i. American nuclear guinea pigs : three decades of radiation experiments on U.S. citizens.


Documents provided by the Department of Energy reveal the frequent and systematic use of human subjects as guinea pigs for radiation experiments. Some experiments were conducted in the 1940s at the dawn of the nuclear age, and might be attributed to an ignorance of the long term effects of radiation exposure, or to the atomic hubris that accompanied the making of the first nuclear bombs. But other experiments were conducted during the supposedly more enlightened 1960s and 1970s. In either event, such experiments cannot be excused.
These experiments were conducted under the sponsorship of the Manhattan Project, the Atomic Energy Commission, or the Energy Research and Development Administration, all predecessor agencies of the Department of Energy. These experiments spanned roughly thirty years. This report presents the findings of the Subcommittee staff on this project.
Literally hundreds of individuals were exposed to radiation in experiments which provided little or no medical benefit to the subjects. The chief objectives of these experiments were to directly measure the biological effects of redioactive material; to measure doses from injected, ingested, or inhaled redioactive substances; or to measure the time it took radioactive substances to pass through the human body. American citizens thus became nuclear calibration devices.
In many cases, subjects willingly participated in experiments, but they became willing guinea pigs nonetheless. In some cases, the human subjects were captive audiences or populations that experimenters might frighteningly have considered “expendable”: the elderly, prisoners, hospital patients suffering from terminal diseases or who might not have retained their full faculties for informed consent. For some human subjects, informed consent was not obtained or there is no evidence that informed consent was granted. For a number of these same subjects, the government covered up the nature of the experiments and deceived the families of deceased victims as to what had transpired. In many experiments, subjects received doses that approached or even exceeded presently recognized limits for occupational radiation exposure. Doses were as great as 98 times the body burden recognized at the time the experiments were conducted.”

It seems that the Tuskegee syphilis experiment wasn’t quite as unique as I’d thought.

ii. Diuretic Treatment of Hypertension. Interesting, lots of stuff there I didn’t know.

iii. Income disparity and Risk of death: The Importance of Health Behaviors and Other Mediating Factors

“After adjusting for age, sex, education, and race/ethnicity, risk of death was higher in low-income than high-income group for both all-cause mortality (Hazard ratio [HR], 1.98; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.37, 2.85) and cardiovascular disease (CVD)/diabetes mortality (HR, 3.68; 95% CI: 1.64, 8.27). The combination of the four pathways attenuated 58% of the association between income and all-cause mortality and 35% of that of CVD/diabetes mortality. Health behaviors attenuated the risk of all-cause and CVD/diabetes mortality by 30% and 21%, respectively, in the low-income group. Health status attenuated 39% of all-cause mortality and 18% of CVD/diabetes mortality, whereas, health insurance and inflammation accounted for only a small portion of the income-associated mortality (≤6%).


Excess mortality associated with lower income can be largely accounted for by poor health status and unhealthy behaviors. Future studies should address behavioral modification, as well as possible strategies to improve health status in low-income people.”

iv. Influence of Opinion Dynamics on the Evolution of Games. I’ve only just skimmed this, but it looks interesting. Here’s the abstract:

“Under certain circumstances such as lack of information or bounded rationality, human players can take decisions on which strategy to choose in a game on the basis of simple opinions. These opinions can be modified after each round by observing own or others payoff results but can be also modified after interchanging impressions with other players. In this way, the update of the strategies can become a question that goes beyond simple evolutionary rules based on fitness and become a social issue. In this work, we explore this scenario by coupling a game with an opinion dynamics model. The opinion is represented by a continuous variable that corresponds to the certainty of the agents respect to which strategy is best. The opinions transform into actions by making the selection of an strategy a stochastic event with a probability regulated by the opinion. A certain regard for the previous round payoff is included but the main update rules of the opinion are given by a model inspired in social interchanges. We find that the fixed points of the dynamics of the coupled model are different from those of the evolutionary game or the opinion models alone. Furthermore, new features emerge such as the independence of the fraction of cooperators with respect to the topology of the social interaction network or the presence of a small fraction of extremist players.”

v. This is awesome.

vi. Are elder siblings helpers or competitors? Antagonistic fitness effects of sibling interactions in humans.

“Determining the fitness consequences of sibling interactions is pivotal for understanding the evolution of family living, but studies investigating them across lifetime are lacking. We used a large demographic dataset on preindustrial humans from Finland to study the effect of elder siblings on key life-history traits. The presence of elder siblings improved the chances of younger siblings surviving to sexual maturity, suggesting that despite a competition for parental resources, they may help rearing their younger siblings. After reaching sexual maturity however, same-sex elder siblings’ presence was associated with reduced reproductive success in the focal individual, indicating the existence of competition among same-sex siblings. Overall, lifetime fitness was reduced by same-sex elder siblings’ presence and increased by opposite-sex elder siblings’ presence. Our study shows opposite effects of sibling interactions depending on the life-history stage, and highlights the need for using long-term fitness measures to understand the selection pressures acting on sibling interactions.”

Where did they get their data? Well, it was hard for people living in the 17th and 18th century to avoid death or taxes too:

“The demographic dataset from historical Finnish populations was compiled from records of the Lutheran church, which was obliged by law to document all dates of births, marriages and deaths in the population for tax purposes [25–29]. As migration events were relatively rare and the migration records maintained by the church allowed us to follow dispersers in the majority of the cases, these records provide us with relatively accurate information on individual survival and reproductive histories [28] (e.g. 91% of individuals with known birth date were followed to sexual maturity at age 15 years). Our study period is limited to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, before the transition to reduced birth and mortality rates [30].”

vii. I’ve posted about this topic before, here’s a new study on cancer screening procedures: Effect of Three Decades of Screening Mammography on Breast-Cancer Incidence. I think the results are depressing:

“The introduction of screening mammography in the United States has been associated with a doubling in the number of cases of early-stage breast cancer that are detected each year, from 112 to 234 cases per 100,000 women — an absolute increase of 122 cases per 100,000 women. Concomitantly, the rate at which women present with late-stage cancer has decreased by 8%, from 102 to 94 cases per 100,000 women — an absolute decrease of 8 cases per 100,000 women. With the assumption of a constant underlying disease burden, only 8 of the 122 additional early-stage cancers diagnosed were expected to progress to advanced disease. After excluding the transient excess incidence associated with hormone-replacement therapy and adjusting for trends in the incidence of breast cancer among women younger than 40 years of age, we estimated that breast cancer was overdiagnosed (i.e., tumors were detected on screening that would never have led to clinical symptoms) in 1.3 million U.S. women in the past 30 years. We estimated that in 2008, breast cancer was overdiagnosed in more than 70,000 women; this accounted for 31% of all breast cancers diagnosed.


Despite substantial increases in the number of cases of early-stage breast cancer detected, screening mammography has only marginally reduced the rate at which women present with advanced cancer. Although it is not certain which women have been affected, the imbalance suggests that there is substantial overdiagnosis, accounting for nearly a third of all newly diagnosed breast cancers, and that screening is having, at best, only a small effect on the rate of death from breast cancer.”


November 23, 2012 - Posted by | Anthropology, Astronomy, Cancer/oncology, Cardiology, Diabetes, Evolutionary biology, Game theory, Medicine, Papers, Pharmacology, Random stuff

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