Aug 5, 2022


Scientists Find No Evidence That Depression Is Caused by “Chemical Imbalance” or Low Serotonin Levels

After decades of research, there remains no clear evidence that serotonin levels or serotonin activity are responsible for depression, according to a comprehensive review of prior research led by University College London (UCL) scientists.

The major new umbrella review – an overview of existing meta-analyses and systematic reviews – was published on July 20 in the journal Molecular Psychiatry. It suggests that depression is not likely caused by a chemical imbalance, and calls into question what antidepressant medications do. This is because most antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which were originally said to function by correcting abnormally low serotonin levels. In fact, there is no other accepted pharmacological mechanism by which antidepressants affect the symptoms of depression.

Lead author Professor Joanna Moncrieff, a Professor of Psychiatry at UCL and a consultant psychiatrist at North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT), said: “It is always difficult to prove a negative, but I think we can safely say that after a vast amount of research conducted over several decades, there is no convincing evidence that depression is caused by serotonin abnormalities, particularly by lower levels or reduced activity of serotonin.

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Professor Moncrieff said: “Our view is that patients should not be told that depression is caused by low serotonin or by a chemical imbalance, and they should not be led to believe that antidepressants work by targeting these unproven abnormalities. We do not understand what antidepressants are doing to the brain exactly, and giving people this sort of misinformation prevents them from making an informed decision about whether to take antidepressants or not.”

Young people's mental health is getting worse but mindfulness training isn't the answer, large UK study suggests

There is a crisis in teen mental health, and schools in many countries are exploring different ways to make young people more resilient.

However, a UK-based research project, the largest of its kind on the subject, has suggested mindfulness training in schools might be a dead end -- at least as a universal, one-size-fits-all approach.

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In a randomized controlled trial -- regarded as the gold standard of scientific research -- 41 schools continued with socal-emotional learning that was already part of the standard school curriculum for students ages 11 to 14 while teachers at another 41 schools were given training in teaching mindfulness training, giving pupils 10 lessons of 30 to 50 minutes in length. The program had already been found effective in some smaller studies.

There was no evidence that the school-based mindfulness training was superior to teaching as usual in warding off mental health problems after one year. And for those with existing mental health challenges, the research indicated that it could make difficulties worse, suggesting future research should explore different approaches for different children -- although there were no serious adverse outcomes.

Scientists establish link between religious fundamentalism and brain damage

A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia has shown that religious fundamentalism is, in part, the result of a functional impairment in a brain region known as the prefrontal cortex. The findings suggest that damage to particular areas of the prefrontal cortex indirectly promotes religious fundamentalism by diminishing cognitive flexibility and openness—a psychology term that describes a personality trait which involves dimensions like curiosity, creativity, and open-mindedness.

Religious beliefs can be thought of as socially transmitted mental representations that consist of supernatural events and entities assumed to be real. Religious beliefs differ from empirical beliefs, which are based on how the world appears to be and are updated as new evidence accumulates or when new theories with better predictive power emerge. On the other hand, religious beliefs are not usually updated in response to new evidence or scientific explanations, and are therefore strongly associated with conservatism. They are fixed and rigid, which helps promote predictability and coherence to the rules of society among individuals within the group.

Religious fundamentalism refers to an ideology that emphasizes traditional religious texts and rituals and discourages progressive thinking about religion and social issues. Fundamentalist groups generally oppose anything that questions or challenges their beliefs or way of life. For this reason, they are often aggressive towards anyone who does not share their specific set of supernatural beliefs, and towards science, as these things are seen as existential threats to their entire worldview.

How to rescue a cult victim: An interview with Rick Ross, professional deprogammer

[Rick] Ross is the preeminent cult deprogrammer in the United States and the head of the Cult Education Institute, a nonprofit library with archived information about cults. For the last 40 years, he's made a career out of assisting family members and friends who hire him to help loved ones leave a cult. He's written multiple books about deprogramming, has testified as an expert in dozens of court cases, has been sued and tracked by Keith Raniere, the founder of NXIVM, and was on David Koresh's "enemy list." With over 500 interventions throughout the world under his belt and a 70% success rate, he is considered an expert in his field as cults continue to increase in numbers. (The International Cultic Studies Association estimates there are 10,000 cultic groups in North America, up from 5,000 in 2003.)

. . .

But cults are evolving. Today, recruitment happens online. The targets are difficult to protect — bullied 13-year-olds unknowingly getting sucked into Reddit feeds, Iraq-war veterans with PTSD stumbling across Twitter screeds, or people who have been battling mental illness for years. The leaders, like "Q," are sometimes unknown, perhaps not even individuals but groups, and may never meet their followers. How they exploit people, or what their objective is, is often murkier.

"Online cults are a new and increasing phenomenon," reflects Ross, "They recruit online, they sustain their membership online through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and they even have YouTube videos and podcasts. They Zoom with people and they can get money through PayPal and they just basically run everything online."

Pope Francis Headed to Canada to Apologize for Dead Kids Buried in Mass Graves

Pope Francis will arrive in Canada on Sunday to ask for atonement for the hasty burial of hundreds of Indigenous children—as young as 3—who died in the Catholic Church’s care from the 19th century to the 1970s.

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In 2015, the Canadian government launched a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to try to determine what happened to thousands of those children who were never returned home. The discovery of the Kamloops grave has led to mass excavations of other residential school yards in search of answers. In March, representatives of the groups met with the pope in Rome in a highly contentious meeting that was peppered with what many called hypocritical displays of Indigenous dancing and gift giving.

The discovery has sparked criticism among abuse survivors who say the only reason the pope is making the pilgrimage—at a time when he is confined to a wheelchair—and that it won’t protect children from ongoing abuse.

“Sadly, it took the discovery of mass graves and the realization of murder, rape, and enslavement to trigger a response from the Vatican,” the head of Canada’s Survival Network for Those Abused By Priests, known as SNAP, Brenda Brunelle said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “This is long overdue, necessary, and not good enough.”

Exclusive: Pope to give women a say in appointment of bishops

Pope Francis said he wants to give women more top-level positions in the Holy See and disclosed that for the first time he would name women to a previously all-male Vatican committee that helps him select the world's bishops.

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"I am open to giving (women) an opportunity," he said in the part of the 90-minute interview that discussed the new constitution for the central administration, known as the Curia.

He mentioned that last year, for the first time, he named a woman to the number two position in the governorship of Vatican City, making Sister Raffaella Petrini the highest-ranking woman in the world's smallest state.

"Two women will be appointed for the first time in the committee to elect bishops in the Congregation for Bishops," he said.

A tomb linked to the legend of King Arthur is being excavated for the first time

King Arthur, the mythical ruler of Camelot, may be best known for pulling the magical sword Excalibur from a stone, but there's another rock formation that bears his name hidden away in the English countryside.

Archaeologists are for the first time excavating a 5,000-year-old Neolithic chambered tomb that's called Arthur's Stone in honor of the legendary medieval king. The project is the result of a partnership between researchers at the University of Manchester in England and English Heritage, a charity that preserves hundreds of historic buildings in England.

Arthur's Stone sits in Herefordshire in the West Midlands of England, near the Welsh border. The monument consists of a large capstone held up by a series of upright stones. Visitors can book tours to see the monument and learn more about the excavations.

The ruins are an important part of Britain's history, but little is known about them. Excavations of the site will hopefully reveal more about the island's ancient inhabitants, said Julian Thomas, professor of archaeology at the University of Manchester, who is a lead on the project.

Making minerals: Crushed, zapped, boiled and baked

Dr Robert Hazen from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC has spent the past 15 years reclassifying the minerals to add information about their genesis.

"There's been a classification system in place for almost two centuries that's based on the chemistry and the crystal structure of minerals, and ours adds the dimensions of time and formation environment," he told the Science In Action programme on the BBC World Service.

. . .

The point the pair are making is that you can't truly appreciate the significance of a mineral unless you also understand how and when it formed. Their research shows nature has used 57 "recipes" to create 10,500 of what they like to call "mineral kinds" - by crushing, zapping, boiling, baking and more.

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Dr Hazen said: "The previous system of mineralogy said calcite is calcite; that's calcium carbonate in the calcite crystal structure, that's a species. But we say no, no, no - there are 10, 15 maybe 20 different kinds of calcite, because the calcite deposited by a shell is very different from the calcite that forms on the ocean floor through just chemical precipitation, or calcite formed deep within the Earth in a process of metamorphism - of high pressure and high temperature.

How Elon Musk sees the future: His bizarre sci-fi vision should concern us all

What does Elon Musk want? What is his vision of the future? These questions are of enormous importance because the decisions that Elon Musk makes — unilaterally, undemocratically, inside the relatively small bubble of out-of-touch tech billionaires — will very likely have a profound impact on the world that you and I, our children and grandchildren, end up living in. Musk is currently the richest person on the planet and, if only by virtue of this fact, one of the most powerful human beings in all of history. What he wants the future to look like is, very likely, what the future for all of humanity will end up becoming.

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But more to the point, Elon Musk's futurological vision has also been crucially influenced, it seems, by an ideology called "longtermism," as I argued last April in an article for Salon. Although "longtermism" can take many forms, the version that Elon Musk appears most enamored with comes from Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, who runs the grandiosely named "Future of Humanity Institute," which describes itself on its website as having a "multidisciplinary research team [that] includes several of the world's most brilliant and famous minds working in this area."

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Hence, even if less intelligent people keep having more children than smart people, advanced genetic engineering technologies could rectify the problem by enabling future generations to create super-smart designer babies that are, as such, superior even to the greatest geniuses among us. This neo-eugenic idea is known as "transhumanism," and Bostrom is probably the most prominent transhumanist of the 21st century thus far. Given that Musk hopes to "jump-start the next stage of human evolution" by, for example, putting electrodes in our brains, one is justified in concluding that Musk, too, is a transhumanist. (See Neuralink!)

Objective Reality May Not Exist at All, Quantum Physicists Say

Does reality exist, or does it take shape when an observer measures it? Akin to the age-old conundrum of whether a tree makes a sound if it falls in a forest with no one around to hear it, the above question remains one of the most tantalizing in the field of quantum mechanics, the branch of science dealing with the behavior of subatomic particles on the microscopic level.

In a field where intriguing, almost mysterious phenomena like “quantum superposition” prevail—a situation where one particle can be in two or even “all” possible places at the same time—some experts say reality exists outside of your own awareness, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. Others insist “quantum reality” might be some form of Play-Doh you mold into different shapes with your own actions. Now, scientists from the Federal University of ABC (UFABC) in the São Paulo metropolitan area in Brazil are adding fuel to the suggestion that reality might be “in the eye of the observer.”

In their new research, published in the journal Communications Physics in April, the scientists in Brazil attempted to verify the “complementarity principle” the famous Danish physicist Niels Bohr proposed in 1928. It states that objects come with certain pairs of complementary properties, which are impossible to observe or measure at the same time, like energy and duration, or position and momentum. For example, no matter how you set up an experiment involving a pair of electrons, there’s no way you can study the position of both quantities at the same time: the test will illustrate the position of the first electron, but obscure the position of the second particle (the complementary particle) at the same time.

Large Hadron Collider Finds Evidence of 3 Never-Before-Seen Particles

Physicists say they've found evidence in data from Europe's Large Hadron Collider for three never-before-seen combinations of quarks, just as the world's largest particle-smasher is beginning a new round of high-energy experiments.

The three exotic types of particles – which include two four-quark combinations, known as tetraquarks, plus a five-quark unit called a pentaquark – are totally consistent with the Standard Model, the decades-old theory that describes the structure of atoms.

In contrast, scientists hope that the LHC's current run will turn up evidence of physics that goes beyond the Standard Model to explain the nature of mysterious phenomena such as dark matter. Such evidence could point to new arrays of subatomic particles, or even extra dimensions in our Universe.

. . .

"It's a magic moment now," CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti said during today's webcast. "We just had collisions at an unprecedented energy, 13.6 tera-electronvolts, and this opens a new era of exploration at CERN."

Earth sets record for the shortest day

Scientists have recorded Earth's shortest day since its rotational period began to be recorded with highly precise atomic clocks: On June 29, 2022, Earth's spin was completed in 1.59 milliseconds under 24 hours.

A day lasts 24 hours because the Earth completes a full spin on its axis roughly every 8,640,000 milliseconds. In the short term, this speed can fluctuate by factions of a millisecond from day to day. This means that the length of a day can vary, but only usually by a tiny amount.

Our planet is also experiencing long-term changes as well. Previously, the planet had been observed to be spinning more slowly and taking longer to complete a day. As a result, with every passing century, Earth has been taking a few milliseconds longer to complete a spin.

In recent years, however, this long-term trend has been reversing. The Earth seems to be speeding up and taking progressively less time to complete its spin meaning days are shortening.

NASA's solar forecast is turning out to be wrong. This team's model is still on track.

Solar cycle 25 kicked off last year. Forecasters thought it would be a mild one, but it's turning out to be quite the opposite. From its onset, this solar cycle has been steadily outpacing predictions, producing more sunspots and spewing way more solar wind, flares and eruptions than the world's leading experts predicted.

But while most space weather scientists are scratching their heads, saying "We still know very little about our star," one heliophysicist has become the dark horse in space weather forecasting. His model of the sun's behavior seems to have gotten it right.

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"We looked back over 140-plus years of data about the sun's magnetic activity and its relation to the number of sunspots," [Scott McIntosh, a solar physicist and deputy director of the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research] told "And there was a pattern that shaped how large or small the upcoming sunspot cycle was going to be. We predicted the same pattern to take place before solar cycle 25. Based on that, we made a wild scientific guess that cycle 25 could possibly be as high as double the amplitude of cycle 24."

The team published their predictions in the journal Solar Physics in November 2020. Since then, while experts at NOAA and NASA were puzzled, McIntosh and his colleagues watched the sun do exactly what they expected.

Top scientist admits 'space telescope image' was actually a slice of chorizo

A French scientist has apologized after tweeting a photo of a slice of chorizo, claiming it was an image of a distant star taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Étienne Klein, a celebrated physicist and director at France's Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, shared the image of the spicy Spanish sausage on Twitter last week, praising the "level of detail" it provided.

"Picture of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Sun, located 4.2 light years away from us. It was taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. This level of detail... A new world is unveiled everyday," he told his more than 91,000 followers on Sunday.

. . .

After facing a backlash from members of the online community for the prank, he wrote: "In view of certain comments, I feel obliged to specify that this tweet showing an alleged picture of Proxima Centauri was a joke. Let's learn to be wary of the arguments from positions of authority as much as the spontaneous eloquence of certain images."

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