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    How My New Favorite Game Can Prevent Alzheimer's And Save The World
    By Robert Cooper | February 5th 2012 03:26 PM | 9 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Robert

    I have given up on categories. I did a BA in physics, a PhD in molecular biology, and now a postdoc in a bioengineering department. So call that...

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    Last week I was introduced to an intriguing little brain game that could very well prevent Alzheimer's disease, with the nice side effect of helping to save the world.  The game was demonstrated no less than three times by a commenter on a previous article reading between the lines of some recent science-related news.

    What is this new Alzheimer's-busting miracle brain game?  Before laying out rules, let's look at an example from the comments: "To opponents who insist no pollution can change the atmosphere, it's important to make the example of inserting 'taxes' for pollution and 'economy' for atmosphere."  If you're an economic liberal, invert that.

    Do you see what Hank did there?  Let's try another one: "The Union of Concerned Scientists is an advocacy group that spends more in one year than Exxon spends in eight", so if anything Exxon spends money to support is invalidated, then we can't believe anything the UCS spends money supporting either.

    Got the game yet?  You take an argument that viscerally appeals to you, and then, keeping the logic the same, morph it into an argument that makes you uncomfortable.  Does the argument for your favored viewpoint still seem as strong?  Does the viewpoint you don't like gain a bit more credibility?  Maybe not, maybe so, either way you're strengthening your brain.

    Confirmation of preexisting beliefs is mentally rewarding.  But it's not challenging.  A mental challenge comes from novelty – from thinking about things in a new way, or from a different point of view.  And new research (or see a summary) suggests that people who challenge their brains can not only prevent dementia, but they can also prevent the physical manifestations of Alzheimer's disease – tangled protein deposits that invade the brain.*  The key, in the study, was a lifelong habit of learning and exercising the brain.  So by playing this little argument-swapping game, you challenge your mind and ward off dementia.**

    Another example:
    1. Some scientists think growing genetically modified salmon would cause net harm to ecosystems if not done right, so we should never allow any GMO fish.
    2. Some economists think addressing climate change would cause net harm to economies if not done right, so we should never enact any climate policies.
    Did you feel an urge to read past that last example without really stopping to consider it?  Did you immediately label the argument you don't like as dumb, and read on so my next point would push it from your mind?  If so, that feeling of unease you got is called a mental challenge, and that is how this ties back to Alzheimer's disease.

    Of course, you won't end up changing your viewpoint every time you play our game, nor should you.  Some arguments really are better than others.  But when that's the case, by forcing yourself to honestly figure out why the other argument doesn't make sense, you'll be working out your brain.  This, by the way, is how a good scientist thinks.  The more intuitively appealing an argument feels, the more careful a good scientist is to examine it from all sides.

    If you want to put rules to the game, try this.  First Rule: If you read something that either makes you feel 100% vindicated in your beliefs, or makes you 100% disgusted that someone could argue such a point, then don't talk about Fight Club then you're doing it wrong.

    And as for saving the world?  Well, could you really argue that we wouldn't be better off with fewer dogmatic ideologues, of whatever stripe they may be?***

    *Caveats: This study has one of those correlation/causation issues.  If you start out with a healthier brain, could that make you more likely to be mentally active, while independently helping you avoid Alzheimer's?  Also, the study used a questionnaire to determine lifetime mental activity, which, as measures go, is not quite ideal.  The authors report an expected error for the survey, but they don't appear to propagate that error forward when determining the significance of observed trends, which would have made a more thorough analysis.  See how I'm playing the game?

    **Ask your medical professional if this game is right for you.  Your results may vary.  Side effects may include annoyance of those around you.  Warning, beverage may be hot.  Dammit Jim, I'm a scientist, not a doctor.

    ***No, really.  Could you argue that?  Come on, remember to play the game!


    Got the game yet? You take an argument that viscerally appeals to you, and then, keeping the logic the same, morph it into an argument that makes you uncomfortable. Does the argument for your favored viewpoint still seem as strong? Does the viewpoint you don't like gain a bit more credibility? Maybe not, maybe so, either way you're strengthening your brain.
    Who knew I was staving off neurological diseases and/or saving the world?  I thought I was just providing some context for how 'The Other' views the world and things like the slippery slope, on one end, or the precautionary principle on the other.

    Fun article.
    Well, you know.  Just a judicious application of a bit of hyperbole.
    You're right, and I like this game.

    Two points:
    1. Did you really consider my graph, and what the implications are for the data.

    2. This game might be bad for your marriage, especially if you play it with your wife every time she wants to rank about something (even if it's not a rank about you).
    Never is a long time.
    1. It looks like Thor Russell has had a pretty extensive conversation with you on your article.  I don't really have time to understand all of what you did, but the huge temperature variations (tens of degrees) in your graph would definitely have been noticed if they were real.
    2. Yah, maybe that's why I'm single :-/

    So would you then agree that the measured temperature record is of such poor quality that trying to show a 0.6C/decade warming trend is beyond it's quality?

    Because it's NOAA's data, and either it's right, or it's of such poor quality it's useless. But it has to be one or the other.
    Never is a long time.
    Analysis of the raw data requires a lot of thought and care to avoid urban heat islands, account for missing records, etc, which is why the initially skeptical Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project recently spent a long time and a lot of effort to ultimately verify the warming trend.  So proper analysis isn't something you can do in an hour or two.
    Also, it looks like you just took a small amount of data, which is what you could find for free.  In your defense, you should have access to all the data without paying.  I think scientific data and studies should be freely available to the public.  If they were, perhaps skeptical people like you would be better able to satisfy your criticisms and curiosity by playing around with all the data yourself.  But that's a whole nother article.
    I have spend more than an hour or two, what I didn't do is alter the measurements, or make up data for areas that don't have weather stations. If you read any of the hacked emails, one of the comments was that they did try and remove UHI effects in what was made available(added below for your benefit), lastly I don't consider 120Million records a small amount of data. It's far more than what CRU made public in Hadcrutt3, I know because I have a copy of that data as well.

    <2939> Jones:

    [...] every effort has been made to use data that are either rural and/or where the urbanization effect has been removed as well as possible by statistical means. There are 3 groups that have done this independently (CRU, NOAA and GISS), and they end up with essentially the same results. [...] Furthermore, the oceans have warmed at a rate consistent with the land. There is no urban effect there.

    <4758> Osborn:

    Because how can we be critical of Crowley for throwing out 40-years in the middle of his calibration, when we're throwing out all post-1960 data 'cos the MXD has a non-temperature signal in it, and also all pre-1881 or pre-1871 data 'cos the temperature data may have a non-temperature signal in it!

    <1577> Jones:

    [FOI, temperature data] Any work we have done in the past is done on the back of the research grants we get - and has to be well hidden. I've discussed this with the main funder (US Dept of Energy) in the past and they are happy about not releasing the original station data.

    Besides, I'm not looking at max of average temps, I'm more interested in min, and the difference between max and min, as that's how co2's effects will show up (as a loss in cooling). Where max temp will be more affected by UHI and Solar variations.
    Never is a long time.
    Thor Russell
    Good article. The kind of mistake you mention we make all the time, just like confirmation bias etc. Just being made aware of it once unfortunately isn't a cure for life!
    Thor Russell
     I don't really have time to understand all of what you did, but the huge temperature variations (tens of degrees) in your graph would definitely have been noticed if they were real.

    This is what I exactly meant here 
    Even these charts are ignored

    Never is a long time.