#41: Where Words Have Meaning

Ahhh, yes. The words we use to describe things. The things that contribute to bigger ideas we believe in. The way we use those letters and numbers and words and ideas as tools to spread our own belief system. Sometimes these beliefs are debatable, like whether whether I should eat this chocolate croissant. Often times, they're not, like whether the NFL is corrupt, or whether CO2 is a pollutant and contributes to global warming, or if cats would immediately kill you if only they outweighed you (they would, without hesitation -- except they're incredibly lazy).

The issue becomes more pronounced when people whose belief systems are corrupt and factually incorrect and who also probably have cats are named to oversee the one single government department that has a ticking clock, and from whose missteps we could, you know, never return.

The good news? There's people like you out there, who can spread our own gospel, which is rooted in #science and #facts and not #fakenews, and help other folks see the forest through the trees. Keep it up!

On to the news!

1. Ivanka Trump may be the only thing stopping the US from pulling out of the Paris climate accord, filed under more sentences I never thought I'd write - NYTimes

"Mr. Trump vowed on the campaign trail to tear up President Barack Obama’s global warming policies, and on the home front he is moving aggressively to meet those pledges with deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and a new E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, who is a skeptic of climate science.

On one side of the debate is Mr. Bannon, who as a former chief executive of Breitbart News published countless articles denouncing climate change as a hoax, and who has vowed to push Mr. Trump to transform all his major campaign promises into policy actions.

On the other side are Ms. Trump, Mr. Tillerson, and a slew of foreign policy advisers and career diplomats who argue that the fallout of withdrawing from the accord could be severe, undercutting the United States’ credibility on other foreign policy issues and damaging relations with key allies.

Although Ms. Trump has not spoken out publicly for action to combat climate change, proponents and opponents of such action see her as an ally. Former Vice President Al Gore met with her during the Trump transition, and was ushered in by the “first daughter” to see the president-elect. The actor and activist Leonardo DiCaprio even slipped her a DVD copy of his climate-change documentary.

“President Trump Must Not Wobble on Climate Change — No Matter What Ivanka Says …,” blared a Breitbart post on Monday written by James Delingpole, who is close to Mr. Bannon and who leads the website’s coverage of climate-change policy."

+ MY NOTES: Just the fate of the planet in her hands. No biggie.

2. This drought-stricken Chinese city wants to build a 1000 mile pipeline to drink out of the world's largest freshwater lake. That's where we're at. - The Guardian

"In a report this week the state-run Global Times said the pipeline would quench the “desperate thirst” of a province that saw just 380mm of rain last year.

It would begin at the southwestern tip of the 600km-long Russian lake and run about 1,000km, across Mongolia, to Gansu’s capital through the Hexi corridor, a desert region near the westernmost tip of the Great Wall of China.

The project would boost both Gansu’s “ecological environment” and its economy which the newspaper said had been severely hampered by the lack of water.

The drastic plan underscores the severity of the water crisis facing Beijing.

China has 20% of the world’s population but just 7% of its fresh water with the north, in particular, facing a calamitous shortage thanks to urbanisation, over-use, wastage and pollution."

+ MY NOTES: Things like these don't tend to be solve with a single pipeline. Things like these come to a head.

3. Colon and rectal cancers skyrocketing among young people, with little explanation - NYTimes

"Most colorectal cancers are considered a disease of aging, so any increase in young adults, especially when rates of the disease are on the wane in older people, is both baffling and worrisome, experts say.
Colorectal cancer rates have declined over all in recent years thanks to widespread use of screening tests like colonoscopies, which can detect precancerous polyps that can be removed before cancer develops. These screening tests have not been considered practical for a younger population, and while other less invasive screening tests exist, doctors are hoping improved methods that will be easier to administer will be developed.

Experts also attribute lowering cancer rates to changes in risk factors, particularly lifestyle changes like smoking cessation and healthier diets. Diets that include more fruits, vegetables and fiber and less red and processed meat are linked to lower colorectal cancer risk.

Obesity and sedentary lifestyles are also associated with colorectal cancer, as are heavy alcohol use and chronic conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and Type 2 diabetes, all of which are on the rise. But experts are not entirely convinced these are the only reasons colorectal cancer is increasing among young people.

“The honest truth is nobody knows 100 percent why there is an increase,” said Dr. Mohamed E. Salem, an assistant professor at Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University. He said that he is older than about 60 percent of his patients — and he is 42. “It’s hard to blame it on obesity alone. We suspect there is also something else going on.

+ MY NOTES: When a formidable doctor says "we suspect there is something else going on", that makes me want to double-down on standardized electronic health records and hospital-private partnerships like IBM's Watson and 23andMe. There's no silver bullet -- at least not yet -- but the more we know, the more we can feed these machines, the better chance we get to the bottom of alarming trends such as these. We can't do it on our own.

4. For example: here's a study on a new NIH model that predicts rise of suicide using physical illness histories. Spoiler alert: it does really well. Better than humans. - NIH.gov

Although physical illnesses, routinely documented in electronic medical records (EMR), have been found to be a contributing factor to suicides, no automated systems use this information to predict suicide risk.

The aim of this study is to quantify the impact of physical illnesses on suicide risk, and develop a predictive model that captures this relationship using EMR data.

The best predictive results were derived (AUC=0.71) using combined data across all time-periods, which significantly outperformed the clinical baseline derived from routine risk assessment (AUC=0.56). The proposed approach thus shows potential to be incorporated in the broader risk assessment processes used by clinicians.

This study provides a novel approach to exploit the history of physical illnesses extracted from EMR (ICD-10 codes without chapter V-mental and behavioral disorders) to predict suicide risk, and this model outperforms existing clinical assessments of suicide risk."

+ MY NOTES: These models aren't perfect and can't predict or, much less, solve everything, but one day -- they just might.

5. It's just one study, but seeing as we're in the business of covering gene therapy, and we like to celebrate little victories over here: terminal cancer patients in complete remission after one gene therapy treatment. - The Telegraph

"US pharmaceutical company Kite Pharma released results from the first six months of its trial of the new treatment, called CAR-T cell therapy. 

Some 36 per cent of the 101 patients on the trial were still in complete remission at six months, and eight in 10 saw their cancer shrink by at least half during the study.

"These are heavily treated patients who have no other options."

The treatment, which has been dubbed 'a living drug' by doctors,  works by filtering a patient's blood to remove key immune system cells called T-cells, which are then genetically engineered in the lab to recognise cancer cells.  

Cancer cells are very good a evading the immune system, but the new therapy essentially cuts the brakes, allowing immune cells to do their job properly. "

+ MY NOTES: Lots more to come here, including long-term effects and studies, but we'll take it.


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