I wrote a novel. There are some drugs in it but not so many. More probably went into making it. The original idea came to me as a result of taking mushrooms and a lot of caffeine was involved in writing it. It’s about a stand up comedian who isn’t very good at telling jokes and a psychologist who writes a self help book saying you don’t need self help books.
The general assumption is that rock stars who don’t take drugs have either taken so many they’ve got bored or ill that they were forced to stop, or they are just a bit boring. As an exception that proves the rule, I just found out that Frank Zappa wasn’t ever on any drugs.
Now, let’s talk about the drug problem. Drugs do not become a problem until the person who uses the drugs does something to you, or does something that would affect your life that you don’t want to have happen to you, like an airline pilot who crashes because he was full of drugs. That’s a drug problem. I believe that people have the right to commit suicide. You can stick a gun in your mouth. You can stick a needle in your arm. You can do whatever you want, but you own your own body. I think you do. Drugs become a problem when the person who uses them turns into an asshole, and they also become a problem when the person who manufactures and distributes them turns into a politician. That’s the drug problem. Now, you want to fight the drug problem. You have to be realistic about what the problem is. The substance itself is not immoral. Without cocaine you’re going to have a hell of a time at the dentist’s office. You can’t say, “We have to burn ever coca plant”. Otherwise, no more Novocaine, buddy.
Big data is already a lot like magic. Based on your spending habits Mastercard are supposed to know that you are getting a divorce before you do, computers are better at predicting good vintages than wine experts, facebook and google probably know you better than your own mother. Now the data competition site Kaggle is about to get meta on us in an attempt to take data science to a whole new level. They want computers to do the science for us. In particular they have launched a contest to find an algorithm for knowing what causes what. Here’s the challenge:
Cause-Effect Pairs Competition
Given samples from a pair of variables A, B, find whether A is a cause of B.As is known, "correlation does not mean causation." More generally, observing a statistical dependency between A and B does not imply that A causes B or that B causes A; A and B could be consequences of a common cause. But, is it possible to determine from the joint observation of samples of two variables A and B that A should be a cause of B? There are new algorithms that have appeared in the literature in the past few years that tackle this problem. This challenge is an opportunity to evaluate them and propose new techniques to improve on them.We provide hundreds of pairs of real variables with known causal relationships from domains as diverse as chemistry, climatology, ecology, economy, engineering, epidemiology, genomics, medicine, physics. and sociology. Those are intermixed with controls pairs of independent variables and pairs of variables that are dependent but not causally related and semi-artificial cause-effect pairs real variables mixed in various ways to produce a given outcome.
That may sound a little dry to you but it is actually dangerously revolutionary. Science is all about measuring what can be measured and finding signals in the noise. The more data you have the more chance you have to find patterns but the harder you have to search. An automated pattern classifier has the potential to make science move a lot, lot faster. It might even break it.
Finding patterns is one half of science. Explaining them is the other. With a clever computer algorithm scouring huge datasets and throwing up causal relationships left, right and centre, we will most likely lose the ability to keep.
So this is just the sort of thing that might accidentally move science beyond human understanding. That may sound like a contradiction in terms since science is the very process of understanding the world but that’s the thing about revolutions, they completely change your perspective and your understanding. Although in this case it may just highlight the limits of our understanding.
Along the same lines as Google Flu Trends, researchers at Microsoft, Stanford and Columbia University are investigating whether search data can be used to find interactions between drugs. They recently found an interaction.Using automated software tools to examine queries by six million Internet users taken from Web search logs in 2010, the researchers looked for searches relating to an antidepressant, paroxetine, and a cholesterol lowering drug, pravastatin. They were able to find evidence that the combination of the two drugs caused high blood sugar.The idea is that people are searching for symptoms and medications, and this data is stored in anonymized search logs. They then followed a suspicion that using the two drugs at the same time might cause hyperglycemia. Those that searched for the two drugs were more likely to search for hyperglycemia than the control group probably those who didnt search for hyperglycemia.
It would be very interesting to run this analysis for some of the new recreational drugs (aka research chemicals) out there. I don’t think the dataset would be big enough to work for finding drug-drug interactions but it might tell you something useful about adverse reactions to single new compounds (and after all there is very little data available). Or least it might if people knew what they were taking in the first place. Most RC’s don’t have consistent street names and worse still most users don’t particularly care.
I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t mentioned this before but readers of this blog might be interested in one of my other projects. In my day job, I am a baby scientist at Birkbeck Babylab. I’ve recently started researching the things that make babies laugh. Finding out the different things that make babies laugh at different ages may tell us new things about their understanding of the world. Plus, it’s great fun.
We have an online laughter survey for parents of babies under 2.5 years old. We also want videos of your babies laughing. Like this:
UCLA led researchers have developed a “pill” that uses two enzymes to mimic the action of the human liver in fighting alcohol intoxication.In a discovery that could derail the popular “Hangover” movie franchise, a team of researchers led by UCLA engineers has identified a method for speeding up the body’s reaction to the consumption of alcohol.
The researchers placed the two enzymes in … polymer capsules measuring just tens of nanometers in diameter. … The capsule protects the enzymes and allows them to freely [interact with] alcohol molecules. … The researchers used a mouse model to test how well the enzyme package worked as an antidote after alcohol was consumed. They found that blood alcohol levels in mice that received the enzyme package fell more quickly than in mice that did not. Blood alcohol levels of the antidote test group were 15.8 percent lower than the control group after 45 minutes, 26.1 percent lower after 90 minutes and 34.7 percent lower after three hours
This is not the first alcoholantidote. But it is a clever approach to deliver extra amounts of nature’s own enzymes to do the job. Normally this doesn’t work because stomach acid breaks down and denatures any enzymes that are consumed. But since the delivery system is novel type of nanostructure, it is still a long way from being a commercial product. In the meantime, the best antidote to excess alcohol is a large glass of water.
Here’s a wonderfully little video about what alcohol does to your brain. It is the latest in a sequence of short science videos made by ASAP Science. A previous video explained Marijuana. This one covers a lot of things very clearly but it also goes VERY fast so I’d watch it when sober.
Apologies that the site has been a bit quiet. We have been busy on a new project. A smartphone app for tracking Parkinson’s disease. A year ago I gave a talk about the Boozerlyzer at the European Quantified Self conference. I explained that I’d created the app to measure how alcohol interferred with coordination, cognition and emotion. Straight after the talk, Sara Riggare from the Karolinska Institute came up and pointed out that this was exactly the opposite of her own problem as a person with Parkinson’s Disease. She would like an app that told her how her medication improved her motor coordination, mood and cognition. It was a great idea but we didn’t really know where to start.
As it happened, the NHS were looking to invest in new technologies that help patients follow their medicine regimes. Attending the launch event for that funding competition, I met with Bruce Hellman from uMotif, a internet start up interested in behavioural change and self tracking. We decided to put in a joint bid and happily were one of five projects selected for funding. We are now about to start our first pilot project. We are very excited about it and I will be sure to post regular updates on our progress.
New app to help people with Parkinson’s Disease manage their medication
Scientists at Birkbeck will be working with software company uMotif and the Cure Parkinson’s Trust to develop a smartphone app to help people with Parkinson’s Disease to track their symptoms and general well-being; give them medication reminders; and provide cognitive testing games.
The project, funded by the Department of Health, aims to reduce the personal, social and economic costs incurred when patients deviate from their prescribed treatment regime.
Dr Jon Stamford, from the Cure Parkinson’s Trust said: “Non-compliance with medicine regimes can have negative impacts for patients, their families and the wider NHS. Finding ways to keep people on track with their medication, as well as keeping a record of their symptoms plays a very useful role in managing the condition.”
uMotif will design and develop the app, and Dr Caspar Addyman, from Birkbeck’s Department of Psychological Sciences, will develop the cognitive tests within the app, and lead a controlled trial with a group of people with Parkinson’s disease to test to what degree the app can support this group to improve their medicine management.
Dr Addyman said: “Birkbeck are working with uMotif to create an app that will actually be useful to patients. Good design and clever technology are only half the story. We also need evidence that it helps patients and that they will use it. We will be running a randomised control trial to assess the app’s effectiveness and conducting in-depth interviews with patients and experts to help us improve the app’s design and functionality.”
Volunteers with Parkinson’s disease required for project
The project partners are seeking input from a range of people with Parkinson’s disease and their carers to inform the design and build of the application.
Any patient, researcher, clinician, carer or other interested person should contact the team for more information and involvement.
Psychopharmacologist Ethan Perlstein wants your help to build his own meth lab. He needs $25,000 to get started and has turned to the internet to help him out. Using the science crowdsourcing site Rocket Hub he and his lab colleagues are hoping to raise money to do some basic research.
As Ethan says:
“If our project gets fully funded, we will be able to perform experiments that have been long overdue in basic psychopharmacology research. Namely: where do amphetamines accumulate inside brain cells?” he tells us. “In the past, maps of where psychoactive drugs go in the brain have allowed scientists to develop models that connect molecular interactions to cellular responses to macroscopic behaviors.”