Science & Society

Surveys of 20 homeless, alcohol-dependent patients who had four or more annual visits to Bellevue Hospital's emergency department for two consecutive years determined that all began drinking in childhood or adolescence, and 13 reported having alcoholic parents. 13 patients reported abuse in their childhood homes and 19 left home by age 18. Only one was married and none of the subjects was employed. The three who were military veterans said that military life amplified their alcohol use. 


A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down but apparently the public will also happily accept movie tickets, cell phone minutes and discounts on air travel.

A private South African health plan, Discovery Health, increased patient use of preventive care using a program that incentivized healthy behavior using discounts on retail goods and travel. 

"Even though most people know that preventive care is important, too few people take advantage of it," said Ateev Mehrotra, associate professor of health care policy at  Harvard Medical School. "Incentive plans like this try to reinforce those long-term gains with more immediate rewards." 


Facebook has more than 1.23 billion active users. Most of them are not actually friends with each other and because they are not friends with each other, they feel pushy recommending products or services. They're fine hammering on politics and religion, but endorsing a car looks too corporate.

That's bad news for Facebook's business model, which has so far convinced advertisers they need to spend money. Facebook has tinkered with everything from forcing contributors to pay to have their posts seen by people on their list to pushing ads more aggressively based on everything from browser cookies to media use on the PCs of members.


The land known as Israel today was once pretty bleak. Mark Twain spoke of the barren landscape and lack of people when it was owned by colonial European powers. Nothing much was there.

But then Jews began buying it up. They planted crops and modernized irrigation. After World War II, the United Nations made it a country and now the land is considered so valuable the Arab states insist they should own it instead.


Generally speaking, when a politician goes on television and says he is creating a special task force to look at a product, you know what happened; someone wrote about it in the New York Times and someone did a poll and someone else told him it would look presidential to be bold.

The United States has the world's best medical care. Wealthy people from all over the planet abandon their country's government health plans and journey to the US for elite treatment. 


Its been a bad week for science, particularly for the science related to food production.

The notoriously flawed "Seralini Study" about tumors in rats fed GMOs is being republished in another journal after having been retracted. Another paper has come out making a rather questionable link between autism and proximity to pesticide applications on farms.

Scare journalism is big business. Hardly a day goes by without mainstream media promoting "X is harmful to your health" claims based on surveys, epidemiology and suspect methodology.

As a result, people are taught to be afraid of Subway bread, beer, high fructose corn syrup, MSG and even gluten without a reason.

It's not a shock that a certain demographic is going to be be easily driven by fear and misperception. But who? The easy answer has long been Whole Foods shoppers, because they are against vaccines, traditional farming and increasingly seek more laws and regulations to save them from the unknown. States like California, New York and Washington are hotbeds of anti-science beliefs.


Just a few short years ago, sugar growers and packagers had to have felt pretty good. Thanks to a rash of suspect epidemiological claims about high-fructose corn syrup, and then marketing claims and labels touting a lack of HFCS (even pancake syrup, made of corn syrup, got labels saying it was not HFCS), they had to feel good about the future.

No more. The low-fat, low-calorie, gluten-free diet craze has also clearly turned on sugar, if New York Times stories are the barometer for that demographic. And it is.


Policy makers may think more sin taxes will cut consumption - but it doesn't really work that way. Supermarkets recognize there are a lot more poor people than rich people and so they don't mark up the same products accordingly.

A paper written by the University of Sheffield with business experts from the University of East Anglia and Loughborough University discovered retailers appear to respond to increases in alcohol taxes by 'under-shifting' their cheaper products (raising prices below the level implied by the tax increase) and 'over-shifting' their more expensive products (raising prices beyond the level implied by the tax increase).