Thursday, December 27, 2007

Beauty and intelligence are linked. Both reflect general biological fitness

One of the most detailed studies on the link between beauty and intelligence was done by Mark Prokosch, Ronald Yeo and Geoffrey Miller, who also work at the University of New Mexico. These three researchers correlated people's bodily symmetry with their performance on intelligence tests. Such tests come in many varieties, of course, and have a controversial background. But most workers in the field agree that there is a quality, normally referred to as "general intelligence", or "g", that such tests can measure objectively along with specific abilities in such areas as spatial awareness and language. Dr Miller and his colleagues found that the more a test was designed to measure g, the more the results were correlated with bodily symmetry-particularly in the bottom half of the beauty-ugliness spectrum.

Faces, too, seem to carry information on intelligence. A few years ago, two of the world's face experts, Leslie Zebrowitz, of Brandeis University in Massachusetts, and Gillian Rhodes, of the University of Western Australia, got together to review the literature and conduct some fresh experiments. They found nine past studies (seven of them conducted before the second world war, an indication of how old interest in this subject is), and subjected them to what is known as a meta-analysis.

The studies in question had all used more or less the same methodology, namely photograph people and ask them to do IQ tests, then show the photographs to other people and ask the second lot to rank the intelligence of the first lot. The results suggested that people get such judgments right-by no means all the time, but often enough to be significant. The two researchers and their colleagues then carried out their own experiment, with the added twist of dividing their subjects up by age.

The results of that were rather surprising. They found that the faces of children and adults of middling years did seem to give away intelligence, while those of teenagers and the elderly did not. That is surprising because face-reading of this sort must surely be important in mate selection, and the teenage years are the time when such selection is likely to be at its most intense-though, conversely, they are also the time when evolution will be working hardest to cover up any deficiencies, and the hormone-driven changes taking place during puberty might provide the material needed to do that. Nevertheless, the accumulating evidence suggests that physical characteristics do give clues about intelligence, that such clues are picked up by other people, and that these clues are also associated with beauty. And other work also suggests that this really does matter.

One of the leading students of beauty and success is Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas. Dr Hamermesh is an economist rather than a biologist, and thus brings a somewhat different perspective to the field. He has collected evidence from more than one continent that beauty really is associated with success-at least, with financial success. He has also shown that, if all else is equal, it might be a perfectly legitimate business strategy to hire the more beautiful candidate.

Just over a decade ago Dr Hamermesh presided over a series of surveys in the United States and Canada which showed that when all other things are taken into account, ugly people earn less than average incomes, while beautiful people earn more than the average. The ugliness "penalty" for men was -9% while the beauty premium was +5%. For women, perhaps surprisingly considering popular prejudices about the sexes, the effect was less: the ugliness penalty was -6% while the beauty premium was +4%.

The difference also applies within professions. Dr Hamermesh looked at the careers of members of a particular (though discreetly anonymous) American law school. He found that those rated attractive on the basis of their graduation photographs went on to earn higher salaries than their less well-favoured colleagues. Moreover, lawyers in private practice tended to be better looking than those working in government departments. [Heh!]

More here

New hope from Britain in battle against Clostridium difficile

A vaccine that operates on the same principle as the jab for diphtheria and tetanus could be used to stamp out cases of the virulent hospital superbug Clostridium difficile, researchers say. Scientists will start recruiting patients next year for clinical trials of the vaccine, which has the potential to prevent thousands of deaths in British hospitals each year.

The vaccine, given to healthy patients last year to check its safety, works by using a small quantity of formaldehyde to neutralise toxins emitted by the bacteria. In laboratory trials and tests on at least three patients with chronic C. difficile infections, it rendered these toxins harmless, helping the immune system to fight off illness naturally. A jab against C. difficilecould be provided to at-risk groups within eight years, the researchers suggest.

C. difficile is the most common form of hospital-acquired infection and diarrhoea in the Western world. It contributed to the deaths of nearly 4,000 people last year. Cases of the superbug, which is harder to control than MRSA, increased by 8 per cent last year compared with 2005.

Acambis, the company developing the vaccine, said that it was negotiating with the Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency on whether British patients could take part in the next stage of the trials. The company, based in Cambridge, East Anglia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, said that it had identified a number of vaccine formulations and planned to begin the second phase of trials towards the end of next year.

The bacterium occurs naturally in the intestines of 3 per cent of healthy adults and two thirds of infants, where it rarely causes problems. However, it can cause illness - from mild to severe diarrhoea, or in some cases severe inflammation of the bowel - when its growth is unchecked. Treatment with antibiotics can disturb the balance of "normal" bacteria in the gut, allowing C. difficile to thrive.

Michael Watson, the executive vice-president for research and development at Acambis, said: "Formaldehyde may be best known as the pickling ingredient for Damien Hirst's shark, but it's also a key ingredient in vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. "In a typical C. difficile infection the toxins break apart and irritate the lining of the bowel. Our vaccine is designed to prevent this and render the toxins harmless, so they can be destroyed by the immune system."

Most people can recover from an infection naturally but patients whose immune reaction is weakened by age or illness have trouble fighting off the bug. Infections can be treated with antibiotics but an estimated 20-30 per cent of patients suffer a relapse.

The vaccine could provide a longer-term solution to the problem, and counter the emergence of drug-resistant strains, Dr Watson said. "We estimate that between 2010 and 2015, patients could start seeing the benefits," he added. The NHS is also using technology invented to protect Britain against biological weapons to fight superbugs. Air disinfection units, which kill up to 98.5 per cent of germs in the air, including drug-resistant strains of C. difficile, E. coli and MRSA, have been approved for use in hospitals after tests at Porton Down, the Government's bio-warfare research centre in Wiltshire.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells hospitals trust in Kent, where at least 90 patients died as a result of C. difficile infections, will be the first to use the technology.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.


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