Lemon Slice Nebula

Lemon Slice Nebula
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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Pervasive and Persuasive: The Second Act

As I returned back to school in August toward my educational goals, I realized just what a luxury it is to have the time to explore the world through this blog. So although I have substantially less time available, I hope that you can benefit from my studious journey.  Along my path so far, I've spent some time exploring principles of persuasion.

I've always considered the current dichotomy of information as:  misinformation against good information. But I suggest that adopt a new lens through which to view it.

What if we shifted to seeing persuasive versus non-persuasive. Now, typically, the misinformation tends to have greater resources to push with more persuasive methods. For example, when Jenny McCarthy began a campaign against vaccines alleging a connection to autism. Or the 'doctors' who purport magical cures to illnesses like cancer. They tend to have more resources available for persuasive promotion as compared to the average scientist or science journalist who's power of influence lies mostly in information articles.

 But if the community of science, of reason, and of rationality were to employ persuasive tactics, the good information would be much more effectively spread. This would be the second act of the persuasive play, disbanding the monopoly of persuasive tactics for misinformation. Our purpose, as always, is to ensure that accurate information is presented without misrepresentation, but I propose that it can be presented persuasively without losing its integrity.

So without the resource of wealth, we can use our greatest and (usually) free resource, the internet. We can use it in persuasive ways. There are already famed voices on the side of reason, which is one beneficial element, but there are many more channels we must  use.

Comment with you ideas for persuasive tactics:

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Relaxing Supine Style- Floating in a Vastly Unsensational Tank

I'm sure that most of us have heard of the idea of Sensory Deprivation and more specifically in the application of an 'isolation tank'. If not, the idea is that you lay floating on your back (supine position) in an elongated, covered tank filled with water that is heated to outer-skin temperature, and usually for a session of 45 minutes. It is filled with Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate) creating a saline and sanitary environment around you. This encased tank creates an experience with the goal of limiting sensory input to induce relaxation. So there is limited or no lighting, ear plugs are used to limit auditory input and the temperature of the water works to eliminate tactile sensations.

The tanks were first put to use in 1954 by John C. Lilly with the intention of experimenting on the effects of sensory deprivation and mostly for long periods of time. The results were mostly adverse in longer periods of time as well as when the experience was not chosen by the subjects. The modern use is primarily in the interest of relaxation and is now classified as a CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine).

Beginning in the late 1980's with another more recent push in the last 15 years, a great number of studies have been done analyzing the effects of the practice. My personal assessment of what I've read so far is that the experience is a relaxing one similar to other spa treatments. The evidence points to a few benefits from regular sessions over periods of several weeks. This includes pain relief- although the mechanism is not yet pinpointed, relaxation/stress reduction- similar to several other techniques for relaxation, and similarly has been associated with in the least, mild euphoria, and in exceptional cases, altered states of consciousness (*Altered states have been reported, although this remains unconfirmed by any rigorous study*). For references to all of the related studies please see this study and the one referenced below.

All-in-all I would asses the isolation tanks to be an aesthetically pleasing experiences with a few documented benefits. However, the purveyors of these tanks were found in a recent study to not only exaggerate the true claims but to also invent other claims wholly unconfirmed by science. This particular study from the European Journal of Integrative Medicine is from June of 2014 so it provides a very recent snapshot into the topic of advertising. They analyzed ads from 82 centers located by top hits via google, based on the reasoning that people are most likely to find their information regarding alternative therapies online rather than from medical professionals.

I can't say that their results were particularly surprising either. Nearly every claim made by the website of each center was either exaggerated or entirely baseless. They claimed that it improves athletic ability, caused out-of-body disassociation, hallucinations; can be used to treat arthritis, eczema, depression, addiction, fibromyalgia and that it helped the body maintain homeostasis. So consumer beware; enjoy a brief session of relaxation but don't get suckered into believing the unsubstantiated claims.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Earth's First Selfie

This day in 1966, two images of of our home, planet Earth, were captured by America's first spacecraft to orbit the moon, Lunar Orbiter 1. These low resolution, black and white photos gave us the first visual glimpse of a larger perspective. If you zoom out of the colossal grand canyon, out of the expanse of the US, beyond the far stretched of the world's oceans and then our atmosphere, our global selfie comes into view.

The intention of this mission was as a precursor to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing. Specifically, the intent was to map out the terrain of the moon's surface and address the concerns that the any potential landing zones may yet be too rough for Apollo to land successfully. According to the Lunar and Planetary Institue the data collected from the Lunar Orbitor 1 detailed terrain for 10 of 20 possible landing sites spanning a total distance covered of "262,000 square kilometers of the nearside of the Moon and over 3,000,000 square kilometers of the farside."

 Between all 5 Lunar Orbiter Missions, 99% of the moon's surface was photographed with precision far beyond what was possible from earth and served to provide more accurate distances and trajectory readings to aid in the accuracy of the Apollo missions.

So thanks to the Lunar Orbiter project for allowing our first global selfie.