Vol. 102 December 1, 2013 In Honor of Cyber Monday

hubWhy I‘m glad I am not a Congressman looking for “idiotic” research projects to cut

“The effects of sequence variants and the presence of an epistatic interaction were tested in a zebrafish model…(ZEBRAFISH? …you have got to be kidding me). Digenic homozygous mutations in RNF216 and OTUD4, which encode a ubiquitin E 3 ligase and a deubiquitinase, respectively, were found in three affected siblings in a consanguineous family.”

I am “in the business” and can’t understand a word of this article which presents a genetic explanation of a disease first described over a century ago. That is its significance, and why it was published in the renowned medical journal for general medical readership, the New England Journal of Medicine. (1)

 Good news, relatively, about teen age drivers
The total number of 2012 accidents involving newly-licensed Massachusetts teen-age drivers has dropped in half since 2006. The accident rate per 10,000 teen age drivers has also dropped, from 1,872 to 1,263. The confusion arises from speculation about the reasons. There are less teen accidents AND less teen drivers.

The legislature increased the training requirements for under 18 drivers in 2006. Stricter laws about driving without an adult and higher penalties for speeding were implemented in 2007. Getting a license became more costly in money and time, so many may have delayed the traditional 16-year-old rite of passage. “The younger generation may be more willing to accept biking or public transportation.” High prices for gas and increased unemployment may dissuade more teen agers from driving. The net result is that there are fewer teen-age drivers having fewer accidents in 2012 than in 2006. (2)

Paper IS better than a screen
More than 100 studies since the 1980s document that we read differently on screens than we do on paper. Currently 20% of books sold to the general public are e-books. Even though a one-year-old girl playing with an iPad by sweeping screens across with her finger repeats those same gestures when presented with a magazine, “A Magazine Is an iPad That Does Not Work”.

Most studies show that we remember more of what we read and can use more of the knowledge gained from reading by doing it on paper. The position of text on a page (a page that either is right or left) and whether the text is near the front of the book or the back apparently helps us to remember it. This is not just the bias of pre-computer screen learning in us old folks because studies with toddlers give similar results. One essential advantage of the paper page seems to be that it is “modest”. Paper does not call attention to itself with accompanying icons, nearby buttons, or even inserted multimedia. (3)

It ain’t just screen time that should get the bad rap, it’s the content.
A survey of middle-school students found that the amount of physical and relational aggression that students read in books was associated with the amount of the student’s own physical and relational aggression, regardless of their varying exposure to TV and video game aggression. Also, it did not appear that aggressive students were seeking out aggressive books. (4)

The myth of multitasking
In 2009 a professor of communications at Stanford who spent 25 years studying how people interacted with technology published a surprising study of multi-tasking. He and his colleagues anticipated that their study of people good at juggling between screens, switching from task to task, or even between computer applications would have a particularly orderly memory. To their shock they found that “multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking…When we talk to multitaskers they seem to think that they’re great at it and seem totally unfazed and totally able to do more and more and more.” Actually, those who did it the least, did it the best. “We are worried that multitasking may be creating people who are unable to think well or clearly.”

His most recent work involved study of the erosion of social and emotional development by the increasing use of social media. “We have to get back to that saying, ‘Look at me when I talk to you’”. (5)

Crash Text Dummies
The appearance of voice activated texting (Siri and Vlingo) was heralded as a step up in safety for drivers who text. WRONG! A study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute studied drivers in a closed course who were either 1) texting by hand, 2) texting by voice, or 3) not texting at all. Drivers who were texting, regardless of the method, took twice as long to react. Also, both texting methods reduced the time the drivers were watching the road.

I guess it proves that some part of the brain is engaged in texting, no matter whether hands-free or not, and that it can distract the part of the brain that is helping you drive the car… another blow against the myth of multitasking. (6)

1. NEJM 386;21, May 23, 2013
2. Boston Globe Nov. 5, 2013
3.Sci Am Nov 2013, “Why the Brain Prefers Paper”
4.Boston Globe July 21, 2013
5. “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers”, Clifford Nass, 2009
6. Sci Am Nov 2013, “Crash Text Dummies”

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