Why do we believe obvious lies?

Here are two accounts of this weekend’s news from real journalists, neither of whom are fans of the current US president.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone
https://taibbi.substack.com/p/russiagate-is-wmd-times-a-million
“It’s official: Russiagate is this generation’s WMD”

He cited intentional misreporting (lying) multiple times from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, Mother Jones; and from NBC, ABC, McClatchy, New Yorker, New York Magazine, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed, Slate, Yahoo, Fortune, Guardian; and from numerous US congressmen and senators. Most of these false stories have still not yet been corrected or retracted.

  • “Recapping: the reporter who introduced Steele to the world (his September 23, 2016 story was the first to reference him as a source), who wrote a book that even he concedes was seen as “validating” the pee tape story, suddenly backtracks and says the whole thing may have been based on a Las Vegas strip act, but it doesn’t matter because Stormy Daniels, etc.
  • When explosive #Russiagate headlines go sideways, the original outlets simply ignore the new development, leaving the “retraction” process to conservative outlets that don’t reach the original audiences.
  • The Russiagate era has so degraded journalism that even once “reputable” outlets are now only about as right as politicians, which is to say barely ever, and then only by accident.
  • Authorities have been lying their faces off to reporters since before electricity! It doesn’t take much investigation to realize the main institutional sources in the Russiagate mess – the security services, mainly – have extensive records of deceiving the media.
  • As noted before, from World War I-era tales of striking union workers being German agents to the “missile gap” that wasn’t (the “gap” was leaked to the press before the Soviets had even one operational ICBM) to the Gulf of Tonkin mess to all the smears of people like Martin Luther King, it’s a wonder newspapers listen to whispers from government sources at all.”


Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept
https://twitter.com/ggreenwald

  1. “Can’t the people who got rich exploiting liberal #Resistance fears by feeding them false conspiracies at least content themselves to their bulging bank accounts from the scam they pulled off & have one day of silence where they don’t try to pretend that they were right all along?
  2. If you’re just going to let stuff like this go – unexamined, unacknowledged, and unaccounted for – don’t expect anyone to be remotely sympathetic to the fact that public trust in big media is nonexistent and politicians benefit by making journalists their enemies.
  3. And just for future reference: documenting the falsehoods, baseless conspiracies, and deceitful narratives being peddled without dissent by the major corporate media isn’t “blogging” or “media criticism.” It’s journalism. It’s reporting. And it’s vital.
  4. Nothing kills journalism worse than cowardly group-think, and it’s worse than ever since they’re congregated in the same places in Brooklyn and the West Coast and petrified of saying anything that makes them unpopular among their peers.
  5. Check every MSNBC personality, CNN law “expert,” liberal-centrist outlets and #Resistance scam artist and see if you see even an iota of self-reflection, humility or admission of massive error.
  6. I wrote this with @GGreenwald in November 2016, warning Russiagate was being used to attack, smear, and censor alternative media. Those blacklisted alternative media ended up being correct about Russiagate – while the corporate media spread actual fake news.
  7. There should be major accountability in the US media and in the intelligence community they united with to drown US political discourse for 2 years straight in unhinged conspiratorial trash, distracting from real issues. That’s what should happen as a first step. But it won’t.”
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Statistical inferences vs. biological realities

A 2019 UCLA study introduced a derivative of the epigenetic clock named GrimAge:

“DNAm GrimAge, a linear combination of chronological age, sex, and DNAm-based surrogate biomarkers for seven plasma proteins and smoking pack-years, outperforms all other DNAm-based biomarkers, on a variety of health-related metrics.

An age-adjusted version of DNAm GrimAge, which can be regarded as a new measure of epigenetic age acceleration (AgeAccelGrim), is associated with a host of age-related conditions, lifestyle factors, and clinical biomarkers. Using large scale validation data from three ethnic groups, we demonstrate that AgeAccelGrim stands out among pre-existing epigenetic clocks in terms of its predictive ability for time-to-death, time-to-coronary heart disease, time-to-cancer, its association with computed tomography data for fatty liver/excess fat, and early age at menopause.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6366976/ “DNA methylation GrimAge strongly predicts lifespan and healthspan”


A miserable attempt at reporting the study’s findings included angles of superstition, fear-of-the-future, and suspicion-by-spurious-association:

“The research has already captured the attention of the life insurance industry. After all, a solid death date could mean real savings when it comes to pricing policies.

The hope is that if and when legitimate anti-aging drugs are developed, GrimAge could be used to test their effectiveness. In a world with functional anti-aging drugs, “doctors could test [your GrimAge number] and say, ‘You know what, you’re aging too quickly. Take this,'” Horvath said.”

https://onezero.medium.com/a-new-test-predicts-when-youll-die-give-or-take-a-few-years-2d08147c8ea6 “A New Test Predicts When You’ll Die (Give or Take a Few Years)”


A detailed blog post from Josh Mitteldorf provided scientific coverage of the study:

“Methylation sites associated with smoking history predicted how long the person would live more accurately than the smoking history itself. Even stranger, the methylation marks most closely associated with smoking were found to be a powerful indication of future health even when the sample was confined to non-smokers.

The DNAm GrimAge clock was developed in two stages, a correlation of a correlation. Curiously, the indirect computation yields the better result.

Horvath’s finding that secondary methylation indicators are more accurate than the underlying primary indicator from which they were derived is provocative, and calls out for a new understanding.”

https://joshmitteldorf.scienceblog.com/2019/03/05/dnam-grimage-the-newest-methylation-clock “DNAm GrimAge—the Newest Methylation Clock”


When there are logical disconnects in findings like the above, it’s time to examine underlying premises. As noted in Group statistics don’t necessarily describe an individual, an assumption required by statistical analyses is that each measured item in the sample is interchangeable with the next.

This presumption is often false, producing individually inapplicable results. For example, Immune memory vs. immune adaptation included this description of the adaptive immune system:

“To be effective, highly specific immune response requires huge diversity of receptors and antibodies, which is achieved by somatic rearrangement of gene segments. Recombination results in millions of TCR [T cell receptor] and antibody variants able to recognize and neutralize millions of various antigens.”

Standard statistics of millions of T cell receptor and antibody variants won’t represent their individually unique properties. Individual differences are their purpose and benefit to us.

The GrimAge study’s overreach was most apparent in stratifying educational attainment to develop correlations. As mentioned in Does a societal mandate cause DNA methylation? such statistics are poor evidence of each individual’s biological realities.

Neither derivatives of group statistics, nor correlations of correlations, seem to be the techniques needed to understand biological causes of effects. Commentators on the GrimAge study mentioned but glossed over this point:

“It remains a mystery why exactly the epigenetic clocks work, and whether age-related changes in DNA methylation contribute to the cause of aging or are a result of it.”

Immune memory vs. immune adaptation

This 2019 Dutch/German/Romanian perspective aimed for a better understanding of immune systems:

“Based on molecular, immunological, and evolutionary arguments, we propose that innate immune memory is a primitive form of immune memory present in all living organisms, while adaptive immune memory is an advanced form of immune memory representing an evolutionary innovation in vertebrates.

Innate immune responses have the capacity to be trained and thereby exert a new type of immunological memory upon reinfection. The central feature of trained innate immune cells is the ability to mount a qualitatively and quantitatively different transcriptional response when challenged with microbes or danger signals. Evidence supports the convergence of multiple regulatory layers for mediating innate immune memory, including changes in chromatin organization, DNA methylation, and probably non-coding RNAs such as microRNAs and/or long non-coding RNAs.

Two properties of the adaptive immune response are mediated by two fundamentally different types of mechanisms:

  1. The higher magnitude and speed of the response is mediated by epigenetic programming.
  2. The specificity of the response is insured by gene recombination of TCR [T cell receptor] and BCR [B cell receptor] and clonal expansion of specific cell subpopulations upon antigen recognition.

To be effective, highly specific immune response requires huge diversity of receptors and antibodies, which is achieved by somatic rearrangement of gene segments. Recombination results in millions of TCR and antibody variants able to recognize and neutralize millions of various antigens.”


The paper included speculations such as the “Evidence supports..probably non-coding RNAs” quoted above, and the penultimate sentence:

“One can envision that vaccines that are capable of inducing both forms of immune memory at the same time would be more effective.”

100% factual evidence is preferred. The paper’s overall information can only be as accurate as the paper’s least accurate information.

The lead author coauthored A dietary supplement that trains the innate immune system and a study referenced in Eat your oats.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1931312818306334 “Innate and Adaptive Immune Memory: an Evolutionary Continuum in the Host’s Response to Pathogens” (not freely available)

Our brains are shaped by our early environments

This 2019 McGill paper reviewed human and animal studies on brain-shaping influences from the fetal period through childhood:

“In neonates, regions of the methylome that are highly variable across individuals are explained by the genotype alone in 25 percent of cases. The best explanation for 75 percent of variably methylated regions is the interaction of genotype with different in utero environments.

A meta-analysis including 45,821 individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and 9,207,363 controls suggests that conditions such as preeclampsia, Apgar score lower than 7 at 5 minutes, breech/transverse presentations, and prolapsed/nuchal cord – all of which involve some sort of poor oxygenation during delivery – are significantly associated with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The dopaminergic system seems to be one of the brain systems most affected by perinatal hypoxia-ischemia.

Exposure to childhood trauma activates the stress response systems and dysregulates serotonin transmission that can adversely impact brain development. Smaller cerebral, cerebellar, prefrontal cortex, and corpus callosum volumes were reported in maltreated young people as well as reduced hippocampal activity.

Environmental enrichment has a series of beneficial effects associated with neuroplasticity mechanisms, increasing hippocampal volume, and enhancing dorsal dentate gyrus-specific differences in gene expression. Environmental enrichment after prenatal stress decreases depressive-like behaviors and fear, and improves cognitive deficits.”


The reviewers presented strong evidence until the Possible Factors for Reversibility section, which ended with the assertion:

“All these positive environmental experiences mentioned in this section could counterbalance the detrimental effects of early life adversities, making individuals resilient to brain alterations and development of later psychopathology.”

The review’s penultimate sentence recognized that research is seldom done on direct treatments of causes:

“The cross-sectional nature of most epigenetic studies and the tissue specificity of the epigenetic changes are still challenges.”

Cross-sectional studies won’t provide definitive data on cause-and-effect relationships.

The question that remains to be examined is: How can humans best address these early-life causes to ameliorate their lifelong effects?

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/dmcn.14182 “Early environmental influences on the development of children’s brain structure and function” (not freely available)

Stuck in the wrong paradigm

This 2019 article questioned the paradigm of determining substance carcinogenicity:

“In the absence of robust epidemiological data, the final arbiter of whether a chemical is considered to be a carcinogen or not has been based on the outcome of long-term rodent bioassays. This approach is incompatible with the current knowledge of the etiology of cancer. The current view of the etiology of cancer suggests that it is not useful to consider carcinogenicity as a single hazardous property with its own hazard category.

There is no bright line between carcinogens and non-carcinogens but rather there is a continuum with some chemicals having high potential, some having no potential, and others having potential at a point along the continuum. This continuum exists alongside other adverse effects. One problem is being stuck in the old practice of wishing to reproduce the binary “carcinogen/non-carcinogen” results of the long-term bioassay rather than move to a new paradigm in assessing the chemical’s position on the spectrum of carcinogenic potential.

The two-year bioassay has such high variability (because of the variability of the carcinogenic process it is trying to measure and the interplay between dose limiting toxicity and cell proliferation inducing toxicity) that the outcome of the assay for compounds with low to intermediate carcinogenic potential is little more than a lottery. After half a century, it has only been used to evaluate less than 5% of chemicals that are in use. It is not reproducible because of the probabalistic nature of the process it is evaluating combined with dose limiting toxicity, dose selection, and study design.”


Unscientific research paradigms will eventually collapse because they can’t withstand the scrutiny of the scientific method. Too bad the coauthors didn’t kill off this one while they were still in positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization, etc.

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0273230019300248 “Chemical carcinogenicity revisited 2: Current knowledge of carcinogenesis shows that categorization as a carcinogen or non-carcinogen is not scientifically credible” (not freely available)

Epigenetic causes of sexual orientation and handedness?

This 2018 Austrian human study subject was various associations of prenatal testosterone levels to fetal development:

“The available evidence suggests, albeit not conclusively, that prenatal testosterone levels may be one cause for the association of sexual orientation with handedness. Associations among women were consistent with predictions of the Geschwind–Galaburda theory (GGT), whereas those among men were consistent with predictions of the callosal hypothesis. However, research on the associations between sexual orientation and handedness appears to be compromised by various methodological and interpretational problems which need to be overcome to arrive at a clearer picture.

The GGT posits that high prenatal testosterone levels cause a delay in the fetal development of the left cerebral hemisphere which results in a right-hemisphere dominance and hence in a tendency for left-handedness. According to the GGT, high prenatal testosterone levels entail not only a masculinization of the female fetus, but also a feminization of the male fetus (contrary to neurohormonal theory). Overall, the male fetus is subjected to higher levels of intrauterine testosterone than the female fetus. The GGT is thus consistent with the higher prevalence of left-handedness among men than among women.

The callosal hypothesis applies to men only and assumes, in line with neurohormonal theory, that low prenatal testosterone levels are associated with later homosexuality. According to the CH, high prenatal testosterone enhances processes of cerebral lateralization through mechanisms of axonal pruning, thereby resulting in stronger left-hemisphere dominance and a smaller corpus callosum. Consistent with this, women have a larger corpus callosum than men.”


The study’s Limitations section included the following:

  1. “Limitations of the current study pertain to the self-report nature of our data. Behavioral data may provide differing results from those obtained here.
  2. Assessment of sexual orientation relied on a single-item measure. Utilization of rating scales (e.g., the Kinsey Sexual Orientation Scale) or of multi-item scales, and assessing different components of sexual orientation, would have allowed for a more fine-grained analysis and for a cross-validation of sexual orientation ratings with sexual attraction.
  3. Albeit both our samples were large, the proportions of bisexual and homosexual individuals were, expectedly, only small, as were effects of lateral preferences. Thus, in analysis we could not differentiate bisexual from homosexual individuals. Bisexual and homosexual individuals may differ with regard to the distribution of lateral preferences.
  4. Some effect tests in this study have been underpowered. Independent replications with even larger samples are still needed.”

The largest unstated limitation was no fetal measurements. When a fetus’ epigenetic responses and adaptations aren’t considered, not only can the two competing hypotheses not be adequately compared, but causes for the studied phenotypic programming and other later-life effects will also be missed.

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-018-1346-9 “Associations of Bisexuality and Homosexuality with Handedness and Footedness: A Latent Variable Analysis Approach”

Fear of feeling?

Here’s a 2018 article from two researchers involved in the Dunedin (New Zealand) Longitudinal Study. They coauthored many studies, including People had the same personalities at age 26 that they had at age 3.

The paper’s grand hypothesis was:

“A single dimension is able to measure a person’s liability to mental disorder, comorbidity among disorders, persistence of disorders over time, and severity of symptoms.”

The coauthors partially based this on:

“Repeated diagnostic interviews carried out over 25 years, when the research participants were 11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 26, 32, and 38 years old, and include information about seven diagnostic groups: anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, substance dependence, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.”


https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/appi.ajp.2018.17121383 “All for One and One for All: Mental Disorders in One Dimension” (not freely available)


More about the coauthors:

Two psychologists followed 1000 New Zealanders for decades. Here’s what they found about how childhood shapes later life

“Dunedin and other studies show that most people have at least one episode of mental illness during their lifetime.”


What compels people to manufacture “universal truths” instead of feeling and understanding historical, factual, personal truths? Are we afraid of our feelings?

What if the grand hypothesis worth proving was: For one’s life to have meaning, each individual has to regain their feelings?