning a race will require some political vitriol, challengers are not complete enemies. Years ago Senator McCain, running against President Obama, corrected a questioner, saying Mr. Obama and he did have differences, but Mr. Obama was a good man. Trump lacks that flavor on his ice cream menu. That is why so many people won’t buy at his store.

It is also increasingly disrobing down to the underside of a temperament if someone projects that any loses he faces in the future stem because of cheating by other forces. Just the voicing the concept of a swindle to explain away a lost is backward, petty, and painful logic. A good executive or a good official needs to instead ask “what did I miss, how did I not get my point across so others chose me?”

It frightens me when leaders do not acknowledge their errors.

It also worries me about the backcloth of the supporters’ maquillage – is it surface greasepaint or is it from deep within them?  Do they enjoy the absence of good manners?

It frightens me even more if there is not an announced public policy that the leader intends to learn from his errors. My failures are usually the product of not learning enough from my mistakes.

This election now hovers more on temperaments than on issues. Both domains need consideration in an election. I’ll be fair and listen to details of Trump’s positions. But thus far I hear promises without details. I’m bored of his now monotonous humor that underlines his repeated insults. He fails to understand that repeatedly insulting will deplete the power of the insult. Slapstick and vaudeville routines poop out because there is a shortage of new shockers. This then makes it easier for those who disagree  with him to ignore his comments because we numb and tire of the repetition. It also strengthens the detachment away from trusting him such that he can actually approach a problem with different concepts and verbiage.

Convince me without insults. Be a statesman who demonstrates the value of deep learning. Don’t just promise.

It’s so difficult and unsettling to embrace and interact with someone’s honesty, wisdom and insight when the manners are so bad.

I’m glad I can vote ward to off what I am not being given a chance to understand.  But it takes away the process that I want my vote to reflect. Allow me to vote on a mix of temperaments and issues. Those two elements, so indispensable to the best steadiness, are not viable options anymore. The table manners are so bad I can’t sit at his table.

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